May Issue 2013
The Kite Runners
Muttahida Quami Movement, the party that wields absolute power in Sindh’s urban centres, notably Karachi and Hyderabad, is currently under threat from the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan.
One of three secular and liberal parties in the country, the MQM has earned the wrath of the TTP for unequivocally condemning terror attacks and religious persecution in the country. Earlier in the year, it lost two party members – Manzar Imam and Raza Haider – to terrorist/sectarian attacks and following the announcement of the election dates, the party is finding it increasingly difficult to conduct its election campaign due to terrorist threats. After an attack by the Taliban on its Nazimabad office in April 25, MQM warned that it may not contest the coming elections if the attacks continued.
The MQM is the only major political party in Pakistan which claims that 98 percent of its supporters comprise the working, middle-class and the poor. MQM also has a large female support base, which is visible at its rallies.
Born out of student politics in the ’70s, perceived Mohajir grievances and army patronage with the intent to counter the PPP in Sindh, the MQM – known as the Mohajir Qaumi Movement back then – swept the 1988 National Assembly elections in Karachi. This was just two years after its leader Altaf Hussain held a massive, historic rally at Nishtar Park in Karachi to announce MQM’s entry into mainstream politics.
The city was never the same again. While the Jamaat-e-Islami, the erstwhile ruler of Karachi, retained its street credentials, the MQM’s creation did more damage to the religious party than the PPP, as they won over the Urdu-speaking populations of Karachi, Hyderabad and, to some extent, Sukkur.
Baptised by fire, the MQM was perceived by many as having fascist tendencies. It could bring the entire city to a halt whenever it wanted to register its protest over any issue pertaining to the party – much to the chagrin of the city’s residents. The MQM, in turn, suffered serious attacks on its supporters and cadres. The period between 1992 to 1994, saw the diminishing of the street power of the MQM following Operation Clean-up and the killing of many members of the party, including Altaf Hussain’s brother and nephew. Hussain fled the country in 1992, seeking political asylum in the United Kingdom. He never returned from his self-imposed exile and became a citizen of the United Kingdom. He lives in London, and communicates frequently with his followers through public video conferencing.
Karachi continues to remain MQM’s stronghold, and their head office is located in Altaf Hussain’s old family home in Azizabad, known simply as Nine Zero. In 2008, MQM once again swept Karachi’s vote bank, with the PPP emerging as runners-up in the majority of the constituencies and with JI nowhere to be seen.
The MQM has tried to project itself as a national party in recent times – changing its name from ‘Muhajir Qaumi Movement’ to ‘Muttahaida Qaumi Movement’ in 1997 – but with limited success. By and large, the other provinces view the MQM with deep suspicion and disaffection. Despite this, the MQM has managed to win the majority of seats in Gilgit-Baltistan in 2009. Currently it holds 25 seats in the National Assembly and 50 seats in the Sindh Assembly.
A recent surprise development is the entry of Nabil Gabol, previously a PPP member, who will now be contesting for the Lyari constituency on a MQM ticket.
Karachi’s demographics have changed in recent years with the influx of the IDPs, comprising mainly the Pukhtoon population, and migrants who have settled in the city for economic reasons. This segment of the population has strengthened the ANP significantly, which has led to a bloody rivalry between the two parties, leading to much of the violence that plagued Karachi over the last five years. Added to this is the unknown PTI factor, which could cause a dent in the MQM vote bank, since Imran Khan appeals to a large segment of Karachi’s youth.
Although the MQM may not command the absolute power it once did in Karachi, and is unlikely to win mainstream support in the other provinces any time soon, given the population and significance of Karachi itself, MQM still remains a force to reckon with.
The writer is a journalist and former assistant editor at Newsline.