January issue 2016

By | News & Politics | Published 4 years ago

The Khyber gate in Karachi, built over a 60-foot wide double road on the lines of the iconic Khyber Pass in Landkikotal on the Pak-Afghan border, is the gateway from the industrial zone to Frontier Colony and Pathan Colony, two of the earliest informal settlements of working-class migrants from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (formerly known as North West Frontier Province), most of them Pashtuns. On the other side of the road is the formal settlement of Metroville, inhabited by lower-middle class traders, businessmen and people working in the public and private sector. What makes Metroville different from the Frontier and Pathan colonies is its streets and roads, which are wider, and its open spaces upon which rest a few playgrounds and parks. But what is similar between the two localities is the poor state of the infrastructure in both. The streets and roads, on both sides, narrow and wide alike, are pitted, the streets dirty, and a long queue of private water tankers along the road near the garbage dump besides the boundary wall of the residential blocks of the Aga Khani community are a standard feature of the local aesthetic.

In this area, the indicators thrown up by the local bodies elections were particularly interesting. The posters and banners pasted on, and the flags hoisted over the Khyber gate during the elections, were demonstrative of the presence of almost all the country’s political parties, some aligned, others fighting against each other for the union councils’ and general councillors’ seats.

These settlements were once the bastions of the labour movement in the city, and their formalisation and regularisation owed to the labourers’ protests in 1972 against the delays in their salaries by textile mill owners they were employed by. Police brutality at the behest of the mill owners had resulted in the killing of 11 labourers, including Shoaib Khan, a labour leader. The protests and agitation that ensued made these localities a centre of activities by mainstream political parties that were desperate to win support in the city. And since then, these areas have been an indicator of the changing political trends among Pashtuns voters. In the ’70s, the National Awami Party (NAP) held sway in the area. Subsequently, the Jamaat-Islami (JI) and the Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI) Fazlur Rehman group made inroads in the area, and recently it has been the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf that has garnered the most seats from here in the general and local bodies’ elections.

“People living here embraced every political party that approached them with the promise of resolving their issues, working for the betterment of their localities, building infrastructure and providing them basic utilities,” said Muhammad Saleem, a business graduate living in Pathan colony.

“For many years the ANP won the local bodies and general elections in this area. Ameer Nawab became the town nazim in the 2001 LG polls, and then the provincial minister for labour after getting elected from PS-93 in the 2008 general elections. When the alliance of religious parties, the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) was formed, it managed to secure both the National Assembly and provincial assembly seats of PS-93 and NA-241 in the 2002 general elections. In 2013, people were lured by the slogan of ‘change’ from the PTI. This has yet to be seen, and our hopes are fast fading as the PTI-elected MPA is not from this locality. He has hardly come here since he won the election.”

The area’s entire vote bank did not, however, go to one party. As indicated by the recent local government polls, almost all the political parties — in alliances such as the tri-party one of the ANP, JUI(F) and the PPP, or that of the PTI and Jamaat-e-Islami — managed to garner some seats in different union councils. The former won the union council seats of Peerabad, Kati Pahari, Bawani Chaali, Pathan Colony, Mominabad and Hussainabad, while the PTI-JI alliance scored in Frontier Colony and Metroville.

Interestingly, the PTI and JI have been engaged in a legal battle over the fate of the provincial assembly constituency PS-93 for the last three years. The PTI MPA, Hafeezuddin, maintained that his development funds had been suspended due the cases filed against him by the JI candidate in the 2013 elections, Razzak Khan, who challenged his victory. Hafeezuddin claimed this legal battle had prevented him from conducting any development work in his constituency. The battle notwithstanding, when the local government elections were announced, the two parties set aside their differences and made an electoral alliance. “Their combined mantra was: ‘Everyone else is corrupt,’ and their joint slogan, ‘change,’” said veteran political activist Ishaq Khattak.

He continued, “The ANP won in the previous general elections. Ameer Nawab became the labour minister, but he did nothing for his constituency. He just made money for himself through various illegal means. The rest of the party leadership and workers at the local level too seemed to have a one-point agenda: to make money. So there they were, extorting money from traders, businessmen and professionals. They also stole water from the hydrants and supply lines of residential localities and sold it to industrial units in SITE.”

A JUI-F leader from the area charged that “the two warring allies, PTI and JI, came together as allies only after PTI MPA Hafeezuddin had agreed to pay a hefty sum of 17 million rupees to the JI candidate Abdul Razzaq Khan as compensation. In lieu of this money, Khan withdrew the legal suit against Hafeezuddin.”

1390603615-radical-islamists-protest-at-central-london-mosque-for-islamic-state_3745314-584x389In other Pashtun settlements in Baldia Town, the  MMA had managed to secure two provincial assembly constituencies — PS-90 and 91 — and the National Assembly seat of NA-239, in the 2002 general elections, losing NA-238 to the MQM by a narrow margin. Aurangzeb Khan Buneri from the ANP got elected as the nazim of Baldia Town in the 2001 local bodies’ elections. In the 2005 LG polls, both the JUI-F and Jamaat-e-Islami, MMA allies, contested against each other and won many union council seats from the area, but they had failed to get their town nazim elected owing to their mutual differences.

In the recent local government elections, the PPP and JUI(F) alliance was contesting against the ANP, JI, PTI and the PML(N). Every union council had different sets of allies and rival contenders, often from the same party. The PPP and JUI(F) alliance bagged the union council comprising Swat Colony, Madina Colony and Guldad Shah Road, while the PML(N) has won it in Afridi Colony.

The PML(N) made a surprise comeback, winning three union councils in Baldia Town (from Gulshan Ghazi, Ittehad Town and Afridi Colony and Abidabad) owing to their support from the Pashtun, Punjabi and Hindko-speaking communities hailing from Hazara division and the Afridi tribes living in the area. Most of these settlers are associated with the public transport business. These localities had once been the support bases of the Punjabi Pakhtun Ittehad (PPI) in the ’80s and ’90s, and the PML(N) had managed to win the National Assembly seat from this area for two consecutive terms in 1993 and 1997.

Azam Afridi, a local transporter, recalled the turbulent days when protest calls and strikes by the MQM had resulted in the torching of dozens of buses and other vehicles. “Heavy losses to transporters decreased the number of vehicles from close to 50,000 to only 12,000 mini buses,” he said. Consequently this community shifted their political allegiance to the PML(N) because it provided a better law and order situation.

Hafiz Muhammad Naeem, JUI(F) leader from Baldia Town and an ex-MPA, Sindh Assembly, whose brother was recently elected as vice chairman of UC-29 Baldia Town, meanwhile commends Pashtun voters for being “Islam-minded” and favouring religious parties.

“Apart from the problems of infrastructure and public utilities, the biggest problem our people face is acquiring national identity cards and passports. Applicants from the Mehsud, Wazir and Mohmand tribes hailing from different agencies of the Federally Administered Tribal Territories (FATA) or those from other parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa are denied registration and identity cards by the regulatory authority, because there are fears they may be Afghan refugees. So they have to bring documents of possession of properties in Karachi dating back to the early ’70s to prove they are bonafide citizens,” said Naeem. He continued,  “These people with no recourse — they have no land in Karachi — come to us for help. So I often accompany them to the passport office and try to meet with the relevant authorities to solve their problem.”

Local workers and leaders of the ANP also claim they have been helping people sort out similar issues. But local residents do not concur. They divulge how ANP workers and lower tier leaders mill around the offices of the National Database Registration Authority (NADRA) and extract hefty amounts of money from applicants to get their work done.

Said Tariq Mehsud, a resident of Ittehad Town, “A local ANP official, Wali Muhammad, who was working as a brokering agent outside the NADRA registration centre in Baldia Town has erected a multi-storey building.”

Hafiz Naeem alleged that ANP workers and local leaders have made a veritable business out of the ID card affair, and have taken illegal occupation of  the union council office adjacent to the NADRA registration centre in Saeedabad. “Their corrupt practices have resulted in the closure of the NADRA registration centre and they have thereby deprived people of such a vital facility at their doorstep. An ANP worker was recently picked by the law-enforcement agencies for alleged involvement in making fake ID cards for people,” he said, adding “People who visit the NADRA registration office at SITE share the same stories.”

Tahir Buneri, a member of the ANP district council, refutes these allegations and insists that the law enforcement agencies operation is ongoing. He says if any of these charges were true, the guilty workers and leaders would surely have been arrested by now. He maintains the ANP has always kept a distance from criminal elements and doesn’t even support anyone associated with the ANP if he has been charged by the LEAs for any criminal involvement.

Dr Murad, former general secretary ANP District West, who contested and lost his bid for the chairmanship of UC-33, Baldia Town, also terms all the allegations as politically motivated propaganda. He disagrees with the notion that the ANP is losing its support base, citing the target killings of ANP office bearers by the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants as the reason candidates hesitate to contest under the ANP electoral symbol. But he expressed optimism about the improving law and order situation and the party’s return to political activities, saying, “2018 will be different, you will see.”

This article was originally published in Newsline’s Annual 2016 issue.

 

Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order