November issue 2010
Interview: Shahi Syed, ANP President in Sindh
“We are not at war with the Mohajirs — just the party that
claims to represent them”
– Shahi Syed
Q: Your party is in a coalition government with the PPP and MQM, but the battle lines between the MQM and ANP are sharply etched, and the fallout is manifest in the killing fields of Karachi. Why can’t you sit down and talk to one another?
A: Yes, we are in a coalition government. We have talked many times, and we even agreed on a code of conduct. Our representative, ANP Senator Khattak met with the MQM in this regard, and it was officially decided that party flags and infighting were to be banned. It was written and signed that no criminal from any organisation should be pardoned and enquiries should be conducted [if anything untoward were to come to light]. But there was no implementation.
The fighting in Karachi is not ANP’s fight. We are not fighting for personal gain; this war was started by the MQM. It is a fight for control of Karachi by one party that says Karachi and Hyderabad are theirs. The fact is, Karachi is part of Sindh, but it is everybody’s city. According to the 1973 constitution, every Pakistani can live and do business in every city of the country.
We don’t have problems with the Mohajirs. Their forefathers made sacrifices; they made Pakistan theirs and came here. They may not have bought tremendous wealth, but they left their graves and memories behind to move here. They have the right to live here, educate themselves. We don’t have an economic clash with them. If we drive rickshaws, they are our customers, if they have bungalows, we are their chowkidars. We go hand in hand, and for many years there was no problem. But since the formation of the MQM by Zia-ul-Haq — with an aim to destroy the PPP — and the Bushra Zaidi case in 1985, Altaf Hussain’s party started talking about ethnicity. Now if there’s one accident here, Pakhtuns’ trucks are burnt; if there is no electricity, they burn our cars.
The discrimination against Pakhtuns in Karachi was exacerbated during Musharraf’s era. The MQM alleges that 80% of the population of Karachi and Hyderabad are their people. This is a lie. They talk about a land mafia, drug mafia, arms mafia. I say that these may be bad, but they are minor sins. There is a bigger sin — the ‘thappa mafia’ (the rigging mafia). And that’s what they do. They have 25 MNAs, but the people did not vote for the MQM. When they do, it is out of fear. When the MQM came into being, dead bodies started being found in sacks. The MQM has the same thinking as the Taliban. The MQM stands for barbarism, they hold their own people hostage.
Ten years ago we had a census. We know the figures. But now [election results] in certain areas show voter turnout at 97.98%, sometimes even 102%. So tell me, in 10 years did no one die, move, go on a honeymoon, or for Umra from these areas? This kind of voter turnout is not possible. But things are changing. Recently in Orangi Town people held a rally and abused the MQM. The Bihari Qaumi Movement was created. And it was decided in the All Party Conference, attended by representatives of 34 parties including the PPP, PML-N, Jamaat-e-Islami, JUI, ANP, etc held in London after the May 12 violence in Karachi, that the MQM is a terrorist party and no one should have anything to do with them.
Study the facts. MQM is at war against the PPP, the PML-N, the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Sunni Tehrik, the Haqqiqi, Sindhis, Baloch, Punjabis, everyone. Can it be that only one party or group is right and all others are wrong?
Then there is the MQM’s ‘Askari Wing’ — its militant group. I don’t say this, the intelligence agencies — the ISI, MI, IB, police and Rangers — conducted an investigation of this. I have a copy of their report, and on May 23, 2010, a statement confirming the report on the Askari Wing appeared in Jang. A party that keeps an Askari Wing cannot be a political party.
Q: Accusations and counter-accusations aside, isn’t the real truth behind the MQM-ANP battle the long-standing turf war between the two communities, and isn’t the latest flare-up just an extension of that?
A: I say that it is a war of control (ikhtayarat). Take it in any sense. The MQM says Karachi is theirs and no one else’s. We say Karachi is everyone’s. We don’t want power and position, we just want to stay here for our daily bread. They say we are Talibs. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are happy when there is an operation against the Taliban, when they are captured. They are our biggest enemies. It is because of the dangerous situation in our province that we are in a coalition with the PPP — to fight this menace. My party has repeatedly said the Taliban are not waging a ‘jihad’ but a ‘fasaad.’ The problem is, we are accused of being Talibs for others’ vested interests.
How can we be Talibs when they have killed our children, murdered hundreds and targeted women in bazaars, destroyed schools?
All Pakhtuns are certainly not Taliban. But the MQM wants this myth to be perpetuated because of its one-point agenda: rid Karachi of the Pakhtuns. They use this false propaganda of dubbing us all Taliban to drive us out of Karachi.
Q: The MQM accuses your party and you personally of land-grabbing, arms and drug dealing. How do you respond?
A: There is an old adage. It goes: if your father is alive, no one can call you a ‘harami’ (bastard). Not one inch of my own land in Karachi is unauthorised. Check all my documents — I have filed income tax regularly. I have worked as a labourer, driven a taxi, owned a poultry farm, petrol pumps — all legitimate.
They talk about me. I had one rickshaw when Altaf Hussain had 50 motorcycles and now sits in London. Babar Ghauri was a waiter in a hotel. Today he owns buildings. Where did all of this come from?
I say there should be a joint investigation [of all our assets]. Start with me — my education, property, business, the income tax I have paid, my family, my children. Then go to the other side and do the same. I respect all the country’s institutions, they should be the ones to conduct this investigation. Bring in the intelligence agencies too and soon all will become clear — doodh ka doodh, paani ka paani.
Q: Can you deny that members of your community have illegally occupied land — in Sohrab Goth for example?
A: Unauthorised dwellings have existed in Karachi since long before Partition and continue after the creation of Pakistan. All communities live in these — Christians, Pakhtuns, Punjabis and Sindhis. Orangi Town is Asia’s biggest katchi abadi. The industrial area was created during Ayub Khan’s time — 55,000 acres were allotted for this purpose. Now that industrial land is twice the allocated size and includes hills, streams, nullahs. Businessmen [who had their factories there] built very few labour quarters and usurped most of the land.
Benaras, Pathan and Frontier colonies comprise land that was vacant, so although there was no electricity or water there, poor people — Pathans, Sindhis, Punjabis — built shacks and settled there.
If that is land-grabbing, it was done by all. But as far as real land-grabbing by the Pakhtuns is concerned, they don’t have the wherewithal to do this. You need support to do this, your government, your MNAs. What can two ANP MPAs do?
But what about them, the MQM? They have usurped land worth billions in the middle of cities, eliminated parks, etc. They are the real mafia.
Q: You plead innocence in respect of land-grabbing by your community because the ANP has only two seats in Karachi. Doesn’t this corroborate the MQM’s contention that the majority of the Pakhtun community in Karachi does not support the ANP, considering the sizeable Pakhtun population in the city?
A: That’s not true. Pathan names are mixed up and listed wrong, so the voters lists are erroneous, and the MQM has done this. They have been with every government and in every election commission. Pathans are uneducated and there are faults in the system. Pakhtuns should conduct their own census in their areas, so that they can rectify this.
When I said let’s hold free and fair elections in PS-94, why did the MQM not agree? Instead they called in the army. Subsequently in a press conference, they denied calling in the army. They have rigged everything. We only have two paths in front of us. Either I can raise a gun and rig votes as well, or I can boycott the elections. I will not lift a gun. I say conduct an investigation; let’s clarify the situation.
Q: Post-flood, Karachi has seen a new wave of migration and there are certain valid fears that in the garb of IDPs, members of the Taliban could come in. Do you agree then that we should register all the immigrants?
A: People from all communities have continued to come into Karachi. There are Biharis, Bengalis, Afghanis, and we have allowed them in. But when our own people, those people who sacrificed for this country, come, why do we not want them? Why should they be made to register?
Talibanisation is different. Taliban-ideology adherents are everywhere. That is a thought, a belief. But Talibanisation is another matter. In that system, they shut down shops, video stores, make women wear burqas — this is not possible in Karachi.
Q: Why not?
A: Number 1: there is no cave in Karachi where they can hide.
Number 2: there is no supply line. They need a border for arms, weapons, etc. and this would only be possible if the agencies allowed it.
Number 3: Diverse ethnic groups live in Karachi. If the Taliban come, roam in cars, ban women from being seen in public, demand men grow beards, shut down shops, the people will not allow it.
Q: But they have come to Karachi. Some of the top Taliban leaders have been captured here.
A: Yes, but that is precisely the point. They couldn’t continue to live and operate here because the people of this city outed them. They were caught.
If you really want to register people or conduct an operation in Karachi, it should be across the board. If all people are subjected to it, then I have no objection to that.
Q: So what is the solution for peace in Karachi?
A: Firstly, let’s establish that Karachi belongs to everyone. We accept the Mohajirs. They can’t go anywhere. This is their city. But it’s the same for all the communities — Pakhtun, Punjabi, Sindhi etc. So everyone has to accept each other.
Secondly, until institutions do not enjoy power, they cannot be effective. Powerless institutions cannot control situations. And the rotten eggs in institutions, in the police also need to be tackled.
Q: And who is going to do this?
A: The government will have to do it.
Q: What if it won’t — or can’t — as is increasingly evident?
A: Then it will continue to lose face.
Q: That being as it may, the city will lose a lot more. So is there no hope for peace?
A: If it can’t do so on its own, the government should let the army come in to conduct a joint investigation with them, get the job done. If the government doesn’t take the steps to address this situation, if it doesn’t put its money where its mouth is, hold across-the-board investigations, arrest criminals, there will no peace.
Q: So you support the army being called in to “clean” Karachi?
A: Well, in 1992 there was a police operation in Karachi and in the course of that 180-200 members of the police were killed. While they were martyred, their colleagues behaved shamefully. When their widows went to get their slain husband’s pension, the police personnel dealing with this propositioned them in lieu of their pension funds.
That’s why people do not take their grievances to the police — no one trusts them. In Baldia a man lost one of his three sons [in an attack on his family]. He filed an FIR, took an ad out against the perpetrators and his other son who had witnessed the murder gave evidence in court against them. A month later this young man was also murdered because there was no one to protect him. After that the father refused to take his grievances any further, saying “I still have one son.”
In this situation, without the presence of the army, no one will ever testify for fear of reprisals. They will never do so with this dead, helpless, sold-out police. Only when a man feels secure, knows he has the protection afforded him by the army, will he agree to come forward.
And you must conduct an operation in Karachi now. If you procrastinate, then just as in Swat and Buner, where over 2,500 of our army jawans have been martyred and 9,000 have been wounded, you will also sacrifice thousands of jawans in Karachi.
Q: Do you believe in deweaponisation?
A: Absolutely. Rehman Mallik made a statement that there are 30,000 fake licenses in Karachi and there are 10 weapons per license.
Q: Aren’t most of these weapons in the custody of Pakhtuns?
A: These are just myths. We used to own arms, and admittedly still do. But we have desi (local), cheap weapons. They (the MQM) have sophisticated arms, Israeli weapons. They have rocket launchers and mortars.
People say arms come from Peshawar. That was another age. With Zia-ul-Haq’s blessings you started to get the most state-of-the-art equipment from the West. And to this day it comes in containers, many of which are stolen. Did you know one NATO container just went missing? Where did it go?
I believe the only real solution to attain peace in Karachi is deweaponisation. But there has to be a proper system to do this. You can’t arbitrarily take away my gun if the next man has his.
A bill will have to be passed in the assembly. Then people with arms should be given 10-15 days to surrender their weapons. After that if someone is found in possession of an illegal weapon, award him a 20-year-sentence and a 50-lakh rupee fine. And constitute a team of honest people to implement this — don’t leave it to the police so they can blackmail people. Audit the team, watch it, let it comprise retired military personnel, retired judges so they can inspire trust.
Q: Ultimately, do you believe Mohajirs and Pakhtuns can find a sustainable peace?
A: Yes, of course they can. We are not at war with the Urdu-speaking people. They still call me asking for chowkidars, for drivers. They trust the Pakhtuns to guard their families and homes. So we have no problems with the Mohajir people, or they with us. We just have a problem with the criminals who profess to be their leaders.
How can you forget how in 1985 Altaf Hussain exhorted his people to sell their TVs and buy Kalashnikovs? And in all the years since, he hasn’t mellowed. In 2009 he addressed the community and asked his people to throw out all Pakhtun chowkidars working for them because he said the latter would harm their families. He also told them in the same speech to close down all the Pakhtun hotels and chaikhanas and drive the owners away. I have official papers proving this.
In one case a 70-year-old Pakhtun man running a hotel for 45 years was told by the MQM ‘sector incharge’ to pack up and go. He refused, lamenting he had known this 26-year old boy all his life, and had even attended his parents’ wedding. How, he asked, could he receive dictation from him. And, he added, he had lived in Karachi all his life and had nowhere else to go, so even the threat of death could not make him move. I have passed the papers replete with their organisation’s letterhead and the writer’s signature documenting this case to all the concerned authorities. It is just one of many.
Apart from what he has done to us, see what Altaf Hussain has done to his own people. He may be responsible for the death of some 500-800 hundred people of my community, but think of the many hundreds of deaths he is responsible for in his own community.
Who killed Azeem Tariq? Who murdered Hakim Saeed? Who killed Senator Mustafa Kamal Rizvi, Dr Nishat Mallick, Khalid bin Waleed, Raziq Khan? Who killed hundreds of Afaq’s men — they were also Mohajirs. And who killed Imran Farooq?
In this latest spate of violence, look at the complexion of the people killed — those belonging to no party, Pakhtuns who were rag pickers, shakarkandi (yam) sellers, tandoori roti makers. Following these killings, 250 families from Gulistan-e-Johar, Shah Faisal, and Landhi have had to flee their homes. And every week four, six, eight corpses go to Balochistan, because some Baloch also run hotels and were probably mistaken for Pakhtuns.
So because of this barbarism, hate between people is growing. Rid Karachi of the MQM terrorists and peace will come. Karachi will once again become the city of lights.
Q: You personally, however, don’t seem to be furthering the cause of peace. On a clip of you addressing a Pakhtun gathering on YouTube, you were highly provocative, using derogatory, insulting language against the Mohajir community. Certainly not a way to build bridges…
A: Yes, I made a speech in which I called them “Bhaiyya log” and said they sought refuge in Pakistan. But put this speech into context. It’s inflammatory if taken out of it, like the Hadith which says “Do not pray,” but then qualifies this by adding “if you are in a state of intoxification.” Say just the first half and you’re completely misinterpreting it, aren’t you?
That speech was made on May 12, just after I had gathered 48 corpses of my brother Pakhtuns, and 250 wounded.
Those poor, innocent victims’ only crime was making their way to receive the chief justice of Pakistan. There was no programme planned for the party.
I said those things 40 minutes after I had confronted those horrors. Is it not understandable that I was upset? My outrage was compounded by the weapons I saw being used to murder my people: they were government weapons. Wasim Akhtar was the minister of interior then and the police were under him. The barbarism that took place was with the government’s blessings. So yes, I acknowledge I shouldn’t have said those things. But can you compare the brutal murders of our people with a few harsh words that I uttered as a knee-jerk response?
This interview accompanied the November 2010 cover story, Karachi’s Mean Streets.