September issue 2018

By | Newsbeat National | Published 3 months ago

Mayor Waseem Akhtar

A  couple of years ago, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a major stakeholder in Karachi’s politics, would demonstrate its popularity – and its influence and control in the city —  by the number of sacrificial animals’ hides donated to its charity wing, the Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation (KKF). A case in point: following the Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs)’ operations in Karachi launched in September 2013, MQM supremo Altaf Hussain asked party detractors to visit the MQM headquarters, Nine Zero, and count the sacrificial animals’ hides collected by party workers at his call, if they had any misgivings about his and his party’s control and influence.

 Thanks to its organised party structure, the MQM could certainly boast a huge cache of hides every Eid. But welfare associations like the Edhi Foundation, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), hundreds of religious seminaries, the charity wings of religio-political parties – Al-Khidmat Foundation of the Jamaat Islami (JI) being the most prominent among these – and these of other proscribed sectarian and jihadi outfits, also vied for these hides, and would often complain about the coercive measure used by the MQM officials in the areas under its control and influence to wrest them. Different factions of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), meanwhile, were collecting hides through extortion, done by their local networks and allies, and also got a fair share of the funds generated from the sacrificial animals’ hides employing similar means.

During the LEAs operation, the MQM’s network of militants was largely dismantled, and an unofficial ban was put on the KKF for collecting hides. MQM workers complained about hides being snatched from them by Rangers officials, and these claims were backed by video footage. It was subsequently learnt that these hides were handed over to the Edhi Foundation. In 2016, on account of a decision by a breakaway faction of the mother party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) was launched, and this new avatar of the old party cut ties with Altaf Hussain. Subsequently it was announced, they wouldn’t be collecting sacrificial animals’ hides. This was a huge relief for MQM workers, who would earlier have to play “hide(s) and seek” with Rangers personnel in their localities during the three days of Eid. Now they could spend their Eid holidays as they pleased.

The old claimants of influence in the city before the rise of the MQM, the Jamaat e Islami (JI), are meanwhile, quite pleased about these developments. The party’s city chief, Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman held a press conference on August 25, in which he was full of praise for the people of Karachi and the administration, specifically the LEAs. He expressed appreciation for the people of Karachi for demonstrating trust in the humanitarian work done by the Jamaat by generously donating sacrificial animals’ hides to their charity wing, the Al-Khidmat Foundation, and gave credit to the city administration, particularly the LEAs, for making this happen by the creation of a peaceful environment.  “Restoration of peace in the city has allowed people to donate hides to the organisations or people of their own choice,” said Rehman said. He did not, however, back his claims with statistics, contending that they were still  in the process of collecting the pertinent data, but maintained that the numbers of hides collected have significantly increased as compared to previous years.

If this is true, it demonstrates among other things, one fact about Pakistanis: if given a free choice, they don’t necessarily give their vote and donation to the same party or person — as evidenced by the Elections 2018. In these they preferred not to vote for the JI and its allies in the Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA), but reposed trust in them by donating hides and monetary  contributions for the Ijtima Qurbani (the collective sacrifice of animals) organised by the JI and other religious seminaries.

PTI’s Firdous Shamaim Naqvi

Measures by the government and LEAs to stop proscribed outfits and seminaries under suspicion of connections with militants from collecting hides, and the absence of the MQM and its various factions from the race, have resultantly reduced the significance of  the issue of hides’ collections. But this issue has been replaced with the bickering around the collection and disposal of the animals’ entrails and offal between the MQM-P that leads the local government system, and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) which rules the province. This time, the squabbling between the two is more about taking credit for the clean-up after qurbani, than the blame-game by each against the other for their utter failure in not cleaning the city, thereby resulting in it turning into the mega garbage heap Karachi is today.

So what has forced these two contenders for influence and control over the city’s resources to compete in the cleanliness drive and back their claims by claiming exaggerated numbers for the offal and entrails disposed in the District Municipal Corporations (DMCs) controlled by each? Could it be a sign of the changing times? In its previous term, the PPP government had established the Sindh Solid Waste Management Board (SSWMB) which was given four of the six Karachi districts, West, South, East, and Malir, while district Central and Korangi remain with the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) led by the MQM-P. The mayor and the DMCs have also been elected chairmen from the MQM-P. Sindh Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani, who was overseeing the SSWMB operations claimed that the offal of more than a million sacrificial animals, which amounts to 41,980 tonnes of weight, were lifted by the SSWMB from the four districts of Karachi in the last three days of Eid-ul-Azha.

These figures were questioned by the MQM-P leader Khawaja Izhar Ul Hassan, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) lawmaker Firdous Shamim Naqvi. They maintained these figures, were exaggerated, but Ghani rebutted their contentions and asked Naqvi to question the authorities from Peshawar instead of Karachi.

The recently-held general elections have made the PTI a powerful contender in the city’s political equation. The MQM-P’s series of woes, with challenges on multiple fronts, including a crippled organisational structure due to the LEAs’ operations, factionalism and internal divisions, disgruntled workers and supporters, have culminated in them being virtually decimated on the political front, resulting in gains for the PTI. But, an alliance with the PTI at the centre and joining the opposition benches with them in the Sindh Assembly has given them a new lifeline. MQM-P hopes that, with the help of the PTI government at the centre, it can pressurise the provincial government to get the local governments act amended so their elected representatives can exercise more powers and woo disgruntled voters who bitterly complain about their poor performance at the local government level.

Interestingly, given the history of verbal spats between the PTI and the MQM-P, in the recent past, local leaders of both parties are seen in a cordial relationship. In 2016, Imran Ismail, newly sworn in as Governor Sindh, had a meeting with the then imprisoned MQM-P leader and now Mayor of Karachi, Waseem Akhtar. This meeting led to an alleged understanding between the two and resulted in some of the PTI local government representatives from District West voting for the MQM-P candidate, Izharuddin Ahmed, for Chairman DMC West. Asif Khan from the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), a joint candidate of the Karachi Ittehad – a coalition of the PML-N, PPP, and PTI — lost to the MQM-P candidate, while Azizullah Afridi, the PTI candidate for deputy chairman, who had the support of the alliance, won the elections. A two-year-long legal battle by Asif Khan couldn’t reverse the results, and now the DMC is run jointly by the MQM-P and the PTI’s elected representatives.

Interestingly, the local government act in Sindh sets a population figure of 3.5 million as the criterion for establishing a Metropolitan Corporation, and the DMC West qualifies, since, according to the 2017 census, the district has a population of 3.9 millions. So if the PTI and MQM-P alliance cannot succeed in getting the local government act amended for acquiring more powers, they can at least work towards getting DMC West the status of a Metropolitan Corporation, which also includes the Sindh Industrial Trading Estate (SITE). This would be a major blow for the KMC, as it would be deprived of its largest Industrial zone.

The future course of any powering-sharing formula, of course, relies on the nature of the relationship between the two new allies, the PTI and the MQM-P, who have had a history of atroubled relationship. A test case will be the response of the PTI to the verdict of the Zahra Shahid Hussain murder case, in which MQM workers have been charged.

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