While Karachi remains unstable with political target killing, indiscriminate bombing, land grabbing, businesses paying extortion money, alarming crime rate and economic hardships faced by the struggling underclass, a new factor for increased instability is added as the MQM has once again parted ways with the PPP-led ruling coalition. The hide and seek between the PPP and the MQM in the corridors of power is continuously being played since the 2008 elections.
The MQM gets angry with its senior coalition partner on some administrative step it takes that goes against the MQM’s interest or some unfulfilled promise that was made by the PPP high command when it wooed the MQM back into the coalition at some point or in the present scenario the postponement of elections for Azad Jammu and Kashmir legislative assembly on the two refugee seats in Karachi that were bagged by the MQM during the previous elections.
However, the actual issue remains the turf war in Karachi between the MQM, PPP and ANP with the issue of the administrative division of Hyderabad also tagged along. At times it becomes latent but continues to be the main apple of discord between the MQM and its political adversaries. The PPP enjoys support among the citizens of all ethnic and linguistic denominations but its definite electoral support comes from the Baloch, Sindhi and Katchi communities in the city.
Some crime rings in places like Lyari and Malir also take refuge in the PPP folds. But there are other constituencies as well where a large number of those who speak Urdu, Punjabi and Gujarati as their first languages would vote for the PPP. A fresh delimitation of constituencies will increase the PPP seats and consequently its power in the metropolis.
Already in 2008, independent election observers were sceptical about the MQM bagging 17 out of 20 seats in Karachi. The figure fails to reflect the demographic diversity, electoral support and the mood of Karachi at that point in time. But the PPP leadership did not want to take it up because it had cut a deal with the MQM. Also, if the APDM had not boycotted the last polls, religio-political parties may also have claimed a seat or two.
On the other hand, the ANP is predominantly a Pashtun party in Karachi and with the rising population of permanent resident Pashtuns in the city, the party wants a bigger share in power, be it in the local government or provincial and national legislatures. Pashtun supporters of the ANP have huge stakes in both the formal and informal, legal and illegal economic markets of Karachi. It is widely held that the disposition of the financiers and sponsors of the ANP in Karachi is very different from that of the ANP in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. But, of course, its voters remain common folk, workers and small traders of Pashtun origin.
The real power that the MQM enjoys is not supported by demographics anymore if we compare it with the late 1980s. There are a host of reasons for that. Rural-urban migration and comparatively small family sizes of middle and lower-middle class urban supporters of the MQM being the first two. The MQM continues to draw power from its ability to bring city life to a halt through its rank and file that consists of armed and cantankerous youth.
The MQM has to revise its political paradigm if it is really serious about countrywide politics. Sitting in opposition as a genuine political party for a change and acting as one rather than behaving like a militant pressure group would do it good in the long run
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris.khalique@ gmail.com