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National

August 1, 2018

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How Karachi was changed

The general elections results in Karachi have stunned Pakistan. While everyone was expecting a divided mandate after two many splits in the MQM, no one had thought that it would be like change of guards from the MQM to the PTI as the main representatives of Pakistan's economic hub.

Is this also a change of trend from ethnic politics to national politics or just a ‘makeshift arrangement’? It was for the first time since Pakistan was put on Parliamentary path of democracy in 1970 that a party which is about to form the government at the Centre has also secured majority from Karachi. Neither PPP nor PML-N ever got majority seats from Karachi, as the city is known for its character as city of the opposition. The MQM did remained part of the ruling coalition but always as a junior partner.

It is also unprecedented that for the first time, the party, which won election from strong Mohajir areas, also won from non-Mohajir-dominated areas like Lyari, Malir, South and West. The MQM in the past won from all constituencies except Lyari and Malir.

Irrespective of the serious allegations of rigging and engineering, there are other factors too which brought an unexpected change in Karachi's mindset which was first felt in 2013.

Secondly, Karachi is no more a city of Mohajirs and after the last census and delimitation of constituencies, it has now been equally shared by other prominent communities.

Thirdly, there is also a visible change in the thinking of Mohajir youth which in the last 10 years have distanced themselves from the ethnic politics of the 80s and believe they had suffered most due to the violent politics.

Fourthly, the united vote bank of Mohajirs for the first time was divided unlike in the past due to the MQM’s division and the rise of PTI as an alternate led by charismatic Imran Khan. Even if a person like cricket legend Javed Miandad, who in the past was considered as Mohajir from Karachi, supported Imran, it would not be difficult to assess the change.

Fifthly, the way elections in Karachi were managed and the tune in the last three years from 2015 to 2017 and on the Election Day.

True the results was shocking, not only for the losers but also for the winners, as the winners were also not sure and perhaps that was one of the reasons why Karachi results were delayed for almost 24 to 36 hours.

Two parties were completely wiped out were the newly-born – the PSP, whose fate was not very different from 1992 MQM (Haqqiqi) and the Jamaat-e-Islami or MMA.

One has to wait and see what bombshell PSP chief Mustafa Kamal would drop in a day or two, as he almost controlled his emotions in an interview with Saleem Safi, the other day on Geo News. What message he got about four days before the polls and from whom would tell the story. But for the PSP critics, the Kamal-Qaimkhani duo was used the manner in which Afaq and Aamir had been in the 90s. The PSP narrative was certainly different from Haqqiqi.

The other one , was Jamaat-e-Islami which once again failed in making any impact despite been Pakistan's most organised party and the one which had ruled the city in the 70 and twice got its mayor elected. Its electoral performance is on a constant decline in Karachi.

The Election 2018 also brought the biggest upset for the PPP, which lost two of its safest seats, particularly Lyari and Malir. While they lost Lyari for the first time since 1970, but the loser was PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto. He was not only defeated by the PTI but also by one from TLP, the most surprise party of 2018 which damaged the PML-N in Punjab and the MQM-P and the PPP in Karachi, from where it also got two provincial seats.

The TLP not only put candidates in almost all the 21 national and 43 provincial seats but also pulled enough votes to damage the others. Its candidates bagged 15,000 to 40,000 votes.

The PTI had made its presence felt for the first time in 2013 and the then united MQM badly misjudged the ground situation and Imran's wave in Karachi. Although the PTI had secured 800,000 votes and just one national and three provincial seats, but more importantly its wave also caused dent in the MQM areas. A large number of the Mohajir youth voted for the PTI candidates in the MQM's strong constituencies.

The MQM certainly recovered but not before the top party leaders like Mustafa Kamal, Anis Qaimkhani, Raza Haroon, Anis Advocate quit the party after been humiliated at 90 Azizabad and in London and left the country, before they returned in April, 2016 and formed the PSP.

The biggest dilemma of MQM in the last 34 years had been their failure to improve its party structure and performance. It also failed in removing the tag of controlling the city allegedly by means of guns.

The fact remains that its vote bank had been on a decline after two clean sweeps in 1988 and 1990. While they did maintain their tally of seats, they faced criticism of manipulating results in elections. What happened in 2002 was an eye-opener when the MQM lost five or six NA seats from Karachi and two from Hyderabad.

The MQM, perhaps, had committed too many mistakes and yet they still been supported by strong Mohajir vote. What happened in the post-Aug 22, 2016 led to further split, first between MQM-London and MQM-Pakistan and then between MQM-PIB and MQM-Bahadurabad). Even then the MQM-Pakistan got four national seats from Karachi and two from Hyderabad as well as 16 provincial seats. Had they not been divided, the result would have been different.

The MQM-London, also misread ground situation once the Karachi operation was launched in Sept 2013. They could not read the writing on the wall when for the first time after elections in 2013, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Zardari neither offered the MQM to join the government nor visited 90 after the polls.

It was the beginning of what was coming. In Sept 2013, the Karachi operation was launched and within six months it was decided to target the alleged militants of MQM on the one hand and the Lyari gangs on the other. On August 22, 90 Azizabad and Khursheed Memorial Hall were sealed and so was the MQM-London. Like in the past, the authorities once again badly managed the MQM chapter and at times political engineering was too blatant that not only damaged image of the ‘engineers’ but also their product.

The PTI was all set to gain in July 25 elections but perhaps would not have got as many seats as had the elections were not managed and made controversial. All this has been part of Pakistani politics which, in most of the cases, is managed before polls.

It is still premature to say as how the PTI and Imran Khan would handle Sindh, particularly Karachi, after MQM's internal conflict combined with some engineering provided it space. Can they consolidate their position, at least till the next local bodies elections, will depend on their ground politics.

For MQM-Pakistan, they just have to keep their own house in order and realise that today's politics can't be run on old narratives.

The writer is a senior analyst and columnist of GEO, The News and Jang.

Twitter: @MazharAbbasGEO

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