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ASWJ thrives in Karachi’s ‘little Jhang’

By Ebad Ahmed
December 21, 2015

As the sectarian group’s political front gains mileage in the metropolis, a look into the reasons for its success serves up a chilling reminder of just how undesirable the effects of a governance vacuum could be

Karachi

It is the narrow, rickety lanes of Karachi’s UC-1 of Labour Colony and its neighbouring UC-2 of Muslimabad – riddled with trash, overflowing gutters, drug addicts and abandoned schools – where the Pakistan Rah-e-Haq Party (PRHP), the sectarian group Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s political front, has thrived in.

The PRHP’s candidates were elected chairperson in both these constituencies located near Quaidabad in the recent local government elections, unlike other areas of the city where most seats were won by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and the Pakistan People’s Party. Besides, five PRHP-supported candidates succeeded in other UCs.

The PRHP believes that this small victory in Karachi, apart from its success in the Jhang district in the local government elections, meant that the party was quickly establishing itself as a key player.

The two constituencies of the city fall in the provincial assembly seat PS-128, where ASWJ central leader Aurangzeb Farooqi was defeated by a slight margin of votes in the 2013 general elections.

Sitting in Jamia Siddiqia, a mosque that also houses a madrassa, Maulana Zareen Hazarvi, the PRHP’s recently elected chairman of UC-1 Labour Colony who had contested the polls in alliance with the Jamaat-e-Islami, said the biggest factor behind his success was that the religious vote, once enjoyed by the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam-Fazl, had now shifted to his party.

“Secondly, the masses have also seen that that the big names of the mainstream political parties after being elected leave them on their own mercy and then with the passage of time, relocate to posh areas,” he said.

“Whereas, I have been living here for 30 years and working for the residents without any portfolio.”

During a visit to the area, Hazarvi’s claims did not appear to be exaggerated, a chilling reminder that illustrates just how undesirable the effects of a governance vacuum could be. Despite the absence of any overt sectarian polarisation in the area, the foundations have been laid for the political rise of an entity driven by a divisive sectarian ideology. 

 

Infrastructure woes

The thickly-populated neighbourhood housing lower-middle and middle-class of Pashtun, Seraiki, Hazarewal and a few other non-Urdu speaking ethnicities is marred with infrastructure, electricity and health woes.

The vicinity, which is a web of semi-cemented houses connected by narrow lanes, is dangerously unhygienic because of the constant presence of sewage water.

Speaking to The News, Javed Niazi, who has been elected general councillor on a Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz ticket, said as the area was not previously managed by the municipal organisation but the federal welfare board before the 18th Constitutional Amendment, development funds had now become an issue for the neighbourhood.

“Stray animals living in abandoned school buildings can commonly be seen in the area,” Niazi added.

A building in the area known only as “technical college”, built during former chief minister Abdullah Shah’s tenure, is now the gathering place for drug peddlers and addicts.  Residents said before the crackdown in Karachi against criminals, the building was also used as a torture cell by Taliban militants.

“It is as if we don’t exist for the governments,” the PML-N leader said. “You can see how severe our issues are, but no one is in the corridors of power to do something about them.”

Sirbuland Khan, a former Pakistan People’s Party activist who voted for Hazarvi in the local government poll, disagrees with Niazi’s assertion.

He said the PPP leadership had not neglected the area and its resident, Shahjahan, was now working as the chief minister’s coordinator. “The area was once a stronghold of the PPP, but after the late Sher Muhammad Baloch, the party started focusing on negative politics,” he added.

“Sadly, now the party support goons rather than the masses and that’s why the residents have opted for the ASWJ.”

Sartaj Khan, a political analyst, opines that the unprecedented success of the ASWJ showed that the residents were disappointed by the poor performance of the mainstream political parties.

“The MNA of the area belongs to the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, the MPA to the MQM and the PPP is in the provincial government, but even then the residents’ basic municipal issues are not addressed,” he said.

“Therefore, the residents are now opting for the ASWJ believing that the religious group will give them voice in the corridors of power,” he added.  “Indeed, this is a failure of the State and the political system.”