Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik called upon MQM chief Altaf Hussain in London on the occasion of the thirty-first foundation day of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO). The story that appeared in this newspaper says that the two leaders deliberated on the situation in Karachi and Rehman Malik apprised Altaf Hussain of the effective strategy the government has devised against the land mafia in the city ruled by the MQM. This happens when Karachi bleeds profusely. Workers of the MQM, the MQM-Haqiqi and the ANP are being gunned down and the local warlords belonging to different ethnic groups fight over land, money and power. Working class and innocent citizens take the brunt as usual.
If we historicise, the roots of this tragic narrative lie in the partition of the subcontinent in 1947. But it would be simplistic to lay down all blame on a singular event in history, however significant it may be. The post-1947 political saga of Pakistan is marred with failures of the state and the mediocrity of the class that has dominated the state since its inception. The founding of the APMSO is one of the major watersheds in our history. The APMSO was founded by those who were born, brought up and schooled in Pakistan, particularly in Sindh. Of course, some may have come from East Pakistan but mostly they were born here. I call them the new natives of Sindh, not only in search of an identity but also for a share in jobs, educational opportunities and political power. Right after the APMSO's launch, the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, the ferocious student wing of the Jamaat-e-Islami, jumped on the throat of the new group and spared no chance to strike its workers.
But Jamiat was soon to be paid back in the same coin with the rise of the Mohajir sentiment on the campuses of Karachi and Hyderabad and increasing support for the APMSO among middle and lower middle class students. Jamiat's own membership fell in favour of the APMSO. As it happens during any martial rule in Pakistan, resistance to the state manifests itself in regional and linguistic identification. This happens more easily among the students and youth. In recent days, during and after Musharraf's rule, one such glaring example is the sentiment of the young in Balochistan.
On the college and university campuses of Karachi in the 1980s, the walls were painted with slogans of the Jeay Sindh Students Movement, the Baloch Students Organisation, the Punjabi Students Association, the Pakhtun Students Federation and the Islami Jamiat-e-Talaba, etc. Left-wing and secular parties like the National Students Federation or the Peoples Students Federation were weak, divided or disorganised. Student hostels were also divided on the same lines with provincial or linguistic identities being paramount. A majority of day scholars, who were not religious and had no organised voice or identity, were attracted to the APMSO. The Mohajir Qaumi Movement, renamed Muttahida Qaumi Movement, was to be born soon. The policy of General Ziaul Haq and his state machinery to switch sides from Jamaat to the MQM in the context of provincial politics in Sindh harnessed the potential of the new party further.
At the same time, progressive political commentators across Pakistan saw a lot of promise in a lower middle class youth movement which could challenge the supremacy of feudal and elitist order. But the MQM chose a different route for itself. The MQM and its militant arm brutally crushed any dissent from within or outside the party in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. There was unprecedented torture and bloodletting in the cities of Karachi and Hyderabad. Riots broke out between different linguistic groups. The government had changed and an army operation began in Sindh. It also manipulated the split that had taken place in the organisation. Thousands were killed including innocent young men, both by the state and as a result of the MQM's infighting. With the advent of the military rule in 1999, the MQM was rehabilitated.
Overstated may be but no one can deny that the MQM has a significant following. The only way Karachi can be prevented from becoming a Beirut or Sarajevo is for the MQM to take lead in denouncing violence.
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet and rights campaigner. Email: [email protected]