Saturday October 16, 2021

Who will rule the roost in urban Sindh?

August 10, 2021

Two ruling parties —- Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) —- are in a race to fill a political vacuum in urban Sindh.

But they are not the only ones, as the MQM (Pakistan) and the Jamaat-i-Islami are too in the run to regain their lost glory. It will be interesting to see who will be able to fill the gap created since 2016.

Among relatively new entities are the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan and the Pak Sarzameen Party. The future of the former is still uncertain as it faces an official ban. But, being a registered party with the Election Commission of Pakistan, it can contest technically. If allowed to compete, it still has potential to surprise many.

The Pak Sarzameen Party led by Syed Mustafa Kamal is still looking to win a maiden seat since its formation in early 2016.Prior to the rise of the MQM, Karachi and urban Sindh, including Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur, were dominated by the Jamaat-i-Islami and Jamiat Ulema -e-Pakistan. But their vote-bank eroded after 1985. The Jamaat-i-Islami, however, regained its ground in 2001 thanks to the MQM boycott and got Advocate Naimatullah elected mayor whose performance was appreciated by all and sundry. The Jamaat is yet to regain party supremacy generally in the country and particularly in urban Sindh.

Both the PPP and PTI have a big stake in the next general election, if held as per schedule at the end of 2023 unless PM Imran Khan decides to go for early polls. These parties want to gain maximum number of seats from here.

For MQM (Pakistan) it is a make or break time as a party. It will certainly try to retain its current status if it fails to improve it.A political void among the strong Urdu-speaking or Muhajir vote-bank has existed since the political debacle of once the united MQM on Aug 22, 2016. The MQM downfall started after the 2013 general election when its founder for reasons best known to him had vented his anger despite the party’s victory. He was unhappy with the PTI getting nearly 0.8 million votes from Karachi though his party had retained all its seats. It was the beginning of the end of the MQM and so was of its founder —- Altaf Husain.

The MQM, already facing criticism over alleged target killings and extortion, has also been suspected of its connection with the RAW of India. What happened on Aug 22, 2016, when during the speech the MQM founder had raised anti-Pakistan slogans and the party could not recover from this ‘self-inflicted rather fatal injury.’

This also led to further division of MQM (Pakistan) chapter when former mayor and one of its respected leaders —- Dr Farooq Sattar —- parted ways with the MQM led by Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui.

All this created a huge confusion among the Muhajir vote-bank and in 2018 elections a vast majority stayed back and did not cast votes. The MQM (Pakistan) got four seats in Karachi and it still has the mayorship of Karachi.

A gulf between the MQM and its voters increased with the passage of time. The 2018 elections proved that when the PTI had surprised everyone by sweeping Karachi.

But, the PTI could not capitalise on its victory in Karachi as a stepping stone to capture the urban Sindh vote-bank. Prime Minister Imran Khan, who had won a seat in Karachi, hardly visited the 14 constituencies or even Lyari from where former PPP worker Shakoor Shah had surprised Bilawal Bhutto and defeated him.

Imran Khan in the recent weeks has presided over several meetings on Sindh, including Karachi and is trying to win over not only Karachi but also rural Sindh. One of his key federal ministers and an MNA from Karachi has worked out a huge investment plan and designed at least five such schemes which he claimed would be a game-changer.

Federal Port and Shipping Minister Ali Zaidi recently told this scribe about the massive plan he has designed for a ‘New Karachi’ in Clifton and disclosed that several billion US dollar investment is coming to Karachi. “All this will be on the land belonging to the federal government and mainly under my ministry with DHA as partner.

“You will see a different Karachi once it is materialized.” The PPP also has a big stake in Karachi and being the ruling party in Sindh, it has now decided to fill this vacuum before the next general election by appointing young and energetic Barrister Murtaza Wahab as administrator of Karachi amid criticism.

The target for Murtaza Wahab is simple to win over through major development schemes. Keeping in view the next election, sources says, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has given him a special task to make an impact through development works at a fast pace. Karachi faces issues like public transport, bad drainage and sewerage system, water shortage and massive corruption in water distribution and poor civic facilities.

The PPP has always had a strong vote-bank in the outskirts of Karachi and at least in three districts out of six, from where they get maximum support from non-Urdu speaking people. But, now the target is to win maximum Karachi and Hyderabad seats.

Murtaza, son of PPP leader and journalist Fouzia Wahab and Wahab Siddiqui, is not only facing criticism but his position might be challenged in a court of law as indicated by PTI’s Khurrum Sherzaman. But, interestingly, Governor Imran Ismail has welcomed him and extended his support through best wishes.

This is by far the best opportunity for all the political parties to capitalise on the situation in Karachi and urban Sindh.

(The writer is a senior columnist of The News, Jang and analyst of GEO [email protected])