MQM: still relevant?

August 15, 2021

The MQM-P appears to have lost its stronghold in the city

MQM: still relevant?

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan appears to have lost its stronghold in Karachi, partly on account of incisive security operations against its militant wing by the paramilitary forces. Its famous infrastructure is in a shambles as workers defect to its arch rival, Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) ostensibly to secure concessions from the state security apparatus. It has conceded political space to Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in the general election, lost back-to-back bye-elections, and now risks losing the mayor’s seat in the next local government polls as Pakistan Peoples Party intends to add Keemari as a new district in the metropolis.

Dr Farooq Sattar, the former mayor, who now heads his own group, the Organisation Restoration Committee, after developing differences with an influential group of the party - known in the media as the Bahadurabad group – says that six years on no political party has succeeded in filling the vacuum left by the forcible ouster of the MQM founder.

Dr Sattar believes that the vacuum exists because of the policies of the state. “The MQM has moved on from August 22 by disassociating itself from its founder; so should the state,” he told The News on Sunday in a conversation at his residence. “Unfortunately some quarters are still fixated with it. I have tried to move the party away from that part of his political legacy but the state has kept it alive.”

He says the second reason for the political void in the city is the fact that the state has not fulfilled the development needs of the city.

“Today, people question the point of abandoning the MQM founder. In these six years the city has gotten nothing from the federal government or from the state institutions; they say that at least they had genuine representation in the National Assembly; now they have nothing.”

A close look at the results of the last general elections show that the emergence of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) heavily curtailed the MQM-Pakistan’s vote bank. Although the party won only two Provincial Assembly seats - PS-107 (Lyari) and PS-115 (Baldia Town) - it caused MQM to lose at least six National Assembly seats in low-income Muhajir localities.

“The MQM-P could have easily won six more seats if the TLP had not been there. This would take their tally to 10,” says journalist Zia ur Rehman. “A similar trend was visible in the recently held NA-249 bye-election. The TLP once again divided the Muhajir vote. If it is allowed to exist on the political spectrum, the party may again hit MQM-P’s electoral strength in local government polls.”

Syed Amin ul Haque, a senior MQM leader and the federal minister for information technology and telecommunication says the local setup of the TLP has been established by workers previously associated with his party and the Sunni Tehreek. “They spoiled our vote bank,” he says. “But their popularity has nosedived in the city. I don’t consider them to be the kind of challenge in the future they were in the previous polls.”

A close look at the results of the last general elections show that the sudden emergence of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) heavily curtailed the MQM-Pakistan’s vote bank.

The post-census delimitation have vastly altered the electoral landscape of the metropolis, although it remains to be seen to what extent it would influence the results. The city comprises six districts; Central, West, East, South, Korangi and Malir. Malir’s share has increased from a single seat to three. Karachi West has become the largest of six districts rather than Central, home to the Urdu-speaking community of the city. With its meaty share of five NA seats and 11 PA seats, District South has taken a pivotal position in the electoral dynamics of the city. Meanwhile, Karachi Central, long considered a stronghold of the MQM-P, has witnessed a decrease in its provincial seat share with eight provincial assembly seats — instead of the previous ten.

“The delimitation has certainly impacted the results,” says Haque. “It is blatant gerrymandering to hurt the electoral prospects of the party.”

But Roohan Ahmed, a digital journalist based in Karachi, says even without delimitation it would have been next to impossible for the MQM-P to match its electoral success in the past.

“The PPP did merge former MQM strongholds into non-Muhajir areas in Karachi but I don’t think that is the major reason behind MQM-P’s downfall. Perhaps the biggest reason behind their dismal performance is the fact that it now lacks a charismatic leader that can unite the party”, he says.

Meanwhile, the Muhajir vote bank currently divided between the MQM-P and Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party may further split with Dr Farooq Sattar entering the political fray. “If they don’t give me political space in the party I will be forced to launch another political party before the next polls,” says the former MQM convener.

Meanwhile the party offices continue to reopen and detained workers are being released so that MQM-P leaders may have more political space than before.

“The federal government has offered us one more ministry, but we are more interested in the status of the Urban Development Funds for Karachi than anything else,” says Haque. “I believe that ‘they’ have also realised that we are a genuine phenomenon and deserves political space. A permanent dissociation with the London group has helped us vis a vis the powers-that-be,” he adds.

Dr Sattar says that in the backdrop of the contentious Afghan conflict, it is pertinent for the state to accommodate moderate political entities that have a genuine vote and support base in the city.

The writer is a human rights reporter based in Karachi. He covers conflict, environment and culture

MQM: still relevant?