‘Karachi is not a priority for the PTI’

February 6, 2022

Jamaat-i-Islami Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem talks about his party’s recent agreement with PPP regarding the local government law

‘Karachi is not a  priority for the PTI’

The Jamaat-i-Islami ended its protest sit-in against the Sindh Local Bodies Act, 2013, that lasted for 29 days after the provincial government agreed to incorporate some of its demands in the law. While the party is calling this a historic achievement, its critics say that the agreement failed to get back many financial and administrative powers for the local governments. The News on Sunday talked to the party’s Karachi chief, Hafiz Naeemur Rehman, to discuss the amended bill, the changing political dynamics in Karachi and the party’s popular appeal. Excerpts

The News on Sunday (TNS): How do you see your party’s recent agreement with the Sindh government? Were the key demands accepted?

Hafiz Naeemur Rehman (HNR): We had made certain recommendations regarding the local governments long before the bill was passed. Among other things, we had recommended that all departments that were under the city district government in 2001 and were later transferred to the provincial government be devolved and transferred to the local government. By devolution we mean that the mayor should be the chairperson of all local government agencies. Secondly, we had asked for devolution of financial powers, they agreed to bring the Provincial Finance Commission award within 30 days of the constitution of the Baldia. Thirdly, they promised that the octroi and zila tax revenue will be shared according to the 1999 formula. The Sindh government receives around Rs 25 billion through general sales tax (GST). Around 76 percent of this revenue will now go to the local bodies. Fourthly, our agreement provides that Motor Vehicle Tax shall be part of the PFC award. There are 233 union committees in the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) document. There are another 1,300-1,400 committees in the province besides Karachi. If you give Rs 0.5 million to each committee, then Karachi gets only around Rs100 million. We asked for an increase in the number of union committeesin the city. They didn’t agree, but they agreed to provide resources in accordance with the population size.

TNS: The sit-in lasted for nearly a month. Clearly, the talks were deadlocked on certain issues. Please tell us about the institutions that the government did not want to devolve.

HNR: They did not wish to devolve the Water Board. Towards the end, the negotiation was focused on this particular subject. In the end, they agreed to make the mayor the chairperson of the Board. Initially, they had not wanted to make the mayor in charge of the solidwaste management as well. Later, they agreed to make an exception for the Karachi mayor. They did not budge on the status of the Sindh Building Control Authority. Our agreement says that negotiations on this subject will continue and that we have a right to protest over it. They did not agree to direct election for the mayor. We have not abandoned the demands that have not been accepted.

TNS: It was the Supreme Court of Pakistan that annulled Articles 74 and 75 of the Act. The JI did not manage to force the provincial government do that. Also, a steering committee headed by the local government minister, will look after all the civic boards for policy and finances. The mayor will be mandated to oversee only the operational aspects of the boards. It seems that at the end of the day, the buck still stops with the provincial government. So, how can you claim a victory?

HNR: There is no way 100 percent of the powers can rest with a single tier of the government. Unlike other tiers, there is no specific chapter [in the constitution] on local bodies. So, every government interprets the article differently. People try to take advantage of the vagueness.

TNS: Does the JI aspire to fill the perceived political vacuum in the city?

HNR: The results of the cantonment board election arebefore everyone. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) is a full third behind us in the number of votes polled. We have won seats from areas with diverse communities. The recognition our commitment started with the sit-ins at the K-Electric offices. No one in the city was speaking against them. The JI also took up the NADRA issue and the matter of a private housing scheme. It is safe to say that support for the JI is growing. We are building a strong connection with the people of the city.Those claiming victory following the SC verdict were partners in crime. They had joined the PPP government after the Ordinance came in 2013. They did not mobilise their street power for the city. The Karachi Transport Corporation was ruined while they held the transport ministry. The Karachi Circular Railway ended in 1999 when they were in power. The MQM’s hand is visible behind the destruction of every civic institution.

The results of the cantonment board election are before everyone. The MQM-P is a full third behind us in the number of votes polled. We have won seats from areas with diverse communities. The people started recognising our commitment following the sit-ins at the K-Electric offices. No one in the city was speaking against them. It is safe to say that support for the JI is growing. We are building a strong connection with the people of the city. 

TNS: You claim support of every section of the society. Why did the JI then not choose to stand with the affected people of Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah anti-encroachment operations having lent strong support to the residents of Nasla Tower?

HNR: I strongly disagree with this perception. Other than the JI, no one stood for the people affected by Orangi Nullah and Gujjar Nullah operations.

TNS: The Awami Workers’ Party was there for them at every stage.

HNR: It was the JI that organised the protest demonstration in front of the deputy commissioner’s office. I regularly visited the area, held a press conference and set up a camp there. I still raisemy voice to support them.

TNS: Do you think that it was unfair to raze their homes?

HNR: 100 percent. If the state has to displace somebody, they must provide alternative housing and pay compensation.

TNS: Despite its street power, the graph of JI’s electoral performance has been on a downward trajectory in Karachi. Do you think it will fare better in the coming local elections or in the general elections?

‘Karachi is not a  priority for the PTI’

HNR: Given the performance of some other parties, I expect the voters to either vote for the JI or choose to stay home. We will win the elections if there are no roadblocks put up by the establishment and we get a level playing field. For the people of Karachi, there is no real option except voting for us.

TNS: JI and the establishment had a thorny relationship during the late Munawar Hasan’s tenure. How are things now?

HNR: I do not expect opposition from their side. They know very well who can deliver in Karachi.

TNS: Rumours are going around that the JI might contest the next local bodies polls in alliance with the PPP. What is the truth?

HNR: The JI will contest the elections on its electoral symbol. As of now we are not considering anelectoral alliance with anyone. But we are open to seat adjustments on a local level. However, that cannot be called an alliance like the one we had with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf the last time.

TNS: Was the alliance with the PTI for the local government polls a poor decision?

HNR: The results showed that it was.

TNS: Was it your decision or a decision imposed by the leadership based in Mansoora (Lahore)?

HNR: Mansoora did not intervene. At that time, I thought it was a good decision. We thought that the PTI enjoyed a measure of mass popularity and we hada great organisational structure. Together, we felt, we could attain the desired results. Unfortunately, the PTI failed to generate any momentum. We wanted Prime Minister Imran Khan to visit Karachi more than once, but he did not. Our people had to contest on their symbol in some areas of the city because they didn’t have their own candidates to field.

TNS: Does that mean that Karachi is not a priority for the PTI?

HNR: Absolutely. If you take press conferences out of the equation, there is nothing there for them to show.

TNS: There is a section of the society that appreciates JI’s philanthropic work but doesn’t subscribe to its ideology. What are your views on this dichotomy?

HNR: Our doors are open for all, to people who consider themselves religious or secular alike. We do indeed believe in an ideology but I always say let’s meet on common ground. Let’s work together for the city’s development.

TNS: You say the doors are open for everyone but an MPA from your party moved a bill in the assembly calling for making it mandatory for parents to wed off children at 18? Didn’t ideology thus trump development politics?

HNR: It was a misunderstanding. That is not party policy. We never followed up on the bill. Our MPA backtracked after consulting some religious scholars.

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

‘Karachi is not a priority for the PTI’