Will ‘non-Mohajir politics’ work for Mustafa Kamal?

KARACHI: Standing behind a green and white rostrum, a beaming Mustafa Kamal announced the launch of a new, patriotically named political party, Pakistan Sarzameen . The former mayor, the airwaves...

By
Ebad Ahmed
Will ‘non-Mohajir politics’ work for Mustafa Kamal?

KARACHI: Standing behind a green and white rostrum, a beaming Mustafa Kamal announced the launch of a new, patriotically named political party, Pakistan Sarzameen (PSP). The former mayor, the airwaves speculated, would usher in a new political reality in Karachi, which had for decades been the undisputed territory of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

That was March. Then fourteen months went by and the PSP did not make any ripples.

Kamal’s ambitions, it seemed, had failed to take off. But today, the PSP is aiming to make a comeback, as it has organised a “million march” to demand better health and educational facilities, water and electricity for the city of an estimated 20 million people.

Its 16,000 registered workers have launched a mass mobilization campaign in Karachi, say party officials. They have finally kick-started their political activities that would continue till the 2018 national elections. And unlike the MQM, Kamal insists he will not use ethnicity to woo voters.

“We are deliberately not pursuing Mohajir politics,” Anis Ahmad Khan, vice chairman of the PSP, tells Geo.TV, “We have seen its disastrous results under Altaf Hussain. In fact, ethnic politics has restricted the MQM to two and half districts of the city today.”

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The term ‘Mohajirs’ is used to describe the Urdu-speaking immigrants who left India in 1947 and came to Pakistan. A large chunk of them settled in the Sindh province. The MQM, founded in 1984, has often come to power on the support of the Urdu-speaking community.

PSP Chairman Mustafa Kamal addressing a corner meeting
PSP Chairman Mustafa Kamal addressing a corner meeting 

Naseer Khan, the vice president of party`s Karachi division, is a Pashtun, who originally hails from Buner in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. He now lives in Kati Pahari, an area notorious for ethnic violence. He insists the people of his area, largely Pashtuns, would vote for development and not on the basis of one’s background.

Karachi is home to several ethnicities, the Urdu-speaking, Sindhis, Pashtuns, Baloch, Punjabis, amongst others. These ethnicities then determine a community’s political affiliations. In the past, for instance, the Sindhi and Baloch would often prefer to vote for the Pakistan Peoples` Party.

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But the new entrant, the PSP, hopes that non-Mohajir politics would expand its role and not limit it to an area. “We now have a presence in Keemari, a Pashtun-dominated area, as well. This is a proof our success. People are welcoming us because they know that politicians elected on the basis of ethnicity haven’t delivered,” said Khan.

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Another party member, Faisal Raza, says they have 20-member committees in every area of the city, half of which are non-Urdu speaking.

But that seems like a rather simple approach for a party still finding its ground. Can Kamal single-handedly change the discourse of the metropolis?

Crowd at a PSP meeting in Garden area
Crowd at a PSP meeting in Garden area

French author Laurent Gayer in his book, ‘Karachi: Ordered Disorder & the Struggle for the City’ would disagree. The city, he wrote, did not positively welcome the move when the MQM tried to jettison the tag of Mohajir politics. “Despite its efforts to widen its audience by relinquishing its original ethnic discourse – as indicated by its renaming from (Mohajir to Muttahida Qaumi Movement, in 1997) – the MQM failed to extend its domination beyond the Mohajir community.”

Kamal will struggle too, explains journalist Zia ur Rehman, especially with people who remember his days as the city’s mayor. “The party did not get any response from non-Muhajir areas of the city because Mustafa Kamal ignored development in non-MQM areas during his tenure as mayor.”

Senior analysts Mazhar Abbas says there is a simple test to the PSP’s claims, “Will the PSP stand its Pashtun or Sindhi candidates in a Mohajir-dominated area?”