MQM vs PSP in Karachi — One party’s defeat is other’s survival

Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party is challenging MQM-P in areas once considered to be Muttahida strongholds

Ebad Ahmed

For the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), the upcoming election is a battle for electoral survival, and relevance.

It once held monopoly in most constituencies of Karachi, which were referred to as “Muttahida ka Garh” (Muttahida’s stronghold), is up for grabs now as Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) also vyes for the Mohajir vote.

The city’s District Central, comprising of New Karachi, Gulberg, Liaquatabad, Nazimabad and North Nazimabad, which have a large Urdu-speaking population, were known to provide MQM — from which MQM-P splintered  two years ago — a smooth win. However, in 2013, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), although a runner-up, grabbed quite a few of its votes.

District Central's electoral map. Photo: ECP

“PTI put up a good show due to the nationwide wave it had created pre-2013,” explains Samar Abbas, a journalist in Karachi. “Also, these areas felt somewhat disillusioned with the MQM and its party chief.” However, the MQM’s landslide victory in the local body election and the by-election of NA-246 showed that the party managed to recover from the early setbacks, courtesy its drum-tight organisational structure, he adds. “Then, in a dramatic turn of events, the same party leaders who were holding the structure together defected to the PSP after August 22, 2016.”

PSP leader Mustafa Kamal (left) is contesting against MQM-P's Osama Qadri on NA-253 (Central). Photo: File

In short, the MQM-P seems to be losing its edge in the city of 16 million.

Muhammad Shehzad, now a member of the PSP’s organising committee for the NA-255 constituency, insists the MQM-P cannot compete without the help of men like him. “We were the ones who made the [former] MQM,” he tells “The candidates who used to contest from Karachi weren’t even familiar with the streets or corners of their constituency. We did everything for them.” Shehzad left the party he was associated with for over a decade after feeling sidelined. “They abandoned me when I most needed them. I called Nine Zero [party head office] and they told me, ‘We cannot help you since the security forces are after you,’” he complained.

PSP's Dr Arshad Vohra (right) is contesting against MQM-P's Shiekh Salahuddin on NA-254 (Central). Photo: File

Inarguably, ground realities in former MQM strongholds are now unpredictable. It would only be clear after July 25 if the MQM-P will suffer its worst seat count to date.

“This time the voters are not very vocal about who they will support. The majority may not be with the MQM-P, yet that doesn’t mean that they are with the PSP either,” a PSP candidate confided in, on the condition of anonymity, “It appears that the Urdu-speaking majority are still indecisive.” 

Kanwar Naveed Jamil, the former mayor of Hyderabad and the MQM-P candidate for a provincial assembly seat in District Central, says his party is facing a shortage of funds. But he quickly dispels rumours of an organisational collapse. “People are coming back on a daily basis in Liaquatabad and New Karachi.”

MQM-P chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui (left) is contesting against PSP's Jameel Rathore on NA-255 (Central). Photo: File

What may have also left the party hamstrung is the boycott announced by the former supremo of the now-defunct MQM. There is a widely held perception that the London-based chief still maintains an influence within the Mohajir community in the district. And yet, the MQM-Pakistan “took a fair share vote in the by-election despite the boycott call from London,” says Amin-ul-Haq, an MQM-P spokesperson. Last July, in the by-election held for PS-114 in Karachi’s Mehmoodabad area, MQM-P lost to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) candidate, Saeed Ghani, with a thin margin of merely 5,734 votes.

PSP's Adil Siddiqui is contesting against MQM-P's Amir Chishti on NA-256 (Central). Photo: File

Despite the chest-pumping, the MQM-P, it seems, is ready to accept that a win won’t be as clear-cut this time. Dr Farooq Sattar, its leader, in a recent media interview admitted that it would be like living in a fool’s paradise to believe that the party would retain all its seats in the coming polls. He further added that it would be interesting to see if they can at least retain their strongholds in the city.

On the other hand, its rivals and ex-members are certain of its defeat. “The MQM-P is over,” says Taha Ahmed Khan, the PSP’s candidate for PS-128, “After July 25, it will be a thing of past. Karachi has now moved on. Their journey began on June 11, 1978, and it will end on July 25.”