The raid on Nine Zero Azizabad marked a lot of things, but one of the issues it threw into relief was that of the importance provincial identity had assumed under the constitutional dispensation provided by the 1973 Constitution, while the Yuhannabad church attack reinforced the message of the pitfalls of being in a minority. At the time of the raid in Karachi, the Rangers were unaware that they would be called out in Lahore. While the two forces involved are separate, the Mehran and Sutlej Rangers respectively, both are under the control of the Federal Interior Ministry.
The raid by Rangers sent a number of signals, such as the end of immunity for MQM headquarters, but it merely confirmed impressions held before. Opponents of the MQM had already accused it of being a violent group, and of involvement in the kind of criminal activities that had made the city a nightmare, particularly the target killings that had made Karachi hard to live in. The recovery of arms, and the arrest of target killing accused, confirmed that impression. At the same time, the raid itself confirmed the claim by MQM supporters that the military was targeting the MQM; that the purpose of the operation was to target the MQM.
The MQM has traversed much ground since the All-Pakistan Muhajir Students Organisation was founded in 1978 by Altaf Hussain, which morphed into the MQM in 1984 when he (and the APMSO cadres) grew up. The MQM in 1987 swept the Karachi and Hyderabad municipalities, installing its mayors and deputy mayors, and has swept polls in their urban areas ever since, not just at the local body, but also the provincial and national levels. One effect has been that the MQM has always joined the Sindh ruling coalition, whether the interior has been swept by the PPP, or the PML(N). In fact, the 2013 election was the first time the MQM was left out of the provincial government.
Unlike the 1992 operation, when Altaf had only recently gone abroad, this time the operation took place when the MQM was in opposition. However, not enough thought seems to have gone into finding reasons why the MQM finds support in a community which is not normally associated with criminality of any kind. There are other communities one would anticipate would find their political expression in parties with criminal connections, but the Muhajirs are not among them.
Muhajirs are a new community, as they represent those Muslims who had been in a minority in their home provinces, but who migrated to the new Muslim homeland of Pakistan, created in the Muslim-majority provinces of India. It must not be forgotten that there was a second Partition, which resulted in those Muhajirs who had migrated to East Pakistan at Partition from Bihar, migrating a second time, this time in 1971, to Karachi. The MQM does not accept as Muhajirs those whose elders migrated from East to West Punjab. It argues that they did not face any culture shock. This may be true for those who migrated, say, from Amritsar to Lahore, but those who ended up in colony districts found that many of the initially Seraiki areas of the province were transformed. However, it should be conceded that the culture shock faced in Sindh was greater for migrants from Urdu-speaking provinces of India than that faced by migrants from West to East Punjab, who may not even have faced a change of dialect.
The real issue was perhaps more one of politics than of ethnicity or culture. Punjabi migrants found accommodation in the political structure; Muhajirs did not. While individuals may have risen to the top, the average Muhajir found the Pakistan experience not as empowering as he had thought it would be, as the numerically larger local population jostled more successfully for a share in the pie. Punjabi Muhajirs also found accommodation in the legislature and the bureaucracy, and did not maintain separate identities. Muhajirs in Sindh had to establish a separate political identity. At first, this was done by support of religious parties, but ultimately of the MQM. It is noteworthy that the majority Sindhi community switched to the PPP at the time the MQM was being founded, which gave Muhajirs a federal stake, but in combination with other ethnicities.
The problem of an ethnic party is that it cannot be ideological. Altaf Hussain has tried to cast the MQM as a supporter of the USA, and an opponent of militancy, thus achieving three goals. First, the MQM has placed itself against the Jamaat Islami and the JUI(F), which are said to be Taliban sympathisers and supporters, which fits in with the MQM’s politics, which is not only fighting off the Jamaat Islami, but also the Jamaat’s ally, the PTI, whose anti-corruption message has posed the MQM the most serious challenge of its existence. It also allows the MQM to pursue its ethnic agenda. Perhaps the biggest ethnic challenge the MQM faces is that of its stronghold also being the most populous Pashtun city in the world. That militancy has found support among Pashtuns has meant that opposing militancy allows opposing Pashtuns. However, it poses something of a dilemma for a Muhajir who sympathises with the Taliban, and would like to give what aid he can, but is also conscious that being a Muhajir puts him at a disadvantage in obtaining state resources.
It is perhaps a coincidence that Karachi seems to follow the example of Mumbai, the older port. It was developed by the Raj, just as Gwadar is being now developed, and was particularly developed during World War II, as an important supplement to Mumbai, whose capacity was insufficient for the war effort. Karachi’s trajectory shifted to becoming the federal capital, but seemed to come down when it was reduced to a provincial capital after Islamabad’s founding. Muhajirs who thought they had settled in the federal capital found they were merely residents of a provincial capital.
Though it was a provincial capital, the Sindh government controlled the police, the health services and the education services. Even a Muhajir military ruler, Pervez Musharraf, who had a Muhajir PM, Shaukat Aziz, failed to solve the problems Muhajirs faced, just as much as Sindhis still faced problems, even though there had been two Sindhi PMs, and a Sindhi President. The problems of poverty, injustice and misgovernance are faced by all ethnicities, and cannot be solved through the ethnic paradigm.
That failure of the ‘minority model’ was shown by the Yuhannabad incident. Much is said about the rights of minorities in Islam, but the fact of the matter is that they keep on being attacked. The solutions proposed, like amending the school syllabi, will not work. Tinkering with a system that has failed will not yield results. Only thorough change will yield results.