“Austerity, reforms, rule of law, is how this esteemed newspaper has described the maiden speech of Prime Minister Imran Khan. Indubitably, a very extraordinary expression of sincere intent was made by Premier Imran Khan. Apart from the omission – unintentional, we believe – with regard to the key foreign policy challenges, particularly the situation evolving out of the on-going brutal wave of violence in the Occupied Kashmir, his speech was quite refreshing and motivating in general. However, without going into the pluses and minuses of his key strategic outlook with regard to country’s socio-economic development as described by him, there was plenty reassurance for the Karachiites specifically in his speech. This was perhaps for the very first time that any Prime Minister has devoted so much space for the problems of Karachi in the maiden speech - a very well-timed stroke by the skipper. After its unbelievable electoral success in Karachi, everyone was expecting that now Imran Khan will devote ample time and attention to this city to reciprocate the overwhelming support and “hopes” of its residents.
Nobody was expecting the PTI to register its electoral success in Karachi so emphatically in the 2018 vote. The most optimistic assessment of the PTI’s local leadership was to win maximum 3 national assembly seats and 4 provincial assembly seats from Karachi. But the results have totally stunned everybody. None of the pre-poll analysis and public opinion survey reports were predicting this kind of voting trend in favour of the PTI. Imran Khan has shattered the chronic myth; no one can take away Karachi from the grip of MQM. It is equally shocking for the MQM, the main loser, and the PTI, the main winner. After three decades of violence-laden politics, extortions, strikes, street crimes, and mafia-styled manoeuvrings, Karachi has suddenly given its clear cut verdict in favour of a tabdeeli and re-joining the national mainstream politics. The emotional Karachiites have expressed their desire for change in a very big way.
The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf, on the other hand, is still recovering from the shockwaves of this pleasant jolt. They are undecided how to celebrate and maintain the exultation of this historic electoral victory. A revolt vote was simmering in Karachi for a long time, but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was ignoring the undercurrents that were weakening the very foundations of its stronghold. The MQM was overtly overconfident. “Karachi hamara hai” is how every senior and junior leader of the MQM was used to proudly declare in public and in private. In 2013 election, the symptoms of Karachi’s revolt were quite palpable but the supremely overconfident and egoistic mind set of the MQM leadership deliberately ignored the writing on the wall and did not learn from their mistakes. The 2013 election, in which the PTI was forcibly confined to one seat despite mustering handsome votes in most of the constituencies, was the very first time when the voters showed the signs of smouldering desire to replace the activism of MQM with the dynamism of the PTI. Yes, the PTI was coerced to keep itself within certain limits in Karachi and it was never allowed to work freely after 2013 election in Karachi to mobilise the supporters. The role of local leadership of the PTI was disappointing. They never made any tangible plan to capitalize on the existing support of the desperate Karachiites. Even Imran Khan, who should have been very active in the Karachi affairs after seeing the response in the 2013 polls, did not make any conscious effort to remain in touch with his support base in Karachi.
In fact, instead of giving more time to the fertile territory of Karachi and finding ways to remain in touch with the Karachi voters, Imran Khan practically kept himself away from Karachi in the last five years. It was expected that Imran Khan, considered to be an expert strategist, would chalk out a long-term strategy to bolster and expand his support base in this metropolis, but he disappointed his supporters by remaining indifferent to Karachi and its problems. Against this backdrop, it was expected that the PTI would not be able to repeat its 2013 performance and the disenchanted Karachiites will turn back towards the kite. But on July 25, Karachi announced its verdict overwhelmingly in favour of the PTI in a conscious and very forceful avowal to transform itself as a living and progressive city on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
The equation is very simple; the residents of Karachi have actually voted against three decades of violence, street crimes, extortions, water shortage, load-shedding, unemployment, poor urban infra-structure, deteriorating educational institutions, discrimination in government jobs and inadequate civic services. After thirty years of extremely dismal performance of the MQM, with the exception of few underpasses and bridges of the Mustafa Kamal era, Karachi has taken a drastic step by loudly siding with Imran Khan and his team to run the show now. Karachi is the real test of Imran Khan. He can’t afford to neglect this city anymore. He must devise a comprehensive phase-wise package to transform Karachi and sincerely address its decades-old, chronic problems. This comprehensive package or programme should be branded and marketed effectively to the residents of Karachi, and, more importantly, its execution must be very prompt and smooth. This Karachi package should be planned and executed under the direct personal supervision of Imran Khan. Once he is able to deliver tangible positives to the city, Karachi will vehemently reciprocate it – much more passionately than 2018. At the same time, a brighter and better Karachi will help the PTI to make quick inroads into the stronghold of the PPP in rural Sind. If reports are to be believed, Imran Khan has already planned a task force to oversee Karachi as a mega project, a very encouraging development.
There will be, however, two major challenges to any such Karachi package by the PTI; one, the physical hindrances to the logistical part of the development work from those elements who are not happy with the PTI’s electoral success and who won’t like to see Karachi to remain in the PTI camp for long, and two, the “technical” and financial impediments by the PPP-led Sind government and provincial bureaucracy. Prime Minister Imran Khan knows it well that the cooperation of the Sindh government will be crucial for the success of his vision for Karachi, that’s why he at least thrice repeated this aspect in his speech while referring to Karachi and its problems. Swift transformation of Karachi is the only option – for the PTI and for the city of Karachi. Karachi has suffered for decades and its tears need to be wiped. The decision by the MQM leadership to join hands with the PTI is the best proposition that the Karachiites could have expected at this moment. This is certainly a very good omen for Karachi and its residents. However, the trickiest part would be how to build trust and cooperation for a smooth working relationship between the MQM and local leadership of the PTI in the coming days.
There is huge difference in the culture, political ideology and strategic vision of the two parties. There is no doubt that both will eagerly work for a better Karachi because there is no other option available for anyone. But the differences may start cracking the alliance over the question of who gets the credit for development of Karachi. This will have a very damaging and demoralising impact on the current euphoria and optimism of the Karachiites. It will be very unfortunate if the differences between the two parties start showing its symptoms on the streets and roads of Karachi. A lot depends upon the thinking patterns of the MQM leadership, which will desperately try to win back the vacated seats from Karachi in the bye-elections to regain its status in the power equation of Karachi, while the PTI leadership will be under severe pressure to retain those seats to re-confirm its nascent sway in the city. So, Karachi is going to see major change in its political fabric in the coming days.
The writer is a freelance columnist.