Pakistan is expected to hold a general election in the current year. This is a positive sign with regard to the democratisation process in Pakistan where the parliament is going to complete its tenure (second time) without any external intervention. But at this juncture, Pakistan’s largest city Karachi is going to witness some unusual political upheaval in the coming general elections. There are political break-ups, new alliances and fresh expectations of the old and new political actors in the city.

Urdu speaking community felt threatened when Pashtuns migrated to Karachi in order to seek economic opportunities. It is pertinent to mention here that Karachi is said to be the economic hub of Pakistan and the largest city in terms of population, comprising over 20 million people. It has a complex ethnic composition and a long history of political militancy. Ayub Khan’s industrial policies generated new job opportunities for the labour class and people all across the country turned towards Karachi. It made it even more complex and deteriorated law and order situation of the city.

Post-1988 Karachi had been a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) dominated city. MQM single-handedly clean swept in general elections except in 1993 when the party boycotted the election because of operation clean-up in 1992. But things slightly changed in the 2002 elections when Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) managed to win seven seats. MQM is generally believed to be a political tactic of military dictator Ziaul Haq to counter the Pakistan People’s Party in urban Sindh. 

A major political upheaval in politics of Karachi was caused by the PTI which managed to get votes in the general elections in 2013. But the militant wing of the MQM was activated in the city and disinters and political opponents, including the traders and businessmen, were either killed or abducted. This again led towards the initiation of a new operation in Karachi. This time the MQM’s militant wing was not only weakened but it was, with the help of free press, almost eliminated. Karachiites felt emancipated and revealed their new political affiliations with new political actors in the city.

Moreover, the political landscape of Karachi was mainly affected by two major political developments in the city; the formation of Syed Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) on March 23, 2016 and Altaf Hussain’s anti-Pakistan speech on August, 2016. PSP divided the MQM and some leaders like Anis Kaimkhani who were not happy with Altaf Hussain and his politics of fear and confrontation joined Mr Mustafa Kamal and divided the vote bank of the MQM. More harmful was the speech made by the MQM chief who made anti-Pakistan comments in a politically blunt way. The leadership of MQM in Pakistan decided to part ways with their leader Altaf Husaain, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM) was launched under the leadership of Dr Farooq Sattar.

Later on, Dr Farooq Sattar tried to unite PSP-MQM but his efforts did not bring any fruit. On the contrary, Farooq’s leadership was challenged and further weakened when the party was white washed in the Senate Elections 2018. Now the MQM-P is divided into two factions. One faction is being headed by Dr Farooq and the other one is being led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. MQM’s infighting has given space to the PTI and PPP to mobilise people of Karachi in order to ensure their political presence in the city. Although PTI is having several organisational challenges at the moment yet the announcement of its chief to contest elections from Karachi has shown PTI’s seriousness to manage electoral win in the city.

The party is optimistic to enhance its presence and manage to gain five to seven seats in Karachi after the break-ups and disorganisation of the MQM.

There are opportunities for new political actors in Karachi but at the same time there are grave challenges for the MQM. The narrative established won’t work much this time as the party has been divided into different sub-groups. The question for Urdu-speaking community is; who is really working to protect the interests of the Mohajir community?

PSP has a new narrative and aspires to be a national party but is at the moment in its infancy. MQM is, on the other hand, using old narrative of ‘Protecting Mohajir’ but this has been challenged by Imran Khan’s PTI who has introduced the people of Karachi to an idea of development and national integration.

Politics in Karachi is still not predictable. Nobody is sure about new alliance among political parties before the general elections. But whether new alliances are formed or not, there is going to be a big upheaval in general elections of 2018 in Karachi.