Karachi Cauldron Bubbles Over
If the US is to stay on in Afghanistan’s half a dozen or so bases in the event of it scaling down its combat troops by July 2011, these bases will require a steady flow of supplies. It is in this context the continuing violence in Karachi, Pakistan’s commercial hub and the main port for US supplies to Afghanistan, is disturbing for the US and NATO in addition to the people of Karachi.
In the past few months atleast 250 people have been killed in violence which is political, sectarian and, above all, a crucial tussle between Karachi’s largely moderate population and an increasingly assertive Muslim extremism. In fact it is an explosive brew of all these elements.
Post partition migration of population, mostly Hindus from Punjab, were described as “refugees” in the earlier years, but have since been assimilated totally. Two such people have been Prime Ministers of India – Inder Gujaral and Manmohan Singh.
In Pakistan the migrants from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar settled overwhelmingly in Karachi, have been institutionalized as “Mohajirs” or “refugees”. They brought with them their language, Urdu. Many paradoxes attended this language. Its very soul was forged in undivided India’s composite culture but it was made Pakistan’s national language. How does the very epitome of “ganga-jumni” culture enmesh with the evolution of a theocratic state?
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement or MQM became almost the sole representative of Karachi’s Mohajirs, a massive majority in Karachi’s 18 to 20 million population.
After the turbulence in Afghanistan since the 80s, waves of Pushto speaking Pathans (Pushtoons) have populated clearly demarcated areas which, over the years, have burgeoned into Pushtoon ghettos like Al Asif, just outside Karachi airport. There are now over four million Pushtoons and numerous such fortified ghettos which are no-go for non Pushtoons.
Over the years as Pakistan created its “Jehadist”, “Talebanized” “assets” in Afghanistan, North West Frontier Province, the militant Islamic streak has penetrated these ghettos and begun to condition them.
The Awami National Party or ANP, a political force confined to the NWFP, is making inroads into Karachi’s politics. The aspiration to create political base in Karachi has grown in direct proportion to the ANP’s decline in NWFP where it is increasingly despised as being part of the Pak establishment which is in cahoots with the Americans raining bombs or targeting areas with unmanned drones. ANP leader, Asfandyar Wali, cannot easily enter NWFPs premier city, Peshawar.
In this atmosphere, Haider Raza, MQM member in the Sind Assembly, was assassinated in August leading to riots in which a hundred people died. This was in addition to the tit for tat murders between rival gangs affiliated to rival political and ethnic parties which are Karachi’s almost daily routine.
Add to this cauldron ultra fundamentalist outfits like Lashkar-e-Jhangvi and Sipah-e-Sahaba pushing their rabid anti Amadiya, anti Shia agendas and you have vapours of confusion and strife choking Pakistan’s biggest city.
The reason for the latest wave of violence unleashed last week was the by election for the seat made vacant because of Haider Raza’s murder in August. Haidar Raza had polled 80,000 votes as against ANP’s 923. This time, the ANP, presumably fearing a similar drubbing, announced on the eve of polling that they would like elections to be halted because they feared the MQM would “rig” the elections.
Four MQM supporters were picked up. This was followed by indiscriminate firing in which 33 people were killed and many more wounded.
As for the results of the by election, well, MQM polled 91,000 votes against ANP’s 210. The violence is, to all appearances, a consequence of sections of the ANP unable to cope with a humiliating electoral defeat. Also, the indiscriminate violence is a means to intimidate the MQM’s silent support base.
Farooq Sattar and Babar Khan Ghori are two MQM ministers in the coalition at the centre. If the MQM withdraws support or joins the opposition, the government in Islamabad could collapse.
The survival or otherwise of the PPP led government is not such a momentous development.
What is critical is the slow and steady growth of pernicious, intolerant ways of designing Islam where civilization itself is condemned as apostasy.
A more frightening development than any in recent weeks was the attack on October 6 on the Sufi shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi in Karachi. This follows attacks on Lahore’s most revered shrine.
Karachi, in addition to being the centre of the MQM, also happens to be the capital of Sind, the sub continent’s most Sufi inclined people.
It is all a catastrophe waiting to happen in the port city indispensable to US war effort in Kabul unless, of course, in some distant future the mist lifts and some Iranian ports swim into focus.
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