Emma Duncan is the Deputy Editor of The Economist. She is the magazine’s chief reporter, writer and editor on climate change. She has also held several other posts on the paper, including Britain Editor and Asia Editor.
In 1988-89, she wrote “Breaking the Curfew” (Michael Joseph), a book on politics, culture and society in the troubled state of Pakistan.
Following are a few excerpts from her wonderful book on Pakistan regarding her view and experience about MQM
“Karachi’s other new phenomenon is, in a way, more optimistic. The Mohajir Qaumi Movement believes that if it takes over government, everything will be all right. It sprang out of a students’ group in Karachi University after the Jamaat-i-Islami student wing, previously the preserve of Mohajirs, was taken over by Punjabis. The party started in earnest a mass rally in Karachi in August 1986; in December 1987, it wiped out the Jamaat-i-Islami and won the local elections in Hyderabad and Karachi, and Karachi got a twenty-year-old MQM Mayor.
The MQM is the logical result of the trend in Pakistani politics towards ethnic and regional splits. That shift is a practical admission that Pakistan has failed to build up a national identity, and the mohajirs, themselves a jumble of origins, have the common experience of dislocation to tie them together. They have a common material grievance, too—the quota system, which gives ‘Urban Sind’ 7.6% of Civil service Jobs when it has around twelve per cent of the country’s population. Since those who migrated tended to be the better-educated, mohajirs have taken a disproportionate number of bureaucratic jobs, but the quota system is pushing them out. In 1973, ‘Urban Sind’ had thirty-three per cent of top civil service jobs; by 1983, it had twenty per cent. Mohajirs, in the MQM’s definition, are not necessarily Urdu-Speakers, and not necessarily all those who came from India at partition. East Punjabis do not count, and Gujarati-speakers do. The line is an urban-rural one: the Punjabis were mostly villagers, and the Gujaratis town-based businessmen.
Although deteriorating services in the city help to explain the anger, there is much more to it. People in Karachi are certainly a lot better off than they were twenty years ago, but nobody protested then. The MQM is a second-generation party. The first generation of refugees, many of whom spoke Gujarati or Tamil, had even less in common than their children do. More important is the change in attitude. Refugees are often cautious, preferring to keep their political heads down and make good materially. The Mohajirs’ children are less willing to do this, or to observe the norms of respect that their parents accepted. Arif Hassan, an architect who has worked for years in Orangi, wrote of the typical young MQM activist:
“Sifarish, traditionally an honour for the one on whom it was bestowed, is a dirty word in his vocabulary, and he addresses his leadership as bhai [brother] and chacha [uncle], not as sahib, jenab, huzoor or Saeen.” In times of tension, he said, the administration used to restore order by summoning the ‘notables’ of the district and getting guarantees from them that disturbances would stop. That no longer works: the boys resent not only the rich of Clifton and Defense, but the whole system of patronage from which they are excluded. They therefore no longer listen to the local patrons.
Optimism apart, the MQM is a ghastly irony. Its members are the very people whose parents were the bulwark of the Pakistan movement, who left their homes in India because they did not want to be an underprivileged minority in a country with a divided population. They found that Islam, or whatever it was that led them to uproot themselves willingly, was not enough to unite their new country; and forty disappointed years later, they apparently feel they can get justice only by asserting their minority status and dividing the population further. The MQM’s birth is evidence of the death of the spirit that created Pakistan.
The MQM was hard to locate when I was in Karachi after the 1987 local elections, because its leader, Altaf Hussein, was in jail, and most of its other notables were underground. I found a layer, Razique Khan, who had just won a municipal council seat—and after I met him, became deputy mayor.
His telephone number started with unfamiliar digits which placed him in some distant area of North Karachi not much frequented by those whom I had mostly been mizing. It took an hour to get there in a taxi, round a series of roundabouts surrounded by creeping circles of traffic with fewer and fewer cars and more and more buses and lorries. The further out we went, the worse the buildings: quickly put-up blocks and close-set rows of minimal housing, concrete spreading as far as I could see.
Razique Khan arrived, apologetically, after an hour. He had the squashy brown face and bridgeless, snub nose that can come from anywhere in eastern or southern India. He said he was from Bihar. The top of his head was bald, but the rest of his hair long, as though to compensate. He was fat, but it was an energetic fatness, that answered questions quickly and leapt up constantly to stop the telephone ringing. The people in his constituency were eighty per cent mohajirs, he said. Previously, the area had been a stronghold of the Jamaat-i-Islami, but they had been wiped out in the recent elections. His constituency was mostly slums with all sorts of people living there—government servants, small shopkeepers and businessmen, clerks, laborers. Some of the areas, including Poortown, were illegal settlements.
‘They have no program, the Jamaat. They say pray to god and all will be well. But the young people, they like logical talk. They have some problems, they want some answers.’
I was charmed by Razique Khan’s sharp energy and quick laugh. His air of plump triumph, and the nervous satisfaction of his little wife, set him apart from the other politicians I had met. He was not performing a hereditary duty, a tiresome business necessary for the maintenance of position. He had, coming from the nowhere-much of north Karachi, helped change the face of Pakistan.
I forgot, while I was talking to him, that I thought I disapproved of him nearly as much as I did of the Jamaat-i-Islami. I cannot see it as anything but regression to vote for people because of what they are, not because of what they say. It takes me straight back to the years before partition when Indians, who had assumed that they would get their freedom as a united country, began to find their land splitting into Us and Them, which ended up as Pakistan and India. A high-up Pakistani with whom I had conversation of astonishing frankness and gloom said to me ‘Study the MQM carefully. In it, you will find the genesis of the Pakistan Movement.’
The MQM’s success—it won eleven out of fourteen national assembly seats in Karachi in the 1988 election—suggests that Pakistan, which is moving so fast in so many ways, has got its politics stuck in a sort of neo-tribalism. However disrespectful the mohajirs are of sifarish, of the old networks of patronage, they are beginning to operate in the same way themselves. They are beginning to look like a huge braderi: voting for their own, demanding jobs for their own, closing their ranks against Them (the Pathans, the Punjabis, or anybody else who might seem a threat). That sort of politics must be regressive and inefficient; it depends on handling out jobs to us and not to Them, which means the job is done worse than if it were given to somebody because he could do it; and it leads to mobs of Xs attacking a Y on the streets because there was a rumor that some Ys had attacked on X. To me, Bhutto’s election was a step forwards, towards ideological politics, and it is up to this generation of politicians to decide whether or not has was an aberration. ”