Karachi bleeds as MQM, ANP & PPP fight a turf war
By Babar Ayaz
The inevitable separation of bickering coalition partners –PPP and MQM – happened last month which unleashed a fresh wave of violence in the city. Ostensibly MQM said that PPP was putting undue pressure on it to withdraw one candidate from Azad Kashmir elections. But everybody knew that the real bone of contention between MQM and other coalition partners was that PPP and ANP wanted drastic changes in the local government laws and re-demarcation of the constituencies in Sindh.
First let’s take the constituencies issue. MQM had it carved well to favour it in the elections with the support of the Musharraf regime. While Karachi was merged into one megapolis, Hyderabad was divided in three districts. This gave MQM clean seats as Sindhi speaking areas were separated from the Urdu speaking Hyderabad city.
The Sindh government had tried to change this sometime back when Naveed Qamar promised to undo the 2002 demarcation in a speech in Hyderabad. But MQM threatened to leave the alliance which forced PPP to step back. Now that it seems the MQM has parted ways for good the government has jumped to undo the division of Hyderabad.
In Karachi PPP has decided to divide the city in five districts ostensibly for purpose of better administration, but the real motive is to carve out more seats for itself and ANP in the city.
So it was not wrong to say that the real issue is that the candidates are now using all the tricks in the bag to choose their voters. We may see more of it at the national level once the population census will give its report and the election commission will have to go through the exercise of delimitation of constituencies in 2012. There will be more of wrangling for constituencies and hence more noise. But the fact remains that in democracies census has to be held every 10 years (ours is being done after 13 years) and constituencies have to be re-demarcated accordingly to match the demographic changes.
So the violent ethnic conflict of the city is also for securing constituencies. ANP has been saying that there Pakhtoon population is close to five to six million which means almost 30 per cent of the18 million Karachi population if MQM’s estimates are accepted.
The present tussle between the two parties is mainly a prelude to the forthcoming local bodies’ and general elections. That looks like the most probable reason. Like all major cities of the world, Karachi has been going through a constant phase of inguistic demographic changes. The city, according to international figures, has a total population of 15.7 million people and ranks as the 13th biggest city of the world. Although, if one extrapolates its 1998 population as reported by the census and on the basis of official 3.5% growth rate, it should be around 15 million. But the MQM maintains that the city population is much larger. How they calculate this higher figure is not known.
According to the 1998 survey demographic linguistic break-up is as following: Urdu speaking 48.52%; Punjabi 13.64; Pushto 11.96%; Sindhi just 7.34%; Balochi 4.34%; Sariaki 2.11% and the rest 12.09%. The rest includes Gujrati and other languages. On the basis of extrapolation of 1998 census it can be concluded that Pakhtoon population ratio should not be more than 14-15% in Karachi. The number of Pakhtoon population living in Karachi is registered as voters in Pakhtunkhwa or in tribal areas. The ANP drive to get them registered in Karachi is likely to change the balance against MQM in some constituencies which is taken as a threat by them.
Till the issue of census and voters list and constituencies redemarcation is not settled the Karachiites will remain on tenterhooks as more violence cannot be ruled out.
The other issue is of scrapping the 2001 local government scheme. No doubt the local government system given by Musharraf had some short-comings but that could have been improvised. But all the provincial governments have reverted back to the colonial commissionerate system. The most positive part of the 2002 local bodies system was that it had put the local government servants under the elected representatives undoing the colonial bureaucracy Raj. PPP could have managed to redraw constituencies without reverting to a system that is bureaucratic in nature and is against the principle of separation of judiciary and executive.
Such thoughtless actions for short-term gains show poverty of serious thinking in all the parties. There is hardly a political party with formidable think-tanks; the top leadership believes that they know it all. Hence we have seen all the ruling parties from the inception of Pakistan making political blunders without any exception.
This system was opposed from day one by the bureaucracy as they could not tolerate to be bossed around by the mostly middle class elected representatives. It was also opposed by the politicians who are elected to national and provincial assemblies because they never wanted devolution of power to the local governments. These politicians have now restored the system that will enable them to interfere with the local governments day-to-day work as the bureaucracy will now be accountable to the provincial government. Here MQM is right in opposing the commissionerate system.
Argument given by one important PPP leader was that they wanted to do away with the local government system given by a military dictator. Now this is nonsense. Instead, they reverted back to General Ziaul Haq’s 1979 local government system and 1861 colonial Police Act. They forgot that while brining in the mega 18th Amendment to the constitution the parliamentarians sagaciously kept some of the positive reforms brought in by Musharraf. For instance abolition of separate electorate and reserving more seats for the women.
So fault lies on both sides of the present divide. PPP has
hastened to change the laws curtailing the local government powers and
introducing oppressive Police Act. MQM is at fault in not accepting the fact
that redemarcation of constituencies is inevitable and the city representation
has to be shared with other ethnic communities living in Karachi.
No ethnic community should claim that they have the exclusive
right to rule any city. Cosmopolitan cities like Karachi belong to all and
their representation at local, provincial and national level has to reflect the
demographic mix. This is essential when melting pot of mega cities have not yet
integrated all the ethnic communities into one. This is essential when MQM and
ANP have merged as ethnic parties in spite of their feeble efforts to rise as
national parties. (firstname.lastname@example.org)