The Dynamics of Mohajirs’ Politics

To understand the role of MQM, which has been in the red-spotlight following allegations by the former Home Minister of Sindh Zulfikar Mirza, I think it is time to briefly review the role of Mohajirs in the politics of Pakistan in general and Sindh in particular.

It has also become imperative after the fear expressed last week by Altaf Hussain that he might be killed or silenced as he is an obstruction in the way of Balkanisation of Pakistan, implicitly by the US. He also went out of the way to end MQM’s isolation by offering unconditional services to the Pakistan army and the civil government in that order. In this three part analyses of Mohajir politics dynamics we will address the issue MQM fear of Balkanisation in the concluding article.

The Mohajirs migrated from the Muslim minority provinces of India mainly for three reasons: economic opportunities, personal security which was endangered by the communal riots and under delusion that Muslims of India are one nation.

At the time of partition over 70% migrants were from East Punjab because Punjab was one of the two provinces of India which was divided on communal basis, the other being Bengal. As the migrants from East Punjab belonged to the same ethnicity and spoke the same language most of them settled in West Punjab and have easily assimilated with the local Punjabis.

The rest of the migrants were from Muslim minority areas such as U.P, Bihar, C.P, Delhi, Hyderabad (Andhra Pradesh) Gujarat and Bombay, etc. It is this lot which migrated to Sindh: one – because for some strange reason Jinnah’s government dictated that Sindh would take 200,000 refugees from the first influx, while Punjab was given 100,000, other provinces quota was much smaller; two – Karachi was made the capital of the country; and three – it was a business hub with an international sea port and airport.

Hence most of the middle class immigrant came to this city in search of better economic opportunities. Some who came by crossing the Sindh border with India settled in Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas. By mid-fifties over a million Mohajirs had settled in Karachi, completely changing its demography. They formed over 60% of the population, while Sindhi ratio dropped to some 7%.

For the first 11 years the Mohajirs had it too good as they held many more jobs in the government than their ratio in the country’s population and advanced their businesses. They were happy to be the junior partner of the Punjabi ruling elite although they formed only 3.3% of the country’s population. In 1951 of the 95 senior civil services jobs 33 were held by the Mohajirs and 40 by the Punjabis. In 1959 out of 48 top military elite positions 11 were held by Mohajirs that is 23% of the total. In the same year, of the total top (Class 1) Bureaucracy 3532 positions, the Mohajirs’ share was 1070 that is 30% of the total. (Language and Politics in Pakistan by Tariq Rehman P-121)  This was the time they supported Muslim League, which was the ruling party for most of this period.

Once General Ayub Khan ousted the elected government and imposed Martial Law initially they continued to enjoy privileged positions particularly in the civil bureaucracy. However, the Mohajirs’ share in power started declining by early sixties. Ayub’s first constituency was obviously the army, which had 20% Pakhtuns. And for the first time Mohajirs were replaced by the Pakhtuns as the junior partner in the ruling power set-up.

The Muslim League was divided into pro-government and opposition factions. But the leadership of the disgruntled Mohajirs started rallying around the religious parties. They were the first generation of immigrants and needed the moral reason to be at Bunder Road Karachi, instead of being at Chandni Chowk of Delhi. And what could be a more honourable reason than the cause of religion. Nobody wanted to say that they came to Pakistan in search of better economic opportunities because this sounds too materialistic in a society that had feudal social values. Their association with religious parties was more for opposing Ayub Khan who had changed the power equation and was a secular man and less for the love of religion.

The first flash point of ethnic violence in the city between the Mohajirs and Pakhtuns was on the celebration of 1965 elections victory by Gauhar Ayub in Karachi. Mohajir leadership had opposed Ayub and sided with Fatima Jinnah. Several people were killed in these clashes. The Mohajirs have since then resented the influx of the Pakhtun immigrants from Pakhtunkhwa and FATA to Sindh, although Pakhtun workers are mainly associated with the transport and construction industry – the job Mohajirs were not interested in.

Once the military-blessed democratic government of PPP came, in 1972 in what is today’s Pakistan, the power equation changed again and the Sindhi‘s got the first opportunity to be the junior partner of the Punjabi ruling classes. As Sindh is the second largest province of Pakistan, after Punjab, with 23% population this equation is likely to remain unchanged in any democratic dispensation. This again irritated the Mohajir leadership who instead of joining hands with the mainstream political parties like PPP opposed the government from the religious parties’ platform. On the other hand for the first time after 25 years of independence the Sindh government got back the secretariat and Assembly Building which belonged to them before the partition.

An anecdote here may explain the level of resentment of Mohajirs on this change of the power equation. As I was going through the corridors of Sindh Assembly, where I had gone to meet a friend, I met two Mohajir leaders of Sukkur Muslim League, Syed Hasan Mian and Ashfaq (I have forgotten his last name) pointing out towards some Sindhis who were passing by dressed in their ‘Shalwar Kameez’ and Sindhi caps, Hassan Mian lamented: “Isn’t it sad such people who don’t know how to dress-up have now flocked in droves to the Assembly.?” I pointed out respectfully, because he was a friend’s father: “Uncle isn’t this a fact that the province belonged to Sindhis who gave the Mohajirs’ shelter when they came from India so why should they not be here? His immediate response was “you have never been on the side of the ‘Qaum’ (Mohajir nation) even as a student so you will not understand.” Note the use of term ‘Qaum’ as early as 1972.

During Ayub Khan’s military dictatorship we witnessed the civil administration dividing the people of Sindh by creating Mohajir students and political organisations to weaken the movement for the restoration of democracy. In Sukkur our Students’ Action Committee against Ayub Khan was divided following the same policy by the Deputy Commissioner and in Hyderabad a Karachi-Hyderabad-Mohajir-Punjabi-Pakhtun Mahaz (Front) was established by the Commissioner through Information Department official Ishtiaq Azhar.  Azhar latter joined the Mohajir Rabita Committee’ (Mohajir Coordination Committee) in the 1980s and supported MQM.

Another major upsetting development for the Mohajirs was that Mumtaz Bhutto, who was the first chief minister under Bhutto’s government, restored the status of Sindhi as an official language and that it would be taught in schools. Fanning hatred Urdu newspaper Jang wrote in black border on the first page “Urdu ka jinaza hey, zara dhoom say niklay” (it’s the funeral of Urdu; let it be with a bang!). This unleashed the wide-scale Mohair-Sindhi language riots in Sindh for the first time.  Both Mohajirs and Sindhis attacked each other many were injured and properties burnt.

The Sindhi leaders protested in the early fifties when Karachi University was established with the option to choose Urdu or English as a medium of instruction. The Sindh University was packed off to Hyderabad because Karachi was made the capital. Hari leader Hyder Baksh Jatoi had pointed out that this decision will be disadvantageous for the Sindhi students living in Karachi. But Jinnah and his colleagues erroneously believed that making Urdu as one national language was the corollary of the Muslim League’s theorem one-religion-one nation. This policy denied equal status to major other languages of the provinces and hence slowed down their growth to become official and commercial languages.

Mohajir politics in Post Bhutto period

The Mohajirs played an important role in the 1977 movement against Bhutto’s government and were happy when he was removed in a military coup by General Ziaul Haq.

The formation of the Sindh government and PPP’s government in the center finally opened doors for the Sindhi speaking middle class. They started getting more jobs in the government and public sector particularly which had head offices in Karachi. Mohajir bureaucracy and leaders were not willing to accept that their share in the jobs and economic opportunities in future would be in proportion to their demographic position, which was more or less the position by 1989 in the federal government.

Once again the Mohajirs were faced with the same position which they thought they had left behind in the Muslim minority areas of India and for which they had supported Muslim league’s politics under the British. Remember Sir Syed had asked for 50% quota in jobs for the Muslims although they formed 13% of the UP population.

That was the main reason that Muslims of the Muslim minority provinces played a leading role in the Muslim League’s movement although eventually it evolved into the demand for Pakistan comprising Muslim majority provinces. This movement as convincingly explained by Hamza Alavi was driven by the ‘Salariats…that class of people who receive a formal education to qualify for jobs in the colonial state apparatus’ and the professionals. In U.P., According to Alavi the Muslims constituted 13% of the population in 1857 but held 64% of the jobs. However, after the British takeover by 1913, their ‘share of jobs fell to 35 percent.’

Once the demand for Pakistan was accepted a large number of migrants had actually come to Pakistan scouting for better opportunities. After settling down they invited their kith and kin. They were again not willing to accept the shrinking share of jobs and other economic opportunities after the restoration of Sindh as a province. They got the major share of the evacuee properties in Sindh.

However, there was reverse discrimination against the Mohajirs as the power started shifting in the hands of Sindhis. But in the good old times when the Punjabis and Mohajirs had the second largest share in the establishment the discrimination was against the Sindhis. However, still there are more Mohajirs in the government jobs if public sector is included, as against the 7.5% share in the population.

Bushra Zaidi’s killing in a bus accident in 1985 unleashed violence against the Pakhtuns, who controlled Karachi’s transport sector thanks to Ayub era favouritism. There was pent-up anger against the transporters because of the rough behaviour of the drivers and frequent accidents due to rash driving of the buses and mini-buses. Inadequate public transport was and is also irritating for the Karachiites. The Mohajirs who form a bulk of the commuters, started burning buses, the Pakhtuns attacked some Mohajir settlements in retaliation. And soon what started as a spontaneous reaction to an accident turned into an ugly ethnic conflict, killing many people.

Meanwhile, the Mohajir youth, who is an equal son of the soil of Sindh as they were born and bred in this province, started feeling the pinch of unemployment and lack of educational institutions. Bhutto had nationalized all the educational institutions in 1972 thereafter not a single new college was added in Karachi. At an average by late 1970s and mid 1980s some 20,000 students who got lower grades in matriculation could not get admissions to any college or technical institutes every year. It was this crowd of unemployed Mohajir youth standing idle at the corners of the streets, which was given a voice by Altaf Hussain and Azim Tariq by founding the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO). Azim Tariq was assassinated after he parted ways with his comrade Altaf Hussain.

Hussain had himself said in an interview that when he went to the University of Karachi to join BSC Pharmacy, he was shocked to see welcome banners of various ethnic student organisations and forced to think about his own identity. The Mohajir students till that time used to rally on the basis of ideology behind leftist groups of National Students Federation or rightist student wing of Jamaat-e-Islami called Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba (IJT). The creation of a Mohajir organisation delighted perfidy Zia’s intelligence who thought it as an anti-dote to the rising Sindhi nationalism after Bhutto’s hanging by the military government.

The division of students on ethnic basis did raise a question in the minds of the founders of APMSO that what is their identity? They were told by their older generation that all Pakistanis belonged to one Muslim nation. The second generation of the Mohajirs soon realised that they do not need religious reasons to be here in Pakistan. The rise of ethnic politics around them made them think that there was nothing as a one Muslim nation. Instead the strong ethnicity based politics was the order of the day. Addressing the APMSO rally at the University of Karachi on December 15, 1980, Altaf Hussain maintained that Mohajirs should be accepted as the fifth nationality of Pakistan. He thus moved away from the thinking of the older Mohajir generation, which by and large leaving aside some leftists, always strongly proclaimed that Pakistan has one Muslim nation and those who raised the issue that it has four nationalities are traitors or agents of Jews & Hindus. However MQM later dropped the fifth nationality slogan officially and declared that Mohajirs were Urdu-speaking Sindhis. A position reiterated by Altaf Hussain in his marathon press conference on September 10, 2011.  That’s what the Sindhi nationalists had advised them in early 1980s. But in spite of this official declaration, MQM had to privately stick to their earlier political formulation that Mohajirs’ are a separate ‘Qaum’ (nation) to keep its vote bank intact. The politics of constituency is not allowing MQM to expand.

As a matter of fact MQM literature shows that both Altaf Hussain and Azim Tariq dismissed the theory that Muslims were one nation on the basis of common religion. They argued that if religion makes one Muslim nation then why the Muslims were divided on national basis in many countries.  APMSO Secretary General Azim Tariq maintained in a speech in December 1980: “Soon after the creation of Pakistan the ideology of Pakistan or ideology of Islam was negated because Muslims from the Indian Muslim minority areas who going through the phase of migration were stopped at the borders of Pakistan in 1954 and returned back.” (MQM booklet published in ‘Mohajir Qaumi Movement – Tashkil aur Jedojad’ Edited by Ahmed Salim)

MQM leaders courageously exposed the hypocrisy of the Pakistan movement’s basic argument. They asked that if Muslims are one nation then why the Muslims from anywhere in the world and particularly from India can be denied entry into Pakistan at any given time. They were courageous to refer to the analogy of Israel where Jews from anywhere in the world can go and acquire Israeli nationality. It was courageous because any comparison of Pakistan with Israel is deplored by the majority of the people here. It was on the basis of this thinking that Altaf Hussain “has on several occasions said that the creation of Pakistan was a mistake.” (The Idea of Pakistan by Stephen P. Cohen).

Mohajirs’ younger leadership led by Altaf Hussain had taken the sensible course to declare that they do not want the division of the province, the position they continue to hold even today. They also supported Sindh’s major demands at the National Finance Commission and on water distribution issue. At the one end they have been rightly supporting Sindh’s stance against the domination of Punjab, but within the province MQM has been asking for the control over the big cities – Karachi and Hyderabad. In a foreward to Altaf Hussain’s recent book ‘My Life’s Journey’ Professor Matthew A. Cook rightly pointed out: “The principle of negation also appears to drive tension between mohajirs [sic] and Sindhis from one historical crisis to another. Nonetheless, while these crises are anti-Sindhi, mohajir politics not only illustrates how negation produces alterity but – by opening socio-political conversation—the possibility of mimesis.’

Alliance of PPP and MQM in Sindh suffers from this mimesis and alterity between the parties which represent the Sindhi and Urdu speaking Sindhis. It is unfortunate that in spite of officially announcing a few years back that ‘M’ in MQM stands for ‘Mutahida’ and not for Mohajir, the leadership vacillates between the two incompatible positions. 

MQM the way forward

Has Hurricane Mirza sobered down MQM to change its aggressive tactics for the time being? Or, Mirza’s outburst and some other behind-the-scene developments are going to change the MQM political strategy? If the restrained response to Mirza is just a tactical one step backward, then there is not much to rejoice for the well-wishers of Karachi. But if the latter is true and MQM is rethinking its strategy it would not only be good for the party but for the country also.

Unfortunately, Altaf Hussain’s marathon press conference is not reassuring that MQM would change its strategy and stop torpedoing its desire to emerge as a multi-ethnic middle class party. However, realising the politically MQM is getting isolated, MQM leader skill-fully did not reply to Mirza’s allegation directly that he had confided in Mirza that the US wants to balkanise Pakistan and MQM is going to support it. On the contrary MQM supreme leader spent more time in reassuring the Pakistani establishment that his party’s full support in foiling such a conspiracy to break Pakistan. Referring to old books and a series of articles by the American analysts he joined the right wing club which has been harping that the American’s want to break Pakistan.

Though MQM leader Mustafa Kamal vehemently deny that their party has a militant wing, but the public perception in the country is otherwise. Only MQM voters believe in what the Nine Zero says. If this perception has to be proven wrong, it would not happen by lengthy speeches and eloquence but by a change in the future strategy.

MQM has a sound middle and lower middle class Mohajir base in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas city centers and not in the suburbs. This is enough power to present and bargain with other parties for the rights of its vote bank through non-violent democratic means. It doesn’t need to rely on any militant wing particularly if it wants to attract the middle and lower middle classes of other ethno-linguistic communities of Pakistan. Consistent non-violence politics in spite of provocations from other parties alone would help the MQM to change the existing perception about it.

MQM says that this perception has been created by the political parties and nationalities which represent the ruling elite of Pakistan, but being a party which has perhaps highest literacy rate among its supporters it has to realise that perceptions are stronger than reality. And they are not completely baseless also.

MQM leader and ideologue Altaf Hussain had lectured his followers in 2003 on the ‘Philosophy of “Realism and Practicalism.” He defined Practicalism as “an act of doing things, making or taking decisions, adopting means and ways in accordance with the actual spirit and essence of reality (realities) and realism is called Practicalism.”

And that is precisely what MQM is not doing. Just look at the reality of Karachi’s demography.   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 the official 3.5% growth rate, it should be 14.3 million.

But the MQM maintains that the city population is much larger. How they calculate a higher figure is not known. By and large the urban population’s growth rate has two components: natural growth which is close to 1.9% as it is usually below the national average in urban centers; and by way of immigration which in Karachi’s case is estimated to be 1.5%. So the rate of growth based on 1998 looks quite realistic. Now take a look at the1998 survey demographic linguistic break-up which is the following: Urdu speaking 48.52%; Punjabi 13.64%; Pushto 11.96%; Sindhi just 7.34%; Balochi 4.34%; Seriaki 2.11% and the rest 12.09%. The rest includes Gujarati and other languages. The Pakhtun however claim that their number is higher now. But a large number of Pakhtun workers live alone in the city and are not registered as Karachi voters. Similarly, MQM can also claim that Gujaratis are part of the Mohajirs as their younger generation is Urdu speaking.

Now in the last 13 years there has been a big inflow of Sindhis and Pakhtuns to the province, so they do claim that in the next elections they should have more seats from Karachi. I know that ideally the big cities should be a melting pot and voting should be on non-ethnic basis. But the reality is that except for PPP, JI and PML all other parties are voted on ethnic basis in Karachi. Given the reality that Urdu speaking are not more than 50% of the city considering the MQM’s claim, the other ethnic groups feel they are under-represented because most of the constituencies are carved to suit MQM. ANP claims that the Pakhtun population is over 20% of Karachi. Now that is apparently an exaggeration.

To be practical and for achieving a long-term goal of emerging as a multi-ethnic all Pakistan middle class party, MQM should change its strategy. It should be willing to share Karachi with other ethnic communities. That will establish its credential as a tolerant party. At present whether it was pushed against the wall, as Mustafa Kamal puts it, or it allows the militant wing to disturb Karachi peace in turf war, the fact is it has isolated itself.

It’s not what emotionally charged Zulfikar Mirza’s saying, MQM is getting the flak from all other parties, media and ethno-linguistic communities. That is the reality and ‘Practicalism’ is to step back and change the present strategy thinking for a better and long-term future of the country in general and Karachiites in particular. If Karachi loses, the Mohajir youth loses more than anybody else in the city for they have nowhere to go for education and jobs. The leaders of MQM have been fighting with Sindhis and Pakhtuns over the Karachi and Hyderabad election turf, although it is in their prime interest to maintain peace in the city. The city law and order situation has scared the private sector away to Punjab and to the Gulf countries. What Mohajir leaders fail to understand, that today we live in times where governments are shrinking and the employment for the Mohajir youth is in the private sector. That is where no quota works, which MQM resents, and merit matters. The Mohajir youth has been shown not the path of excelling in merit but is being fed on lectures that they are being deprived by other communities and armed. The impact of this policy of Mohajir leaders can be seen that the quality of Mohajir youth merit has been consistently declining in proportion to the increase in their reliance on the barrel of the gun. The MQM leaders deny vehemently that they encourage violence and at the same time admit that their youth picks up the guns in self-defence against onslaught of other ethnic and political forces.

Altaf Hussain once rightly said that creation of Pakistan in the name of religion was a mistake. But now that this country has survived for 30 years since 1971 in the present shape its undoing would be a greater mistake and bloody too, as much water has flown under the bridge and many common interests have evolved between the different ethno-linguist communities of Pakistan. With more respect, equity and recognition to the different nationalities living here Pakistan is a viable country now. As far as the various studies that propose balkanisation of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran are concerned these are actually scenario building by analysts of a different creed. But on the other hand one should also refer to the number of books and analyses which warn that how such an eventuality (balkanization of Pakistan) would destablise the region, including India. The region which has the damned nuclear arsenal also.. (

  1. #1 by Malik on September 14, 2011 - 7:01 pm

    One of my Hindu friend once remarked.

    They were a privileged class in Hindustan ,when they started losing their privileged position they conspired to break it, …….same is the case you are witnessing in Paksitan as long as they were in a privileged position [ post 72 , with 22% Quota and about 40% to 65% in bureaucracy (Christina Lamb and I think Dr Hasan Askari …not sure about dr Askari ) …]

    As soon as they start losing it …they are willing to break Pakistan again , the only hitch …. they are unable to find an Alternative … in India they did with an alternative of Pakistan , not now.

    so as soon as they will find One , like an Independent Jinnah Pur …and think it is achievable under the changed circumstances of Pakistan ………they won’t loose a moment .

    Already Altaf is itching for it … with repeated references of Bloody Revolution ….etc..etc.. and they have already prepared a ground for it … check ….and may be their benefactors the British are holding them for now…

  2. #2 by BUSHRA AHMED on September 21, 2011 - 12:28 pm

    Practically I think there is an over exaggeration of the Urdu speaking community’ s financial status at the time of migration as Central India provinces like UP, Bihar etc were the poorest provinces with few elite minority n many mohajirs were from lower middle class and poor background but they all declared them to be the Nawabs and Moharajas in this new country . So all Mohajir younger generation grew up with this notion that they used to be “pidrem sultan bood” n they have sacrificed so much for this country now its their right to be the blue eyed baby of this homeland. That sense of superiority has hampered their mingling with jangli/ujad native. But time, democracy n education has its own toll and so the inevitable change.

    The reason for major influx of mohajir to karachi including other factor favorable and simple policy of getting claim in karachi by Liaqat Ali Khan to make this capital its constituency as he has none in this in this country.

    Time and history has proved that It will be an impractical optimism to expect any change in MQM policy.

    As for as ethnicity/group r concerned then why only 4 or 5; we should accept and respect every person’s identity it may be punjabi, saraiki,pukhtoon,hazarwi,balochi,makrani etc whatever it is. There can be no problem to country or to pakistaniat by it as long as the same has no militant element as terrorism is equally abhorrent whether in the name of religion or in the name of ethnicity or sectarianism . BUSHRA AHMED

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