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«THE OPEN CITY: SOCIAL NETWORKS AND VIOLENCE IN KARACHI Azmat Ali Budhani, Haris Gazdar, Sobia Ahmad Kaker, Hussain Bux Mallah Collective for Social ...»

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These successive waves of migration played their part in changing the ethnic, religious and linguistic demographics of Karachi. In 1941, Hindus, Sikhs and Jains made up 53 percent while Muslims accounted for 42 percent of the population. In the 1951 census, Muslims were 98 percent of the population and Hindus were a mere 1.5 percent. In 1947 Sindhi-speakers had made up three-fifths of the population. With the influx of multiethnic migrants into the city, the Sindhi population in Karachi has become linguistically and culturally marginalised.

Migrants from India (‘Muhajirs’) were mostly Urdu-speaking, and over the years evolved their lingual identity and migrant status into a political identity. A key feature of Karachi’s ethnic demography is that its largest single group (Urdu speakers) is virtually unrepresented in the rest of the country, beyond some concentrations in other cities of southern Sindh.

With internal migration (mostly from Punjab and NWFP), the number of Punjabi and Pushto speakers also increased in Karachi, making Balochi and Sindhi minority languages in the city (Table 2). These later changes in the ethnic composition of the city are relevant to the political developments since the 1980s: the period between the 1981 and 1998 censuses indicates a substantial decline in the proportion of Urdu-speakers (from 54 to 49 per cent), and corresponding increases in the proportions of Pashtuns, Sindhis and ‘Others’.9 UrduOthers’ include diverse ethnic communities for whom data are not reported separately. The increase in

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Table 2: Number and Size of Population by Language Source: Population Census Data Gujarati, which remains an important language in Karachi, was reclassified under ‘others’ in the later rounds of the census.

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Politics Karachi’s position in national politics has been shaped by three sets of relationships: between Karachi and the national mainstream; between Karachi and the rest of Sindh province; and between Sindh province and the Pakistani federation.

National electoral politics have been dominated by two large parties – the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and various factions of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML) – that have alternated in power since the late 1980s. The PPP has a strong base in Sindh with the exception of Karachi, where it has historically managed to win only a few seats.10 The MQM has been an important contender from Karachi and has won a majority of seats in the city in all elections that it has contested since 1988. Since then the party has been in coalition government with the PPP (1988 and 2008), and the PML (1990, 1997 and 2002) at the provincial or national levels. The MQM’s partnership ended prematurely in all cases except for the government that it led in 2002. During the periods out of power in the 1990s MQM faced state persecution aimed at reducing its militant capability. This was the period when the party became a key ally of the military regime of General Pervez Musharraf.

Following the devolution plan in 2001, there have been two elections for forming the CDGK.

The MQM boycotted the first elections in 2001, and as a result a coalition of religious parties won the mayor’s office. However, in the next election in 2005, the MQM secured a landslide victory amid allegations of vote rigging. At that time, the party also controlled the provincial government and was represented in the federal government. Following the 2008 national elections, the PPP gained power provincially and nationally (see Annex 2); and there were high profile attempts between leaders of the MQM and PPP, who had remained bitter rivals till then, to improve relations and to find some level of mutual accommodation.

‘Others’ may be due to the migration of Bengali, Burmese and non-Pashtun Afghans, though some informal reports suggest that these irregular international migrants were not enumerated in the census.

10 In the recent 2008 elections, the PPP won over a quarter of the popular vote in Karachi, but only 3 out of the 20 national assembly seats in the city (Cheema, Gazdar, Naseer and Sayeed. 2008).

13 As a result the MQM joined the provincial government as a junior partner in an uneasy coalition with the PPP and the ANP – parties with whom it was involved in bloody conflicts in the recent years. There was considerable strain between the CDGK and the province as the two levels of government try to assert their authority in overlapping areas of jurisdiction (Dawn News, June 13, 30 & July 6, 2008). The MQM also joined the PPP and ANP in the coalition government at the federal level. Political alliance did not halt inter-party violence.

Targeted killings of rival political cadres and people belonging to the ‘wrong’ ethnic group erupted in December 2008, April 2009, July-August 2009, and then again in January 2010, claiming over two hundred lives. The coalition survived several rounds of inter-party and inter-ethnic violence, as well as a key test in the shape of the future of the MQM-dominated CDGK whose term came to an end. A negotiated transitional administration was put in place in February 2010 pending fresh elections, which will pose further challenges to the resilience of the coalition. Appeals for maintaining the peace in Karachi played a significant role in reining in the more militant voices within each party.





Global dimension Hosting key ports, and being the country’s industrial and financial centre, Karachi attracts a significant proportion of the foreign investment entering Pakistan. In recent years, the city has attracted hefty foreign investments in real estate and infrastructure development from real estate developers in the UAE (The News, January 22, 2008). Investments in the stock exchange and real estate are propelled by the government’s promises of providing security and stabilisation, and also the cordial relations between Pakistani politicians and UAE government and investors.

Having a strategic geopolitical relevance, Karachi has also attracted promises of investment for urban and infrastructural development from the US (Business Recorder, May 13, 2008). In a recent visit to Karachi, Senator Casey visited Port Qasim and remarked that the port facility was a preventive tool in the global war on terror, and that it will make ‘our borders safer and will also increase the economic efficiency of Pakistani exports’ (US Embassy 2008).

Karachi’s ports provide key links for the US-led military effort in Afghanistan.

Foreign governments have developed unusual stakes in the city’s politics. The leader of Karachi’s largest party MQM has resided in London since 1992, and has acquired UK citizenship. Many of his trusted lieutenants also reside in London. The leader of the PPP, Benazir Bhutto, and her family split their years of exile between Dubai and London. It is known that the UK and UAE governments played an important role in political negotiations between the PPP and the military government in Pakistan. It is possible that similar efforts at intermediation might have been undertaken with respect to maintaining the peace in Karachi.

Received explanations Existing explanations for Karachi’s descent into conflict and violence have focused on five main themes: (a) ethnicity and ethnic identity; (b) organisations; (c) political conspiracies; (d) economic frustration; and (e) external events. There is, of course, a great deal of overlap between these various lines of thought. Here they are examined separately in order to draw out some salient features of the received argument.

14 Ethnic identity A great deal of attention has been drawn, understandably, to ethnic identity. Muhajir ethnic identity in particular has proved to be particularly absorbing to researchers and commentators alike, who were fascinated by efforts of disparate groups of migrants to reconstitute themselves into a distinct ethnic and even ‘national’ community (Baig 2005). The tendency to view Karachi’s conflict and violence in terms of ethnicity is partly a response to the openly expressed opinions of the main protagonists. The MQM did, after all, start its campaign on the slogan of representing an embattled and marginalised ‘muhajir’ community, and the necessity of armed resistance for the protection of that community.

The simplistic view is that Karachi is an artificial amalgam of diverse ethnic groups, and it is but natural that there will be turf battles or worse between them. A more sophisticated rendering recalls that while identity politics offer a natural mode of mobilisation to certain classes, group identity can be very fluid in South Asia, and the salience of any particular identity often depends on the precise political context.11 The conflict between Muhajirs and Pashtuns or Muhajirs and Sindhis represent economic contests over resources, and these contests are typical within classes that subsist on public resources (Rashid and Shaheed 1993;

Sahadevan 1999).

Some ethnic explanations focus on the relative decline in the Muhajirs’ political and economic position as they lost out to other groups, having started with a major advantage (Waseem 1996). It has been argued that in the beginning, Urdu-speaking migrants from India were more educated and therefore better-placed to access government jobs and private sector business opportunities. Over time Punjabis challenged their domination of top government positions, and this process was accelerated when the civil bureaucracy lost out to the military in its control over the state. There were further losses when the revived process of political representation in the 1970s reduced the Urdu-speaking community to the status of a political and ethnic minority in its adopted province of Sindh. The relative decline, yet absolute advantage, in economic and political fortunes is thought to have given rise to feelings of alienation, thus spurring on support for a clear articulation of Muhajir identity. Some commentators have gone so far as to claim that there is historical continuity between the Muslim sense of relative decline in India and Muhajir nationalism.12 Organisations Another popular approach is to understand conflict and violence in Karachi with reference to the internal workings of organisations that operate there. The MQM, again, is not an unsurprising candidate for analysis. Organisational analysis, however, also applies to state organisations, such as different levels of government and public agencies. The focus on criminal gangs and their connections with political parties also properly comes under this heading.

Government failures of various types are often held responsible for conflict and violence in Karachi. The most fundamental government failure is the imbalance between elected and 11 Some analysts have argued that emergent middle classes in South Asia that see state employment and patronage as a primary source of economic mobility have found identity politics to be a potent instrument for mobilisation (Alavi & Harriss 1989; Haq 1995).

12 These conflicts between linguistic groups were, interestingly, only partly about language. English remained the official language of Pakistan, and Urdu was accepted as a language of formal communication in many nonUrdu speaking regions such as Punjab, NWFP and Balochistan.

15 unelected organs of the state itself. Frequent disruptions in the democratic process are held responsible for the rise of extremist ideologies and organisations (Hasan 2002). Other conspicuous government failures are to do with bad governance and rent-seeking behaviour on the part of the police and security services, and links between security personnel and criminals (Suddle 2003). The existence of multiple governmental stakeholders in Karachi is seen as yet another organisational failure that leads to conflict and violence. Various levels of government – federal, provincial and local – often pursue contradictory goals with respect to the city’s resources and development. Karachi has a large presence of the military, which controls vast tracts of land that it uses for commercial purposes.

The internal workings of political parties, particularly the MQM, are thought to be proximate determinants of violence. It has been argued, for example, that the MQM and some other parties function as totalitarian entities that are premised on the application of internal and external violence (HRCP 2007b; Korejo 2002). Violence, therefore, is but a natural outcome of the organisational model that has evolved in Karachi. Analyses that focus on the interaction of organisations with forms of youth culture fall in the same category (Verkaaik 2004; Khan 2007). The changing dynamics of the relationship between political parties and student groups is another strand in organisational analysis. The conventional pattern of parties forming their student wings is thought to have been reversed in the case of the MQM, which itself emerged out of the APMSO. This is thought to have had implications for the types of political activity that were prioritised by the party (Ahmar 1996; Haq 1995; Kennedy 1991).

Political conspiracies Popular discourse sees conflict and violence as part of wider conspiracies that are directed to achieve political goals. There is, of course, a great deal of hard and anecdotal evidence that connects particular violent events with deliberate but hidden policy actions. The role of state secret agencies in nurturing various ethnic and sectarian organisations, engineering splits, providing arms and training, and even instigating acts of political violence have been widely discussed in Pakistan. Investigative reporting has yielded some useful information and insight. The provenance of a large number of organisations – including the Jamaat-e-Islami, the MQM and its factions, various other ethnic groups, sectarian groups such as the anti-Shia SSP, the Sunni Tehreek, jihadi organisations and criminal gangs – has been traced back to powerful secret agencies. There are also frequent allegations that various organisations have worked for foreign intelligence organisations (Shah 2003).



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