Karachi’s Pashtun “Problem”


With the world becoming increasingly connected, political correctness in ideas and behaviour is becoming essential for minimising frictions, and for that reason it also is becoming the hallmark of the educated.

We Pakistanis often complain about the lack of “randomness” at airport security checks abroad and go livid at any generalisation linking Pakistanis to terrorism, but then sadly, this indignation is reserved for foreign lands only, the same is definitely not displayed within Pakistan. Pick up any mobile phone here, and it is bound to have SMSed jokes with the racist stereotyping of Pathans. While such stereotyping for the sake of humour is at times tolerable, one is simply astonished to find the same to be believed for real. During the recent spate of violence in Karachi, I was shocked to come across a very high proportion of educated Urdu speaking Karachiites who believe the Pashtun ethnicity to be nothing short of a deformity, and the Pashtun influx as a curse for Karachi.

One of the main fears expressed, is that since Pashtuns are more likely to be associated with terrorism and theft, stopping their inflow would naturally result in a more peaceful Karachi. Besides being horrifyingly similar to the “all Pakistanis are terrorists” argument often used by anti-immigration groups in the West, this one stoops even lower as it seeks to quarantine fellow Pakistanis on the basis of ethnicity. This argument conveniently ignores the fact that if the profession of gate keeping and driving in Pakistan can be associated with one ethnicity, then it is the Pashtuns. While I am no fan of generalisations, but if one is to be done, then considering the typical Pashtun professions shouldn’t the generalisation be one of trust, rather than distrust?

Pashtuns are also held responsible for bringing the drugs and Kalashnikov culture into Karachi. This argument completely ignores the well-documented planning and financing of the so called “Afghan jihad”, furthermore, people who say such things basically consider Karachi as an entity separate from Pakistan. The arms and drugs trade was crucial in financing the jihad, and the inflow of drugs and guns was not something new just for Karachi, it was the same for Peshawar, FATA as well as the rest of Pakistan. Pashtuns as an ethnicity are facing the brunt of that blunder committed by our “strategists” in the 80s. But, to completely ignore that whole episode and blame it on the DNA of an ethnicity would be too ignorant a conclusion. It goes without saying that the response to an increase in violence and drugs is better policing and not racial discrimination.

There also is a ridiculous belief that Pashtuns are somehow incapable of “culturally assimilating” into Karachi, reasons usually given are the inability to speak Urdu and having more conservative norms. To begin with almost all Pakistani Pashtuns are bilingual; it is very rare to find someone in Peshawar who can’t speak Urdu let alone find a Pathan in Karachi who wouldn’t. Furthermore, the norms of the Pashtuns might be considered conservative, but that is if compared with those of the Brazilians. Karachi is no Rio de Janeiro, as testified by the fluttering black burqas on Sea View and Gidani, and also as the former stronghold of Jamaat-e-Islami, Karachi can never be too liberal for even the most conservative of Pakistanis. Those who consider the Westernised bubbles of Clifton and Defense as the real Karachi are sadly mistaken.

These generalisations mask a worry, which emanates from rising Pashtun numbers in Karachi. Frustrated by wars and lack of economic opportunity, these Pashtuns are heading towards Karachi for a better life. But then, Karachi is not unique in receiving such migrants, just across the border, Mumbai is going through the same. Interestingly, the Urdu/Hindi speaking migrants from Uttar Pradesh, form the bulk of migrations into Mumbai.

Those who are worried about this influx into Karachi, should consider the fact that Karachi used to have a Sindhi majority, a fact that changed after the Mohajir influx. If there was nothing illegitimate about that phenomenon, then assuming no bigotry, there should be no apprehensions about Karachi becoming a Pashtun majority city, because in essence the only difference between an Urdu speaking Mohajir and a Pashtu Speaking Mohajir is that of the date on their train tickets.

Sadly, the expression of this apprehension is not limited to verbal racism, statistics on the ethnicity of the victims show that they are overwhelmingly Pashtun. Mehr Bokhari’s show on the 7th of July, 2011, revealed that in the violence till that point, 80 Pashtuns and 7 Mohajirs were killed.

The irony of the situation is that those who are bent upon declaring the Pashtun as a separate species, also make a case for victimhood based on post-partition hostilities doled out to Pakistan’s Mohajir community. It should be obvious that the pre-requisite for claiming a higher moral ground based on those injustices, is not to rationalise the same (if not worse) that is being doled out to Karachi’s new Mohajirs.


The writer is an Islamabad-based development economist. He blogs at iopyne.wordpress.com



  1. Well rapid demographic shifts are almost turbulent for any city. Even though morally equivalent, the two migrations you compared might not be realistically comparable.

  2. Well enough is written and read on this topic

    suggest measures to handle this menace of intolerance and bloodshedding

  3. @hasan: migrations are a global phenomenon, what distinguishes Karachi is the level of wanton bloodshed, which is certainly missing in the case of Mumbai. Even though the migrations to Mumbai are opposed by right wing Marathi nationalist parties such as the Shiv Sena.

    The Mumbai reference however, was made to highlight the fact that its not only the "racially inferior" Pashtun who feels the need to be an economic migrant, the ancestral lands of Karachi's Mohajir are also not able to retain its people.

  4. FYI, ANP guys just taken over all the offices in Jumani Arcade at University Road Karachi and demanding "BHATTA" from all the office owners.

  5. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=an1Hb17G3-0

    try this, watch all 4 parts if you will.

    Its not the Pakhtoons that are the problem. The Pakhtoons that are gathering under the Banner of ANP thats the problem.

    Pakhtoons that have established businesses, large or small, they are seldom seen committing acts of violence. They are mostly caught in the cross fire of the violence. Its the Pakhtoons that are gathering under ANP's banner of "we are pakhtoons first, Muslims second and pakistanis third" thats the problem.

  6. It's an endemic curse in lots of Urdu-speaking Karachiites – to stereotype and label Pashtuns as evil and to be mocked. I have first-hand witnessed and experienced utter contempt and extreme hatred being shown towards anything Pashtun by Urdu-speaking people of Karachi. I can also tell the writer Imran Khan that if they get a team to check on the Jang newspapers of the period 1986-1990, they will be horrified to raed blatant ethnic provocations and exhortations of one altaf hussain against the Punjabis and Pashtuns. Also, I can recall how altaf once mocked Pashtun culture by making funny sounds from a "baansuree" when he was flanked by journalists on an airport – it got reported in Jang newspaper. There were regular features which are bit velied now from MQM in which they have incredibly been asking for a mechanism of "work permits" for Punajbis and Pathans etc. who would like to migrate from other provinces into Sind in search for work! I wonder whether Altaf jimself has gone through the routine in England worked in Burger King etc. to make ends meet….

    • Well yes that's the sound of a frustrated community. Don't play Holy brother. It's a reaction to what you have been doing to them. It's the nature of pashtoons to retaliate to injustice. Who cares even if it's their own cousins, Mohajirs are no exception.

  7. karachi is mini Pakistan and it is no one's personal property… This is a city we all share in common.. The key to this solution is to mainstream all factions in karachi.. Solution is simple "EQUAL OPPORTUNITIES FOR ALL PEOPLE IN BUSINNESS AND GOVERNMENT SECTOR……and REWARDS FOR THOSE WHO ARE RESPONSIBLE AND GOOD CITIZE
    Naeem Saeed

  8. A Grand Operation of Weapons Recovery shall take place in Karachi Central and other MQM's areas. It will be done with combined efforts of ANP+PPP+POLICE+FC. Then after this Mr. Shahi Syed sahib shall proceed his (Net Practice) in these areas. He had requested this from Mr. Zulfiqar Mirza long ago as he was not able to wipe out population in these areas because of some resistance from MQM. Now he will try to celebrate Baqr-Eid just after few days of Eid-ul-Fitr. You will see. A different issue will be produced by agencies and the whole Government will allow Shahi Syed to operate with a FREE HAND.to act similar to ALIGARH COLONY like incidence on a larger scale. ANP is powered with Pashtuns who have Male Bloodlines from Mongol Khans. The Mongol Khans were used to Massacre Chinese on annual basis until Chinese successfully made defense by Great Wall. Mongol Khans then spread to west and left their fighting skills in their off-springs everywhere they went. But that is a diminishing way of life. Mongols are not a well known people and So will their descendents having their bloodlines. They are dying breed in this era.

  9. The terrorists of Taliban, ANP, PPP and Layari Gang War are responsible for all the law and order situation in Karachi, you can hear and watch on UTUBE people calling in the PASHTU Language to wage Jihad against Mohajirss (declaring them Kafirs like Jewes) from the mosques of Orangi Town. can someone believe this, it happened in our civilized city, which is no more civilized after the arrival of these Savage people.

  10. Dear Writer, Karachi was never a strong hold of Jamate Islami, just check how many seats they got in 1970,19777, 1985, 2002, 2007, elections, people of Karachi have always rejected Jamate Islami, Before the founding of MQM, most of Karachi people were with JUP Noorani Group.
    Naimatullah Khan got elected Nazim, because of boycott by MQM, in the recent local bodies election Karachi people rejected this Fascist party.

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