Challenges ahead

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Indiscreet remarks by Zulfiqar Mirza led to 17 being killed in Karachi and Hyderabad and 32 vehicles being set ablaze. The display of violence ended only after Altaf Hussain’s appeal to suspend the “protest” against Mirza’s utterances. This was just a preview of what lies ahead.

With the general elections weighing heavy on the mind of the PPP leadership, the parting of the ways with the MQM had become inevitable. The MQM is increasingly being regarded as a rival with an artificially inflated clout that is to be cut down to its natural size if the PPP is to get its rightful share in elections. The awareness has always existed in the PPP rank and file that the MQM’s parliamentary strength was the result of political engineering by Zia and Musharraf and that this was done at the PPP’s expense. The Pakhtun community in Karachi also believes that the MQM was given more seats from Karachi by depriving the Pakhtun community of genuine representation. There is a thinking in the PPP and ANP that they have no alternative other than taking measures to undo the wrong.

The restoration of the commissionerate system and Local Bodies Ordinance 1979 in the face of stiff opposition from the MQM was the first major move to set the things right. The next battles are to be fought around two major issues: delimitation of constituencies and Census 2011. In case the MQM agrees to a reduced clout in line with the ground realities, it is still acceptable to the PPP. There is however little chance of the ethnic party agreeing to this. There is, thus, a likelihood of further bloodshed in Karachi.

The PPP had brought the MQM into the ruling alliance to maintain a majority in the National Assembly. As the MQM was also perceived to be close to the GHQ, it was considered useful to provide it an incentive not to act as a tool in any destabilising attempt. On its part, the MQM wanted to be in the government to be able to maintain its hold on urban Sindh. The PPP-MQM alliance was not a meeting of hearts and minds but a marriage of convenience. Both parties had irreconcilable interests, and they very well knew it.

For the MQM, it is a battle of life and death. During the last three and half years it has tried to scare away Sindhis, Punjabis and Pakhtuns by making life insecure for them in Karachi. There is little likelihood of its agreeing to the any delimitation of constituencies that brings down its representation in the provincial and national assemblies. It is also hell-bent on having a census that tilts the ethnic balance in urban Sindh in its favour.

The Delimitation of Constituencies Act, 1974, authorises the Election Commission of Pakistan to demarcate constituencies for elections to the national and provincial assemblies. The demarcation is undertaken mainly on the basis of population distribution in geographically compact and contiguous areas to ensure homogeneity in the creation of constituencies. Thus, the census and redrawing of the constituencies are interlinked.

Under Musharraf, the delimitation of constituencies was undertaken by agencies outside the ECP’s control. Before the 2002 elections, the National Reconstruction Bureau (NRB) played a lead role in gerrymandering districts to weaken support for opposition parties and to strengthen those backing the military regime. The gerrymandering of Karachi constituencies was meant to ensure that the city was under the control of Musharraf’s allies. This deprived the other players of political space. That the Pashtuns have only two seats in the provincial assembly is an injustice caused by this gerrymandering.

The division of Sindh’s districts to expressly create a niche for the MQM is yet another feat of political engineering undertaken at Musharraf’s behest. In 2004, the pro-Musharraf Sindh government split Larkana, Jacobabad, Dadu and Mirpurkhas districts along ethnic lines, creating the new districts of Qamber Shahdadkot, Kashmore, Jamshoro and Umerkot. This was meant to divide the PPP’s vote base and hand over the newly created Mohajir “enclaves” to the MQM. Similarly, Hyderabad district was divided into Matiari, Tando Muhammad Khan, Tando Allahyar and Hyderabad districts to create what a study on Pakistan’s election issue describes as “ethnic fiefdoms for the MQM and other pro-government politicians.” By bifurcating the predominantly Urdu speaking Hyderabad city from its predominantly Sindhi periphery, the military government handed over a new constituency to the MQM.

The last population census, held in 1998, served as the basis for delineating constituencies for national elections held in 2002 and 2008. Although a new census should have been held in 2008, it was repeatedly postponed due to insecurity. Finally it was decided that it was to be held in 2011. The first phase of Census 2011 began with household counting early this year. .The exercise however soon got embroiled in controversy on account of blatant attempts by the MQM to manipulate the results in favour of a particular ethnic community. Several members of the Sindh Census Monitoring Committee have rejected the household count as “seriously flawed”. They allege that census workers, directed by MQM, have counted “Karachi’s inns, washrooms, and even electric poles” as households in an effort to dilute the city’s native “Sindhi” presence. There were also complaints of the minorities having been undercounted.

The second phase of Census 2011 scheduled for August-September 2011 is likely to cause more controversy which, in the case of Karachi, invariably means that things will take a violent turn. It remains to be seen how the government manages to contain its erstwhile ally during the census and the subsequent delimitation of constituencies.

 

The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.