Of gaping manholes and dusty, tall buildings

  • Would the people of Karachi want their old city back over the current?

The British departure from the subcontinent left behind a clutter of religious groups, ethnicities, and nationalities that, despite the existence of legal decisions and frameworks especially designed for the contrary, could not be neatly organised into groups of peacefully co-existing people for a very long time – some might say, even to this day. Such are the repercussions of the sudden, or even expected, departure of an entity of long-standing authority: chaos. And it is just such a chaos that, on a much smaller scale, Muttahida Qaumi Movement finds itself in right now. But would the people of Karachi like to have it any other way?

The Karachi of 2018 is a mess. Of gaping, stinky manholes and piles of garbage; of heavy, sandy air and dusty tall buildings; of impudent traffic violations and terrible driving skills. But not of target killings and hit-and-runs; not of random shutter-down calls and excruciating public phone calls to London; not of sudden roadblocks and snatched cellphones. Not a life of constant dread that the current generation of Karachiites had grown up to become all too unjustly familiar with.

The Karachi of 2018 is the Karachi sans-MQM. True, the Mayor of the City, Waseem Akhtar, is from the party. True, despite the efforts of parties like Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf, MQM still is the most popular party in the city. Yet, after the events of 2016 and the rise of Kamal and his Pak Sar Zameen Party, the party’s hold over the city diminished manifold. It is not as strong, not as terrorising, not as stable as it once was. And now, after the divorce with Altaf in 2017, the party of MQM and the city of Karachi, both seem to have been resurrected – the latter seemingly in good spirit, but the former, not so much.

Living in the Karachi of today makes it easy to forget the Karachi of the ‘80s and before, of Zia and the Jamaat-i-Islami – the rapid subjugation and radicalisation of the people of the city in the name of Islam

The post-Altaf chaos within the party manifested itself at its worst in February this year, when there was a very public bust-up between the Rabta Committee and the MQM’s convener, Farooq Sattar. Many would say such a confrontation was inevitable – after all, despite his contributions to the party and his credentials as a politician, Sattar is no Altaf. He is not marginally as iron-fisted nor dramatic nor horrifying as his predecessor. And, perhaps, these qualities are a prerequisite in someone leading a party from a metropolis like Karachi. And although Sattar declared himself the leader of the party on February 18, there seemingly are not many that believe him. Not the “Bahadurabad faction”, in the least.

Yes, after Pakistan and London, the MQM has been shredded down into factions by regions within Karachi. While Sattar leads the “PIB Colony faction”, the Bahadurabad faction is led by five “chiefs”, if Sattar is to be believed. The two sub-factions do not currently see eye-to-eye, but Sattar has recently appealed to his challengers to forget personal differences and unite in order to strengthen the party in face of the upcoming elections. Indeed, there could not have been a worse time for key members of the MQM to start bickering amongst themselves than five months before the general elections – hence suspicions of a “grand conspiracy” designed to destabilise the party just in time for the elections to begin.

All the better for the city, Karachiites think. But Karachiites must also remember that the Karachi of today has been shaped over the past thirty-odd years by the party they have grown to hate so much. Living in the Karachi of today makes it easy to forget the Karachi of the ‘80s and before, of Zia and the Jamaat-i-Islami – the rapid subjugation and radicalisation of the people of the city in the name of Islam and as a by-product of the Afghan war, the repercussions of which can still be observed in certain sectors of the city.

So would the people of Karachi want that city back over the current? Or do they believe that the Tehrik-i-Insaf and Imran Khan would play saviour and bring “peace” and “prosperity” to the city without disturbing its liberal roots? Or do would they rather have a more attuned-to-the-establishment version of Muttahida in the shape of Mustafa Kamal and his PSP? Or are they so sick of the MQM that they would prefer even that old culprit, People’s Party, over them?

Whatever their reasoning, come July, the people of the city – and indeed of the rest of Sindh – must choose and elect wisely. The elections haven’t been so competitive in a long time, and they may or may not be so again for a very long time, depending upon the choice they make.