Monthly Archives: April 2007

Ethnic wounds lay open in Karachi

The right wing politics in Pakistan is one or the other way ethnic in its outcomes. Jamat-e-Islami supported Zia-ul-Haq dictatorial rule for the reason that its amir, Mian Tufail, belonged to East Punjab as did Zia. He also enjoyed berathari link with him — both were Araens. Jamat-e-Islami of today is the bitter opponent of General Pervez Musharraf because its present Amir is Pushtoon and he is naturally opposed to the President-General’s policies against Taliban supposedly fighting on the side of Al-Qaeda (Taliban are predominantly Pushtoons).

By Riaz Missen 

If the people of Pakistan tend to be ethnic in their political attitudes and orientations, it should not be surprising for the academia and the decision-makers at home and abroad. After all the country is not  homogenous c in racial, cultural and linguistic terms. Though identities overlap but they are claimed and asserted, even with violent undertones.

 Pakistan is the land that has been subject to invasion from West and Central Asia. Alexander the Great travelled to conquer this land from Greek to fulfil his dream to see the other end of the earth where ‘sun rises right on the heads of the people’. Persian, Arab, Afghan and Turk kings did invade the land and used it as a base camp to make their advances on ‘pagan’ India.

The landscape is not the same from Himalayas down to the Arabian Sea. Different environmental conditions make people adjust with nature giving birth to different cultural traditions. Too, Pakistan is the land of rivers that have been acting as barriers among various communities residing in their floodplains.  The economy has been simple, so were their ways of life. Multan and Sindh have been the most prominent ‘countries’ that used to become provinces when some powerful empire emerged in their surrounding regions. Kashmir has also remained politically organised in history. As soon as the neighbouring empires declined, various local kingdoms, other than mentioned above, surfaced in the valley.

Sindh was successfully invaded and captured by Ummayads on the pretext that its ruler was non-Muslim. They invaded Multan for another reason: Qaramtas had taken hold of Multan and were considered relatively liberal than the orthodox Sunni Islam. And, the practice was repeated again and again while the reason remained the same. The country was devastated to the effect that the invaders changed their route to enter into India. But this traditionally evolved state remained mostly under the Afghan influence till its occupation by Sikhs, followed by the British.

Today’s Balochistan has never been an integral part of the kingdoms that rose for time and again in the Indus Valley. Rather it has been either under Iranian influence or served as a buffer zone between Iran and India. These were the British who snatched this area from Iran. Same is the case with the NWFP which has been mostly considered part of Afghanistan except in times when some powerful Indian empire annexed these areas. Mostly, the Indus River has been making the upside boundary of India. Sutlej has acted as its second line of defence.

 A prominent linguist, Dr Tariq Rahman, has counted fifty plus languages in Pakistan. He has duly identified this factor as providing basis for ethno-nationalism in Pakistan. How these forces are vocal as well as effective in politics can be gauged by the fact that the country has been once disintegrated when Bengalis demanded a separate homeland and fought valiantly for their cause. Bangladesh was carved out of Pakistan after a violent struggle of the ethno-nationalists of East Pakistan. The existence of ethnic feelings in Pakistan is also evident from the formation of Pakistan Oppressed Nations Movement, popularly called Ponam, as well as the ongoing Baloch insurgency.

The right wing politics in Pakistan is one or the other way ethnic in its outcomes. Jamat-e-Islami supported Zia-ul-Haq dictatorial rule for the reason that its amir, Mian Tufail, belonged to East Punjab as did Zia. He also enjoyed berathari link with him — both were Araens. Jamat-e-Islami of today is the bitter opponent of General Pervez Musharraf because its present Amir is Pushtoon and he is naturally opposed to the President-General’s policies against Taliban supposedly fighting on the side of Al-Qaeda (Taliban are predominantly Pushtoons).

 The Karachi killings of May 12 are being projected by the opposition parties as a symbolic gesture of the Urdu speaking community of Pakistan vis-à-vis rest of the population of the country. The MQM, representing the interest of the Urdu speaking population of Sindh and dominating the politics of the province, allegedly resorted to violence in reaction to opposition’s attempt to make a big show of the Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry’s visit to Karachi as part of his campaign he is waging, with the help of the opposition parties, to protest against Musharraf’s move to make him dysfunctional through filing reference against him in the apex court of the country.

The non-Urdu members of the ruling camp have voiced their concerns over Karachi killings and there is move within the camp not to let Musharraf prolong his rule. Analysts believe the Punjab’s politicians are successfully diverting hatred against their province towards the Urdu-speaking community supporting General Pervez Musharraf. It is the fact the President-General has duly recognised by complaining that the ruling party is not supporting him as he would have expected.

That Punjab leadership is making the MQM a scapegoat to end long-held hatred of the smaller ‘nations’ of the country, the future scenario is difficult to conceive right now. There are unconfirmed reports that a sizeable number of PML-Q leaders have contacted PML-N that they are ready to join it after they get a positive signal. PPP-P has also made such claims recently. MMA is the ardent supporter of opposition’s move against the MQM to reoccupy the political space it lost in Karachi during last general elections and the last local body polls. The Punjab leadership has floated the idea to support the old demand of smaller provinces for more space to manage their affairs vis-à-vis the federation.

 It is worth mentioning that MQM has been involved in conscious efforts to transform its identity into a national party rather than that representing the interest of the Urdu-speaking minority. Going by its constitution, its name is roughly United National Movement while it stands for protecting the interests of the middle and lower classes of the country in a feudal society. Too, its leadership vows to protect the rights of oppressed nations of Pakistan. Notably, the MQM stands for re-writing of the constitution and redrawing provincial boundaries to this effect. It has supported the nationalists of the country, particularly Sindh and the party has recorded its protest over the killing of Akbar Bugti by the security forces as well as the plans to construct Kalabagh dam in line with the Ponam parties. The MQM was successfully getting ground outside Sindh as well but the situation has drastically changed after the May 12 incidents.

A lot has come clear to the leadership of the MQM but its dilemma ship is exemplary: it can’t abandon Musharraf ; it can’t also risk to standby him after all Musharraf has to go sooner and later and the repercussions will only be borne this party. The future of the MQM can be well gauged by the statement of Pir Pagaro, the leader of his own faction of Pakistan Muslim League. “MQM is pitted against the whole of Pakistan,” he commented while the opposition was calling strike against this party after unfortunate incidents in Karachi. Given the experience of Benazir era during which mass murder of MQM workers was carried out by security forces, the scenario following Musharraf’s removal seems bleak for this party. Probably, Pakistan is the country where history will keep repeating itself.

If MQM fails to escape the trap laid down supposedly by the indigenous ethnic groups of the society, the right wing parties will emerge as the main beneficiary. Ethnicity not religious militancy will come to the fore as one of the major issue of Pakistani politics. As well evident by some reports of foreign media, ethnic violence will change the view of the foreign powers that are now obsessed with the question of religious extremism in Pakistan.