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The 'overlooked' details


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Pakistani volunteers take a wounded man to hospital in Karachi early July 14, 2011. Violence erupted in the southern city, when a statement by Pakistan People's Party provincial minister Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza was aired on local television news, allegedly criticising Pakistani political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) self-exiled chief Altaf Hussain. – AFP Photo

KARACHI: Sindh Senior Minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza’s diatribe and the immediate and violent reaction by MQM sympathisers left 15 innocent people dead in the city.

At a juncture when the city struggled to return to normality after the bloodshed that left over 100 people dead and many more wounded, Dr Mirza’s remarks were inciting and provocative. And he found an active audience for his show, thanks to the TV channels that had nothing better to offer at 10:55pm that night. At the same time, coverage of Dr Mirza’s speech and the street protests also demonstrated how the vernacular media was sharply divided, consciously or otherwise, along ethnic lines.

While the Urdu press remained focused on the outburst against Altaf Hussain and the ethnic slurs against the Urdu-speaking population of the province, the Sindhi press “expressed the sentiments of the natives” and denounced the demand for a new province. Worse still were the sound bytes by the “common man” or MQM supporters that showed a no holds barred barrage of insults that further added to the violence.

“The press reports keeping in mind its audience. While the English press is more restrained and usually tries to find a balanced approach, the Urdu and regional papers and television channels have a more awami flavour. They will highlight what they feel will get their audience to respond,” says journalist Razzak Abro.

Giving the example of the furore caused by Shahbaz Sharif’s comments regarding Karachi being turned into a province, he said that this wasn’t taken too kindly by the Sindhis. “Obviously, to Sindhis the idea of separating Karachi and turning it into a new province touches a raw nerve. Already emotions are running high and at this point, hate speech or any inflammatory comment will be taken in a different light by the audience,” he elaborated.

“In the bid for outshining each other when it comes to ‘breaking news’, the channels at times try to get SOT (sound on tape) that will elicit a reaction. The way things went haywire after Dr Mirza’s speech is a case in point. First off, his speech should not have been aired and then the particular section where he went in an overdrive against the Urdu-speaking community could have well been avoided. It’s the responsibility of the press to have self censorship,” said an anchor at a Sindhi TV channel.

While the night was a mess, the following morning saw the papers devoting columns to Dr Mirza’s rant. The story in Kawish, a leading Sindh daily, quoted him as saying: “Those who dream of breaking down Sindh must remember that this can only happen over our dead bodies.” In a similar vein, Awami Awaz quoted Dr Mirza: “A new province in Sindh only over our dead bodies”.

“The reports in most leading English dailies did not take into account these lines uttered by him and even if they did, the readership base which happens to be the educated and in a better socio-economic status overlooked at this particular “over my dead body” comment as a rhetorical rant. But for the lower middle class and those with nationalist leanings, these lines mean a whole lot more,” says Azhar Khan, a regular watcher of Sindhi TV channels. “Yes the channels do tend to sensationlise and newspapers may misquote, but the fact is that as a leader, Dr Mirza or for that matter anyone else should be careful about what they say. His apology today won’t bring back the 15 people killed since that night,” he opined.

“Its like seeds of discord are being planted. We have seen this sort of thing in the 90s when the Urdu press went into an overdrive against the Sindhi and Pakhtun population and the ethnic violence has gradually worsened over the years. The Bushra Zaidi case is an example. That’s when this wave of ethnic violence started. From that point on, the press also took side. Most notorious was a leading Urdu paper that printed small news items in its inside pages, which were faked news report about the mohajir community being harassed in Sindh. Again, this was retorted by the Sindhi press. Although their circulation was limited to the Sindhi-speaking masses, the paper carried items about the 'outsiders'. This has polarised the environment and it’s not just limited to ethnicity. Same goes for sectarian violence too,” Mr Khan said.

As the war of words escalated Dr Mirza and other politicians, citizens responded differently. While the distaste towards his remarks was visible, also noticeable was the reaction to the ‘new province’. “For us, a divided Sindh is not acceptable at all,” said Bilal, a 20-year-old student of political science at the University of Karachi. He said that while Dr Mirza had hurt the sentiments of the Urdu-speaking people, the Sindhi-speaking people had been repeatedly hurt by the “demand of a new province within Sindh”.

“We have welcomed the Pakhtuns and the Mohajirs into our city but now they want to control what is ours,” he said.

In a column ‘Nadan Dost, Dana Dushman’ that appeared on July 16, 2011 in Daily Kawish, Agha Rafique broke down the politics of the city. At the end of the write-up he summed up the reaction to Dr Mirza’s speech by writing about the ‘celebratory’ text messages he received that praised Dr Mirza for taking a bold stance. In Awami Awaz, a column by Rana Nathan Shah dismissed the moves of the MQM and at the same time downplayed the Mirza episode by saying that MQM created a ruckus over Dr Mirza’s meeting with Afaq Ahmed. “It was more than the meeting that led to the bloodshed in the city,” commented a reader.

“Freedom of speech is everyone’s right. But the press should report sensibly rather than highlighting these statements. People need to realise that the country is immune to Karachi’s ethnic fights and when something like ‘over my dead body’ is getting their attention, it's not very right. It was his personal opinion that is now affecting everyone. We have seen marriages and peaceful coexistence between the Pakhtuns, Mohajirs and Sindhis as well as other ethnicities. But yes if you keep drumming down something, eventually it will affect people, especially the impressionable youth,” said journalist Lubna Jerar Naqvi.

At a time when understanding and active listening is needed along with massive amounts of restraint, these rants of personal biases are just adding to the volatile mix that furthers the political and ethnic divide in the city and the province.

Comments (44) Closed

jafrani Jul 18, 2011 04:45pm
Well done.....keep it up.
Shehla Jul 18, 2011 05:39pm
Very rightly highlighted the role of media by Sumaira. Media should not be biased because it has very strong impact to create the response/reaction of masses. Please use it as a medium of information and awareness rather bone of contention... Sumaira very brave attempt..
Noman Jul 18, 2011 05:43pm
Sorry but the writer failed to note that Pakistan is for Pakistanis. What is this Mohajir, Sindhi, Punjabi, Baloch, Pakhtun non-sense. If the citizens of Karachi wants a separate province then let it be. Anyone born in Karachi is a Sindhi, just like anyone born in Punjab. About 20 years ago, people were discriminated specially Mohajirs in Punjab by being asked where you are from. Then it turned into where your father is from and now it is turned into where your grand father is from. You failed to condemn the comments of Zulfikar Mirza who is a minister and should be representing every citizen of Sindh and not singling out "Urdu Speaking" which should not matter. Your article is more dividing then uniting. The student you quoted so proudly as saying “We have welcomed the Pakhtuns and the Mohajirs into our city but now they want to control what is ours,”. Karachi belongs to people who live there and who pay taxes there whether it is a Sindhi, "Mohajir", Punjabi or Pakhtun. Unite. Not Divide.
Adnan Ali Jul 18, 2011 06:04pm
Also I will like to add to this is, read the history of karachi (read:wiki), there were no 'Sindhis' in karachi when Pakistan was created. It was primarily a cantonment area for the british. Since 1837 onwards, people from different minorities started living in khi, but there was Never a majority of 'sindhis' in karachi, otherwise there will be a 'sindhi abadi' in karachi. So the notion that sindhis accepted mohajir with open hearts is NOT TURE.
Adnan Khan Jul 18, 2011 06:27pm
Looks like the writer attempted to extend Mirza's full of hate and fear mongering speech which he delivered using his party's platform. There is no such thing like 'personal opinion' when a 'high profile' minister uses party's platform (in a very calculated way) to incite violance. Instead the writer choose to blame media which did an excellent job exposing the character of such insitigators. True with power comes responsibility but the disease must be tackled at the source which of course is not the media.
Amanullah Jul 18, 2011 06:44pm
When the call given by Quaid for creation of separate Muslim home land.Most of the well to do people migrated leaving all the their belongings. Like what Zulfiqar Mirza said," yey bhookay nangay log, hamaray mulk me akar baat kartay hain".PPP must realize that it is now impoosible to drive the Urdu speaking back to India.We must follow the policy of tolarance.
Asif Ameer Jul 18, 2011 08:18pm
Points mentioned in this arcticle covers atticates of Politicians and the media. Nicely written and explained with its consequential results.However, going through the comments here, some speak of freedom of speech for those who speak of the separation of Sindh or Karachi. There is 1 thing that should be pointed out here. Pakistan claimed its independence as a Muslim Nation where a Muslim would be free to practice his religion. What rights would any resident of Karachi or Sindh invoke to claim sovereignty? Being Mohajir or Urdu speak to claim sovereignty would be being as intolerant as Mirza's comment. In essense that is exactly what Mirza said - he is intolerant.My take - If you recite the Kalima, appreciate what God has bestowed upon the nation. Fear the moment when God reminds us of what our forefathers begged HIM for the miseries they faced and what we did in return for this nation that was a Gift from God.
Ahmed Masood Jul 18, 2011 08:31pm
"Before the year 1880 the majority of the population in Karachi consisted of the indigenous Sindhis and Balochis (who spoke Sindhi as their mother tongue). Karachi was a small port town and part of Talpur dynasty in Sindh. The British East India Company conquered Karachi on February 3, 1839 and started developing it as a major port. As a result of British rule[citation needed] the local Hindu population established a massive presence in the city." -Wikipedia
Mohammad Ali Jul 18, 2011 08:41pm
You need to go and correct your history......!
optimist Jul 18, 2011 08:49pm
I totally agree with the views expressed by writer.
Yusuf Jul 18, 2011 08:53pm
We should have more provinces all over Pakistan! I don't see any issues with that. In fact, it will help decentralize decision making and distribute the current provincial budgets even further. Which is a good thing. In case of Sindh, if we make more provinces (say 2 provinces in Sindh), Karachi (having 2 sea ports) can be equally (logically) divided in a way that both provinces of Sindh get a portion of Karachi and one seaport each. Given the sensitivities of our Sindh brethren - I suggest that both provinces of Sindh have the word "Sindh" in their name. For example, Indus Sindh and Kolachi Sindh - or whatever makes sense and wins a majority approval. The days of tribal or territorial fighting are over. Why can't we come up with logical, practical, and economically beneficial solutions.
Farhan Qazi Jul 18, 2011 09:55pm
Another hate monger came to defend the hate monger! The writer should blame and muzzle the Zulifiqar Mirza but she is artfully trying to muzzle the media! What a pity! It is puzzling that why DAWN News had allowed such a writer to its board who are trying to malign the media for exposing the truth!
Razzaq Jul 18, 2011 10:44pm
I agree.Icame to Karachi in 1947.As a child and active school boy I can confirm Adan Ali's comment.There were hindu sindhis in Karachi at that time but not the muslim sindhis.Even schools like Sindh Madersah and NJV high school had majorities of Urdu speaking students and also SM law and commerce colleges had similar situation.It was ZAB who in his tenure lured sindhis to Karachi from rular sindh.
H.Shah Jul 18, 2011 10:45pm
There should not be tolerance for ethnic & religious bigotry, If the PPP is sincere with this country, they should expel Dr. Mirza from their party.
Adnan Jul 18, 2011 10:49pm
"There were no Sindhis in Karachi before Partition" Is that a Joke? Who was studying in NED, DJ, DOW then? There were Hindu and Muslim Sindhis . Karachi was a bustling metropolis. And Yes Sindhis did welcome their Muslim brothers from India with an open heart and in the process became a minority in their own homeland.
Nazir Abbasi Jul 18, 2011 11:14pm
Writer and Mirza both are great.
Irfan Jul 18, 2011 11:26pm
Well done Sumaira for being brave enough to write such an article so objectively. To be honest, if I were in Karachi, I would not have dared to do so. Its very unfortunately that the media is so biased and which has created the sort of minds that can be seen from the last two comments. Does someone start to kill ppl in revenge when British or Dutch or other nationalists in West say the same. And in all honesty, its a fact that Sindhis have welcomed the Pakhtuns and the Mohajirs into Sindh but now they want to control what should be for all Sindhis including those born to so called Mohajir families. It is about time Mohajirs adopt Sindh as their homeland rather than carve out land for Mohajirs. Same goes for Sindhis, they should treat Mohajirs equally and do not express any bias against them.
Sindhi-Pakistani Jul 18, 2011 11:36pm
Having said that, I want to reinforce that whether you're urdu speaking, sindhi speaking, saraiki speaking, dhatiki speaking, punjabi speaking etc, if born in Sindh are Sindhis and since Sindh is part federation of Pakistan (because we voted for it) we with our brothers and sisters from other provinces are Pakistanis. Unity in diversity please.
Aamir Mughal Jul 19, 2011 02:02am
Excellent Observation, more like you are needed in Local Urdu and Sindhi Press. Regards
Saad Durrani Jul 19, 2011 02:36am
I think media ruined it by playing that speech over and over again.
mohsin meghani Jul 19, 2011 03:02am
1947 Karachi was inhabited by only sindhis memon gujratis including khojas parsis and punjabi christians.There was not a single urdu speaking person at that was city of harmony and love for everyone.
Raza Mujtaba Jul 19, 2011 04:37am
Where are you reading this... I think you failed to read this in Wikipedia: The Baloch tribes from Balochistan and Makran established a small settlement of fishing communities, many of whom still inhabit sections of Sindh, and called it Kolachi. In 1795, the village became a domain of the Balochi Talpur rulers of Sindh. Get your facts right. Even Today the Urdu Speakers form only 47 percent of the total population in Karachi my friend. Karachi belongs to every one and yet no one. Karachi as a province can not survive and Pakistan can not survive without Karachi. This is a strange Dichotomy with which we have to live with I am afraid.
farooq naqvi Jul 19, 2011 05:00am
I fully agree with the remarks of Adnan ali as mentioned above.Before partition, muslims of Karachi were not allowed to visit recriation places like clifton ets.,only Hundu and other relegion followers were allowed to go there.This was Karachi.
Mansoor Qureshi Jul 19, 2011 06:22am
MQM Governor is back.Now where Z.Mirza stands/
Kausar Talat Jul 19, 2011 06:51am
I think Sumaira tried to balance out but failed to condemn Mr. Mirza. As a leader one must be careful what h/she utter. Mr Mirza had showed lack of emotional intelligence and so some of the replies here. First as a Pakistani, there is no such thing as "Urdu Speaking". We all in our emotions forget that Urdu is the Pakistan's national language. So "Urdu Speaking" is simply Pakistani speaking. Second, Sumaira is very correct in pointing out th emedia responsibility. Responsible society must have responsible and accountable media. I wish people pay attention to US media. That media is responsible rightdown to the point of being controlled by government. News as such would never be exploited or aired by main channels. Pakistani media is out to sensationalize. Just ponder media got 15 bodies, 15 torn families by airing unresponsible rant of a stupid leader.
lightning Jul 19, 2011 07:20am
Sorry to say, but even the 'educated' audience of your article refuses to fall into your attempt of painting a nicer, saner picture of dr mirza. You are blaming the media for reporting n not censuring that which was actually reported! Besides, how come there is not a single opinion of any urdu channel or newspaper in this article? V biased indeed! a so-called reputable newspaper chooses to publish bias is worse
Yasser Jul 19, 2011 09:18am
I think the story is balanced, the issue it deals with is essential for Pakistan. Coexistence is important for successful and peaceful society. I am not Pakistani, but I have Pakistan friends I meet them a broad, so I have good impression about them. I also have a dream for this wonderful country to live in peace and welfare.
UMAIR Jul 19, 2011 09:46am
having lived in Karachi for 10 years i still get surprised by the level of violence by certain parties. why do we forget no matter what ethnicity we all live in karachi. every sindhi muhajir pathan punjabi balochi mother will cry if their child is hit by a stray bullet. hope sanity prevails. lets live in peace for once.
Tariq Jul 19, 2011 09:53am
writers media observation is quite accurate. Mirza is crazy
Zaim Jul 19, 2011 10:38am
@Adnan khan: I agree to what u wrote.. i don't see the point of blaming media at-least this time. It showed the real face of our honorable Senior minister..
ahmad Jul 19, 2011 10:58am
Please don't use the word of "Dr." for Mr. Mirza,a qualified person holding a senior minister position can't use those firy words against Muslim of this country. The writer comments are laughable. How come a senior minister say some thing doesn't reflect the party opinion? moreover he is use to deliver this kind of hatred statement. He should be tried in a criminal court for the death of score of people which resulted just because of his mad statement.
Ali Jul 19, 2011 11:04am
I don't know which logic is Adnan using. Karachi is heart of Sindh and the whole Sindh pulsates with it. It is really disappointing that when people of Sindh gave place in their heart to the Indian Muhajirs and people from other parts of Pakistan and even Afganistan, then does it justify that in return Karachi should be separated from Sindh? Indian Muhajirs are now permanent residents of Sindh and slogans of Muhajir province are just a ploy to consolidate their vote bank by MQM, and like wise Zulfiqar Mirza episode, although poorly executed, was a ploy to consolidate their vote bank in Sindh by PPP. People of Sindh understand this. The author of this article deserves credit for writing an excellent and timely article on a subject although very important but rarely reported.
Umair Ahmed Shaikh Jul 19, 2011 11:09am
The demand of new provinces is not new in Pakistan. It has been raised couple of times from different quarters of the society. Although creation of more provinces from administration point of view is a good option, it shouldn't be done solely on the ethnic lines as it will just increase the hatred and will eventually result in the separation of the country.
Abdullah Hussain Jul 19, 2011 11:15am
I agree with Adnan. Freedom of speech that incites peoples to take law & order in their own hand is never acceptable. Media played a wonderful job; it is Zulfiqar Mirza who has to be blamed for the 15 deaths & destruction to property. Sindhis & Mohajirs are living peacefully. Even in Badin, the home town of ZM, peoples came out to protest Zulfiqar Mirza's provocative outburst. No one is allowed to play with the sentiments of the peoples.
Asif Shaikh Jul 19, 2011 11:35am
@ Adnan Ali : I strongly disagree with Mr.Adnan ali, .this part of country has a very very rich History it Doesn't start with the "British Rule",even its doesn't start with the arrival of muhammad bin qasim at debal. this land has the history of thousands of the years. its very very unfortunate that due to Ethnical and sectarian divides in the city people are not taught about the history . every community which is the part of this city is now the integral part of its history too. the very first rule to study the history (political or Islamic etc) the man needs to be unbiased.
Fahad Jul 19, 2011 11:37am
I totally agree with you. Pre 1947 Karachi was habitated by hindus, parsis and few baluchis fishermen. After the partition all the hindus and most of the parsis left Pakistan and migrated to India. The highly educated people who came from huge metropolitan cities of India made Karachi the financial capital of Pakistan and now it is becuase of them that Karachi produces 70% of the revenue of Pakistan and Karachiites are proud of it that it is their city that makes it possible for Pakistan to progress. Sindhi speaking people are very humble and polite in nature but it is their feudal lords who give bad name to them and creates ethnic hatred towards them. Pakistanis are one nation and we should reject any person who created ethnic tension amongst ourselves and if we want Pakistan to progress and ethnicity to vanish then we should form new smaller provinces!
Ali Jul 19, 2011 12:00pm
By reading the article I really could not make out what is Sumaira trying to prove right here. I personally feel if this speech was not shown in the media then these riots could have last for weeks. Do you think it is the mango people that come out on streets and do all the killings and set the vehicles on fire?..I really think so. All the political parties would have taken this advantage and would have given their own stories about the riots and would have done point scoring. Like in preivous fine day suddenly these killings start and ends after taking lives of 30-40 people and the mango people keeps on guessing what happened. Atleast this time we knew the reason behind all this. Now we know who is actually talking about racism. One more think to add...I personally feel every party should have the right of rule from where they get votes...The Nazim system was the best example of it.
abdurrehman Jul 19, 2011 01:18pm
actually ,everyone is carrying a different opinion with them and so do i; the point upon which i wanted to focus is that why anyone is allowed to say anything do opening against the inhabitants of Pakistan. unfortunately We Pakistani as a nation have exploited our image by intersecting our national identity with the so called area specific traits .i.e Sindhi, Punjabi and many more. Of-course Media is expected to handle great responsibility but with little more care. i am not a pessimist but i should clear my point about Pakistani media by saying that apart from all the efforts that have been made by individuals, media is not fulfilling the requirements of Pakistani society and for Politicians i think i don't have to add anything about them as they don't deserve to be quoted in any of the respectable debate.
anila Jul 19, 2011 02:26pm
I want to response to Ali and other people with similar thoughts. the phrase 'when people of Sindh gave place in their heart to the Indian Muhajirs' is very hurting. People who migrated from India left their all belongings back in India just to live in muslim country and here he is saying that he has given us place. he is behaving as if he has done some ehsan on us. Today what khi is because of urdu speaking as we are the most educated people in karachi. Pakistan is ours. It is not a property of some Sindhi. We have shifted from India, does tht mean we can not call it ours?? If thats the case then was no point of seperating Sub Continient. Kindly have liberal thoughts
Damned Truth Jul 19, 2011 02:34pm
I think more than highlighting the subtle but crucial differences in the coverage of Mr. Mirza's speech, the author ends up mirroring her opinions in the article. This can be the result of two distinct possibilities: 1. She believes in these differences and hence "saw" them on television 2. She wanted something different to say about this whole issue that she ended up over-analyzing it All the major TV news channels did not show any discrimination "highlighting" different parts. Very, very skewed reporting of the coverage.
Khurram Jul 19, 2011 02:57pm
I can see a reason why writer tried her best to put all the blame to the media. there is an old saying that 'dont kill the messenger' - instead of getting into the root cause and finding some solution to get rid of such people from our country, writer wants media to take all the responsibility of that chaos that eventually became a bloody show for next few days. we need to get out of the fools paradise we tend to live in now, and accept the truth that all the current political setup is full with corrupts.
Uzair Jul 19, 2011 03:58pm
Adnan represents the wishful thinking of a MQM hawk nay Urdu speaking hawk. His assumption that there were no ‘Sindhis’ in Karachi at the time of Pakistan’s independence is ridiculous to say the least. Just to for the sake of argument, the absence of ‘Sindhis’ from their province’s capital does not mean that new boundaries be demarcated to suit the immigrant population. Throughout the world whenever a population migrates to a new geographical zone it assimilates with the indigenous population while contributing to its culture and economy in a healthy manner. Unfortunately for some of the refugees that migrated here it was never an option. They chose to look down upon the resident population and decided to maintain a separate identity altogether. It is the bitter truth that most of those refugees did come to Pakistan (read Karachi) in the worst of circumstances and they were supported wholeheartedly by the Sindhis. As for Adnan’s contention that the media did a great job exposing Mr. Mirza’s hateful ideology then let me say that it was nothing more than fanning the fire in which this sorry city continues to burn in. The media he appreciates was busy portraying the the armed thugs who had taken this city hostage as the outraged “awam” and “aam aadmi(common man).” Every sane element in society realises that the common man does not vent his anger out by killing innocent people and torching public property. Only terrorists do that. As for Sumaira’s article, I think it was quite an informative account of how polarised national and regional media has become. Then again, the friction and estrangement it howls of is the same that sadly our people are feeling against each other.
Ali Jul 19, 2011 08:58pm
I can not agree more. Eloquently expressed.
kazi jawed akhter Jul 20, 2011 12:57pm
This the power of electronic media.They can makeorbreak anything.They can put their words in others mouths.There is a race of breaking news on channels.As a matter of fact,when the sentiments were already running very high,care was required to be taken in airing Mirza Sahibs comments.What purpose this news won.Killing and killing of many innocent people.there must be some end to all this. must be abuiltin code of conduct in the souls and hearts of media people to safe gaurd the national interest specially about law and order creating/disturbing news.Does any body remember that famous killing poem of Raeees Amrohi "Urdu ka janaza hay zara dhom say nikly.This poem appeared on the masthead of a famous newpaper of Karachi and created alot of unrest in Karachi including rural sindh.Those were the early days of Shaheed Zulfakar Ali Bhutto government.