Ever since the 1980s, urbanisation in Pakistan has been galloping at a brisk pace. This has affected demographics and the political and economic cultures of almost all major urban centres of Pakistan.
One is likely to comprehend this by studying election results in the big cities during some of the most telling general elections in the country.
There have been nine direct general elections based on adult franchise in Pakistan.
At least three of these (1977, 1985 and 1990) have largely been discarded as being bogus, even though the rest (apart from the ones held in 1970), cannot be judged as being entirely fair either.
But the 1970, 1988, 1993, 1997, 2002 and 2008 elections certainly hold enough meat and credibility to deserve a study in the context of the shifting political, economic and social dynamics of big cities.
Such a study is also important because rapid urbanisation in Pakistan has affected the growing political ambitions of the country’s middle and lower-middle-classes, and the fact is that even though elections in Pakistan as a whole are still not being contested on issue-basis, these issues do come into play in big cities.
I have chosen four cities: Karachi (in Sindh); Lahore (Punjab); Peshawar (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) and Quetta (Balochistan).
In Karachi, elections were held on seven National Assembly (NA) seats in 1970. Two of these seats were won by the pro-Barelvi Islamic party — Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan (JUP) — two were won by the conservative Jamaat-i-Islami (JI), two by the centre-left Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and one by an independent.
Karachi’s population in 1970 had an overwhelming Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) majority, most of which was politically aligned with JUP and JI.
Though socially liberal, the Mohajirs were politically conservative because being migrants from India, they were not considered to be ‘sons of the soil’ and the concept of ‘unity in faith (Islam)’ appealed to them because they had yet to declare themselves to be a separate ethnic entity like the Sindhi, Pashtun, Baloch and Punjabi.
The two seats that PPP won in Karachi were both in areas that had a majority of Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun working-class populations where the party’s socialist manifesto attracted more support.
In Lahore, eight NA seats were up for grabs during the 1970 election. All eight were won by PPP.
PPP’s appeal in Lahore cut across classes and not only did the city respond well to the party’s socialist manifesto, but also to its animated anti-India posturing.
In Peshawar, NA election in 1970 was held on four seats. Two of these were won by the left-wing National Awami Party (NAP) — a party consisting of Baloch, Sindhi and Pashtun nationalists and progressive Mohajirs — and one seat each was won by the conservative Pakistan Muslim League-(Qayyum), and the Deobandi Islamic party, Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (JUI).
The PPP failed to win even a single NA seat in Peshawar.
Since Pashtun nationalist sentiment was strong at the time, the city’s large Pashtun population voted for NAP, whereas some Pashtun and Hindko speakers of the city preferred PML-Q and JUI.
Quetta had just two NA seats in 1970. One each was won by NAP and JUI.
The next significant general election to take place was in 1988, after the 1977 election was declared null and void and then a military regime ruled the country from 1977 till 1988.
A non-party election was held by the dictatorship in 1985 that was boycotted by almost all major parties.
The number of NA seats in Karachi increased to 13 during the 1988 election. The city had witnessed a mixture of economic boom as well as ethnic and sectarian strife in the 1980s. Crime also increased two-fold.
The Mohajir population decreased from being over 60 per cent in 1970 to about 51 per cent in 1988 (1981 consensus). The Punjabi population of the city grew to about 15 per cent and so did the city’s Baloch, Pashtun and Sindhi segments.
The Mohajirs (including the Gujrati-speaking Memons), had organised themselves as a separate ethnic entity in 1984 under the radical and secular Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM).
This meant a huge reduction in the vote-bank of right-wing religious parties, JI and JUP in the city.
Eleven of 13 NA seats in Karachi were won by MQM. The remaining two were won by PPP — again, in areas largely populated by the Baloch, Sindhi, Punjabi and the Pashtun.
Lahore had nine NA seats in the 1988 election. The PPP had swept the city in 1970 but not this time.
A new middle and lower middle-class had begun to emerge in the city during the reactionary Ziaul Haq dictatorship. These classes saw the nine-party alliance, the Islami Jamhoori Ittihad (IJI), as being closer to their new-found ideological and economic interests.
The IJI was led by Pakistan Muslim League that had been given a reboot by the Zia regime in 1985. IJI also included right-wing Islamic parties.
PPP picked up six of the nine seats in Lahore in 1988. IJI won two seats and one was won by Pakistan Awami Ittihad (PAI).
The 1988 NA elections in Peshawar were held on four seats — all four won by PPP — a remarkable achievement considering the fact that the party had failed to win a single seat here in 1970.
Peshawar had become flushed with Afghan refugees and the destructive impact that Pakistan’s involvement in the US and Saudi backed ‘Afghan jihad’ against the Soviets in neighbouring Afghanistan directly impacted KP.
Also, Pashtun nationalism was in retreat, replaced by the Islamic radicalisation witnessed in Pashtun areas as a consequence of the so-called jihad.
The city reacted to this by overwhelmingly voting for the centre-left PPP.
Election in Quetta was held on only one seat in 1988. The seat was won by JUI.
Karachi went into the 1993 election with 13 NA seats. MQM boycotted the NA election due to a military operation against its cadres during the first Nawaz Sharif government (1990-93).