Ali Raza Abidi: Karachi's prized possession

Updated 27 Dec 2018


— File
— File

When social media was overflowing with messages of grief and shock at the brutal assassination of Ali Raza Abidi, a Hazara activist and blogger, Yasin Nadir, shared this Urdu verse:

اہل خانہ متاع شہر تھے وہ
شہر والوں کو جاکے پرسہ دو

Ehl-e-Khana Mata-i-Shehr thai wo
Shehr walon ko ja ke pursa dau.

O my clan, he was the prized possession of people of this city
Let’s offer condolences to the city dwellers.

It is from a poem written by one of the most outstanding poets of our times, Jon Elia. It has the title Marg-e-Naghaan. Elia wrote this poem in October 1998 when Hakim Muhammad Saeed fell prey to the violence and mayhem that had besieged Karachi during that decade.

Saeed was a physician in herbal medicine, philanthropist, scholar and a published author of many books. He was also the governor of Sindh during the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) second government.

Editorial: Karachi bleeds

Nadir's reference was to Abidi — the politician, entrepreneur and activist who had emerged as the most prized possession of the people of Karachi in recent years, someone who epitomised the conscience of Pakistan's largest city.

Apart from his active presence on social media, the former Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader made allies with and befriended even those who would disagree with his politics and viewpoints.

He was open to argument and debate, and would be willing to support any position he would find convincing. The 46-year-old would pick his own fights and would never shy away from taking controversial positions. Abidi, who came through the ranks of MQM's student faction, was also known for his tongue-in-cheek retorts, often using terms that were part of Karachi's slang.

He voiced his opinions everywhere, whether responding to enthusiasts within his own party, mediating between the supporters of different MQM factions, taking on the shenanigans of the federal cabinet's members, commenting on the corruption cases against the PPP and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, or raising voice against human rights violations.

Explore: How not to improve law and order in Karachi

Years of engagement with people transformed Abidi. The young MQM supporter who would be willing to defend the party at any price became someone who would stand and empathise with anyone who had been a victim of state highhandedness — whether it was a political stalwart at the receiving end of a flawed accountability process, or a young Pashtun man who was killed by a celebrated policeman in a staged encounter.

At a personal level, he was deeply religious and openly displayed his devotion to Shia Imams. For him, doing secular politics and being religious in personal life was not a contradiction.

After finishing his studies abroad, he returned to Pakistan and devised the Professionals Research and Advisory Council to connect Karachi's educated lot and professional classes with the MQM.

One area of focus was the blogosphere and social media. Abidi was an architect of the party's cyberspace strategy; they had volunteer teams in every town, sector and unit comprising reporters, freelance writers, bloggers and social media activists.

With a soft-spoken Abidi at the helm, the strategy was instrumental in allowing the party to defend its positions and influence the mainstream narrative during the worst of law and order situations in Karachi.

Besides his political career, he was the man behind the popular Clifton eatery Biryani of the Seas, which also became a place for gatherings, meetings and even vigils.

Dialogue: Laurent Gayer and Omar Shahid Hamid on Karachi

In 2013, Abidi was elected member of national assembly after winning the NA-251 seat. It was the year when the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf became a formidable opponent of the MQM, securing thousands of votes in the latter's strongholds. It was also a violent time for Karachi as it saw the start of yet another operation against terrorist outfits and violent political and criminal gangs — an operation that eventually targeted his party as well.

The pressure on the MQM culminated into the fateful events of August 22 when the party had to dissociate itself from the founder Altaf Hussain. Abidi was ousted for his alleged sympathies for Hussain, only to be restored later.

When the MQM was divided between the PIB and Bahadurabad factions, he stood by Farooq Sattar and defended him rigorously against all his detractors. He was a harsh critic of Mustafa Kamal and his Pak Sarzameen Party. And when it came to facing the PTI in the 2018 general elections, he was the party pick for contesting against Imran Khan.

The act of standing his ground was something that gave hope to the disgruntled MQM workers who still believe that the party would, once again, rise from the ashes — and when it would, people like Abidi would be at the forefront.

His death is a serious blow to all such hopes.

Are you writing on Karachi's politics? Share you insights with us at