‘Mohajir problem’

Published January 25, 2023
The writer is a lawyer.
The writer is a lawyer.

THE recent local government (LG) elections in Karachi have thrown quite a few curve balls. If the unofficial results of the election are to be believed, Karachi has opted to ditch the mainstream populist narrative, which dominates much of the airways, for more nuanced, localised choices. Perhaps for the first time in its history, the PPP has emerged as the single largest political party in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, albeit by a whisker, followed closely by the Jamaat-i-Islami.

On their own, the unexpected results of the LG elections of Pakistan’s most populous city should have been enough to send shockwaves through the media. And yet, they continued to remain relegated to the second- or even third-placed items in most mainstream news cycles, which continued to be dominated by the happenings in Punjab.

In a nutshell, this a perfect reflection of the ‘Mohajir problem’. Despite Karachi being in the news cycle for all the wrong reasons, allegedly the metropolis’s largest ethnic group continues to be relegated to the peripheries of society. The city which was once home to Pakistan’s bureaucratic elites, hailing largely from a particular ethnicity, now seems devoid of its share at the national governance table.

For all its wealth creation and economic activity, Karachi’s contribution to GDP, it seems, is inversely proportional to its political say in national affairs. All this largely comes down to the marginalisation of its largest ethnic group.

Mohajirs are almost exclusively seen as MQM loyalists.

It is hard to imagine that the ethnic speakers of Urdu, Pakistan’s national language, feel that they have been consigned to the margins of the national debate, and yet there is reason to believe that there exists a very real Mohajir problem which few people are ready to acknowledge.

The Mohajir community has long been associated with a particular firebrand style of politics; with violence, government-hopping and ethnic hatred being the key factors of such an identity. But the question is, can political parties necessarily be a representation of the people they represent, or should they merely be seen as a reflection of their leaders and not the community they represent? The rise and the current fall of the MQM has often been viewed as the bellwether of the fortunes and mood of the entire Mohajir community. But are we right to paint Karachi’s Mohajirs with such a broad stroke of the brush called the MQM? Or does there exist a Mohajir identity that is separate and distinct from its once leading political party?

There is no need to delve into the history of the debate to respond to the questions raised here. While it is true that most MQM factions boycotted the polls this month, Karachi and its Mohajirs voted en masse for the Jamaat-i-Islami and the PPP in the recent LG elections. In the national elections of 2018, they voted, infamously and overwhelmingly, for the PTI and in 2013 for the MQM. Yet, when comparisons are drawn and analyses made, the Mohajirs are almost exclusively interpreted as loyalists of the MQM or its former eccentric leader.

The general ‘outside’ outlook of the Mohajir community is perhaps the single most important reason for the antagonising of an entire ethnic group, leading to the Mohajir problem. In truth, the roots of the problem stem from the rise of the new bureaucracy in the 1970s and 1980s, which comprised largely of ethnicities other than their own, which meant that those who were once the movers and shakers of government felt betrayed and sidelined. Many Mohajirs feel that they have no outlet to power, they feel that they have been left to fend for themselves; couple that with the dwindling infrastructure and sc­­arcity of resou­r­­ce allocation in their beloved Karachi and you have an entire community which is resentful and an entire generation which is aloof.

The Mohajir problem is the unfortunate emotion of feeling neglected in your own space, it is the feeling of one’s culture and identity quickly being replaced with an urban multiethnic image, which is different from the identity of their forefathers. This is what the Mohajirs of Karachi face and this is their problem.

There may yet be no quick or easy fix to the Mohajir problem and no one article may be enough to scratch even its surface, but the least that can be done is for the rest of Pakistan to acknowledge that Karachi’s Mohajirs are independent freethinkers, not bound by the shackles of a particular ideology. The greatest disservice to the community is to paint them in the violent eccentric image of a political leader they once voted for.

Perhaps that is why the first step to tackle the Mohajir problem is to acknowledge that Karachi and its largest ethnic group remain politically plural, ideologically fluid and in need of empathy and not apathy.

The writer is a lawyer.
Twitter: @sheheryarzaidi

Published in Dawn, January 25th, 2023

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