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Cities of joy

Published Dec 08, 2011 04:45pm


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It is startling to note that a majority of political analysts and journalists from the Punjab still sound somewhat naïve and highly presumptuous while commenting on the politics of Sindh as a whole, and of Karachi in particular.

I must also add that from my father’s side I am a Punjabi, even though I was born in Karachi and have lived in this city all my life.

Never mind the usual jingoists and mind-numbing vendors of worn-out establishmentarian narratives that are heavily littered around local TV news channels in this respect, because unfortunately, even some of the most astute and insightful media men from the Punjab suddenly begin sounding rather wet around the ears when commenting on Karachi and the rest of Sindh.

Take for example Najam Sethi. An experienced journo and publisher from Lahore and certainly one of the sharpest and most perceptive men on TV and print journalism in Pakistan.

Though a robust political animal when it comes to understanding and relating the politics of Islamabad, the military establishment, foreign policy, terror outfits and, of course, the politics of the Punjab, yet he can’t help but stumble whenever commenting on Sindh and its capital Karachi.

I have found a number of the most progressive intellectuals and media men from the Punjab flip-flop from being profound and articulate while talking about something else but then begin to actually prattle when it comes to commenting on the political cultures of Sindh and Karachi.

I expect stunning insights from this far more experienced and worldly lot, but instead, all they can usually muster in this regard are a series of clichés.

On a side note, since I as a college student, was involved in various anti-dictatorship movements in the 1980s, the above-mentioned phenomenon has made me finally understand just why the bulk of the Punjab had remained silent when General Ziaul Haq’s tanks were mowing down one Sindhi village after another during the MRD (Movement for the Restoration of Democracy) agitation in Sindh in 1983.

In his desperation to construct his very own constituency, Zia had begun to patronise the economic well being of Punjab’s bourgeois and petty-bourgeois.

With Punjab’s economy booming and stomachs of its middle and lower middle-classes full, a democratic struggle against a military usurper meant little or nothing to them. To hell with Sindh! It’s full of terrorists and crooks anyway.

PPP activist killed by military during the 1983 MRD movment in Sindh.

So much has been written and discussed about the politics of Sindh and of its capital ever since the 1983 MRD movement and especially since the initial eruption of ‘ethnic violence’ in Karachi in 1986.

And yet one is still bound to face the most worn-out and clichéd claptrap about Sindh and Karachi from some of the most astute intellectuals and intelligent journalists from the Punjab.

For example, during a series of recent shows of his on Geo TV, Najam Sethi, while talking about the militant-wings of political parties in Karachi blundered on a number of fronts.

In one of the episodes of his show, he confidently claimed that the Jamat-i-Islami (JI) did not have a militant wing. This was a stunning disclosure from a man so historically attuned and intellectually competent.

Just how could he miss pinpointing a phenomenon that each and every student of a state-owned university or college has experienced for the last many decades? A phenomenon called the ‘Thunder Squad (Paracha, DAWN).’

Those who had been part of student politics in Pakistan’s state-owned universities and colleges are all well aware of such a squad.

Long before any major political party constituted armed wings within their respective student units, the Thunder Squad was the first true manifestation of armed action that not only included student militants but common criminals as well.

To be fair, Sethi did change his claim (a bit), when in another episode of his highly rated show, he said that the JI did have a militant-wing – but not any more.

Not exactly. The Thunder Squad is still very much alive, not only in Karachi but also (if not more so), in Lahore (Ballen P:126)!

The only difference in Karachi now is that since the JI has almost completely lost its vote-bank in this city, especially among its traditional supporters of yore – i.e. the city’s trader classes (who have over the years mostly switched their loyalties to Sunni Tehreek) – JI militancy is struggling to find a turf it can call its own.

But does that mean its militant wing has withered away? Not really. It was very much in the picture during the tragic May 12 episode in Karachi, as correctly highlighted by this report.

Sethi Sahib believes that in the next elections Karachi’s largest party, the MQM, will struggle because the population dynamics of the city have changed.

Sethi is right to state that today there are more Pushtuns residing in Karachi than before and that the largely MQM-voting Mohajir (Urdu-speaking) population of the city has comparatively shrunk.

This is correct. But then Sethi, for some inexplicable reason, went on to greatly exaggerate this change.

He confidently said that once Karachi’s Mohajir population stood at “70 per cent,” and that now it is drastically shrinking, as opposed to the Pushtun population in Karachi which now stands at “30 per cent!”

The fact is Mohajirs never constituted more than 57 per cent of Karachi’s population (according to 1951 census). This figure then stood at 48.52 (according to the 1998 census report).

As for the Pushtuns, their population in the city stood at 11.42 per cent (1998 census). How on earth did Sethi Sahib come up with a figure like 30 per cent?

Sociologists like Arif Hassan believe that the next census report may, at most, see the Pushtuns of Karachi now hitting a high of not more than 19 to 20 per cent, while the Mohajirs may shrink from 48.52 per cent to somewhere between 41 to 43 per cent.

Now coming back to the constant concerns of some of Punjab’s journalists’ and politicians’ concerns about Karachi-based parties’ militant-wings.

Every major political party in Pakistan has had militants, if not organised militant wings.

This trend began with the Jamat-i-Islami’s Thunder Squad (from the 1960s onwards) and expanded when violent state repression by the Ziaul Haq dictatorship in the 1980s instigated ‘progressive’ student groups to also begin constructing their own militant wings.

It is true that from the late 1980s, the MQM has had some of the most organised militant units (‘Black Tigers,’ ‘Nadeem Commandos,’ etc.).

Charity worker, Abdus Sattar Eidhi collecting body of MQM militant, Fahim Commando, in 1993. Fahim was shot dead by security forces during the military operation against the MQM.

On the other end, some of the militant units in PPP’s student-wing, the PSF (in Karachi), have evolved into aggressive outfits like the notorious Peoples Aman Committee.

Though the ANP (in Karachi) does not have a name for its militant arm, but it is very much there, as the college students and shop-keepers in the Pushtun majority areas of Karachi would tell you.

Each one of these has also witnessed a gradual process of criminalisation within, with members entering various extortion and real state rackets and common theft.

Even in the interior of the Sindh province, Sindhi nationalist parties have heavily armed groups, especially those belonging to the Jeeay Sindh Thereek and its student-wing the JSSF.

But to suggest that PML-N does not have any armed militants in its ranks is just plain naïve on Sethi sahib’s part.

PML-N’s student-wing, the MSF, has been involved in a number of violent episodes ever since the early 1990s.

To quote from a local English daily’s editorial of October 9: “The PML-N’s student wing, the Muslim Students Federation, has often enforced its authority on campus by resorting to violence. Many prominent figures in the party have also expressed support for militant outfits like the Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan and even maintained links with banned Punjabi groups. If the ban Sharif proposes (on political parties’ militant wings) is to be fairly enforced, then it would have to include his own party.”

Mian Nawaz Sharif arriving in Karachi

Karachi’s political economy is different from that of urban Punjab’s. Throughout the Zia period, Karachi’s (and the rest of Sindh’s) economics and overall sociology were not given the kind of state protection and patronage that the traders and businessmen of the Punjab were bestowed with.

The democratic interlude between the Zia dictatorship and the Musharraf dictatorship witnessed great political instability so much so that by the time Musharraf arrived (1999) even Punjab was feeling the pinch.

But whereas in Karachi, due to willful state negligence, businessmen had begun to use/pay militant wings of powerful political parties (both by choice and coercion) to safeguard their assets and lives, in the Punjab the trader classes began patronising militant Islamist organisations to safeguard their economic interests.

In the Punjab, at the revival of PML-N in the post-Musharraf era, the party was quick to acknowledge the fact that its main vote-bank comprising of central and northern Punjab’s petty-bourgeoisie and the trader classes, had drawn close to various puritanical Sunni Muslim sectarian organisations.

After the economic patronage that the Punjab received during the Zia dictatorship began to recede, these organisations played the role of ‘protecting’ the trader classes’ economic interests just as the militant-wings of the political parties did in Karachi.

The only difference was that by 2009, such a partnership had begun to haunt these classes in Karachi like a Frankenstein monster, whereas in the Punjab, it still continues, even to the point of the traders there being at least one of the main funders of sectarian organisations (Kamran, Journal of Islamic Studies).

So was there any surprise in watching PML-N leader and Punjab’s law minister, Rana Sannaullah, hobnobbing with one of the head honchos of a (supposedly banned) extremist Sunni sectarian outfit? No. Sannaullah was merely holding the hand of a force that also draws its support and funds from the same ‘patriotic’ segment of the Punjab as does the PML-N, and maybe Imran Khan will in the future.

PML-N minister Rana Sanaullah seen campaigning with Sunni sectarian leader, AM A. Ludhianvi

Now, I want to ask my colleagues and seniors in the Punjab intelligentsia and media, how different really is the sight of a MQM/PPP/ANP worker in Karachi holding an AK-47 in his hand than a leader of a mainstream political party holding the hand of a person who heads one of the most hate-spouting and violent sectarian outfits in Pakistan?

Armed supporters of Imran Khan's PTI

Alas, I’ll leave you with a little incident that should explain my dilemma.

Some two years while on a visit to Lahore, I was invited by a friend’s uncle to visit his factory in that city. This happened merely a few days after Lahore was rocked by a series of Taliban suicide attacks that had killed a number of innocent people.

We shook hands and exchanged pleasantries (in Punjabi), until I was taken aback when the uncle asked: ‘So, how’s the situation Karachi? I heard things are really bad there?’

Yes, Karachi violence became the topic of the day and the suicide attacks in Lahore were never mentioned. Because after all, violence only takes place in Karachi, enough even for the CJP to take suo moto action.


Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Author Image

Nadeem F. Paracha is a cultural critic and senior columnist for Dawn Newspaper and He is also the author of two books on the social history of Pakistan, End of the Past and The Pakistan Anti-Hero.

He tweets @NadeemfParacha

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (37) Closed

waqas safdar Dec 08, 2011 04:05pm
its controversial,rather instigating provincial prejudices.plz shun so-called ethnic discrimination,we need to understand that we all are pakistanis,no province and ethnicity
Qaisrani Dec 08, 2011 04:09pm
Same is the case with people living in Karachi as how do they perceive things in Punjab.Majority of urdu speaking believes that still people of Punjab are ling under feudal system while in reality things have chnaged a lot on the grounds. SImilarly NFP could not hide his grudge against PTI while posting one photo of PTI worker brandishing a pistol.Every one knows that PTI rejects violence as a tool for politics.IK cannot work at every party gathering as a body scanner to every participant to not to take the pistols with.It's all about party policy which matters.This gun totting culture has marred our society badly.Check out your face book friends display pictures and there you find even educated professionals brandishing guns proudly. Similarly there is difference between students fighting groups albeit malpractice than occupying the whole area and making it 24/7 no go area for people belonging to an other community by violence.MQM,PPP,ANP and Sunni Tehreek stand for such notority.
Farhan Dec 08, 2011 04:14pm
This reads a one long justification of PPP/MQM/AMPs political violence. The author also conveniently forgets Gen. Zia and Musharraff's patronage of MQM.
daredevil Dec 08, 2011 04:30pm
It's all the time the same prattle, Punjab is bad, Punjab is bad, Punjab bad.
Tanzeel Dec 08, 2011 05:09pm
Perception is bigger than reality. violence and militant wings where ever they exist should be condemned. Najam Sethi, Hamid Mir and Meher Bukhari should be included in this lot. Wonder why do they mislead viewers so openly. During my visit to Lahore I was also asked the same question , my reply was. "Target killings indeed occur there unlike Fatal suicide attacks that kill scores of innocent people in one ago".
Yasser Chattha Dec 08, 2011 05:35pm
...And frankly I too see a very naive NFP in this blog about giving critical judgments about different militant wings of different political parties, esp. regarding PPP, N-League, PTI....Disspirited judgments...
Imran Ali Dec 08, 2011 06:40pm
So i guess it's high time we start analyzing about what we are doing wrong. If Sindh, KP and Balochistan are repeating the same rhetoric, it is evident that everything is not as hunky dory as we perceive it to be. Time to come out of self-created cocoon of ours and start mending broken pieces, if not, at least start collecting them.
sultan Dec 08, 2011 07:02pm
Yes, if we blame everything on Punjab then we don't have to take responsibility. This is the mentality of victimology. Everything is someone elses fault. Pakistanis need to get out of this sort of mindset. Get the proverbial chip off the shoulder. Punjab (as are all the provinces ) is a complex, multiethnic, multi-religious, multi-lingual province. There are fuedals and effecient small farmers, there are business men and shop keepers there is Pakistans biggest baloch community, there are Jutts and Puktoons and Rajputs and Gujjars and Syeds, Kashmiris and urdu-speakers. They have prolific english writers and poets of urdu and saraiki. They have mega-cities and small villages. The richness of history that connects central and south asia is evident everywhere. From Multan through Lahore to Taxila and Beyond. Instead they are blamed for everything from loose morals (singing and dancing and women that are out of control) to fundamentalism (they don't have sufi Islam yet Punjab has more sufi shrines than any other are in Pakistan) . They monopolise power (yet the last 15 years the president has been a non-punjabi). Punjab many facetted and therefore can easily justify any type of whinging and whinning that put forward. C'mon Pakistan move beyond these pathetic line of arguement.
Naveed Dec 08, 2011 09:10pm
Fact is fact; there are different cultures, languages, and ethnicities in Pakistan. Pakistan is a federating unit and turning a blind eye towards will actually harm Pakistan. World is now accepting diversity as an advantage…. We have to learn to coexist peacefully.
BRR Dec 08, 2011 09:37pm
The whole country is taken hostage by militants of various brands. Imagine The Interior Minister Rehman Malik "thanking" the Taliban for keeping violence down during Ashura - what kind of minister thanks killers, extremists and intolerant louts? What kind of country does not protest such bad politics by a minister?
jd shami Dec 08, 2011 09:51pm
NFP: Your article confirms that U hate Punjab and Punjabi's.
jawed shami Dec 08, 2011 10:20pm
DAWN NEWS: Please stop NFP printing these grusome photos of dead people. Thanks
Mansoor Qureshi, Can Dec 08, 2011 10:41pm
A very good analysis by NFP. Indeed when it comes to Karachi, most of the journalists/analysts especially those who are on agencies or political parties payroll start looking with their tainted and biased mindset.
rumasa Dec 08, 2011 11:04pm
Thank you so much sir for writing this piece, and as usual haters will hate you as people in here are used to of blaming everything on MQM so that they can hide the crimes of other political parties. Loved each and every point especially because no one has ever mentioned those things before in detail especially regarding PML-N and Jamat e islami. But anyways thanks again.
Asjad Khan Dec 08, 2011 11:41pm
Well said sir, People far away from the realities of Karachi, Constantly fed the PTV dose comment on Karachi like Sara Palin on the Middle East:)!
MM Dec 09, 2011 12:46am
This is the usual diatribe against Punjab. Please don't blame your failings to integrate into the mainstream life of Pakistan on others!
QB Dec 09, 2011 01:00am
Ahhh NFP ---- can't stop himself from taking a jibe at IK. Does one man holding a pistol identify a party has having a militant wing? alaass these biased journalists. Wonder whose agenda they follow?
mak Dec 09, 2011 01:37am
it is not impressive effort....are nt u getting biased day by day NFP
soothsayer Dec 09, 2011 04:22am
There are too many diagnosers in here, but no one to prescribe the remedy. The world is on the verge of third world war. Let's do something to avoid being charged from its aftermath. Note this down... The next American presidential elections are going to be the fullstop to every thing. We wouldn't have to think what Sindhis think of Pinjabis, and what Punjabi think of Balochis....
Ali Dec 09, 2011 05:05am
NFP is absolutely correct in his analysis of presenting the real picture of our so called media media intellectuls like saithi Hamid Mir and mahr bhkhari . They are not only misguiding our nation , but following a anti democratic agenda and supporting the cuase of religious extremist. But he is forgetting another name who is the big monstor i.e. kamran khan of jeo TV
aqabdulaziz Dec 09, 2011 06:36am
Very thought-provoking article. Great job again, Dawn. There is a lot of truth in this article and reflects the reality of streets in Pakistan. Every group or a party is armed with guns and bombs - therein lies the dilemma for our religion. Why a peaceful religion like ours is tolerating this madness in a country that boasts itself as the leader of the Islamic world?
Qasim Dec 09, 2011 09:45am
najam sethi's comments and an anecdote from an uncle of a friend are enough for NFP to discredit ALL journalists and commentators from Punjab. Right.
Anand Dec 09, 2011 10:44am
A culture of violence. In a hyper religious sectarian country. With hyper religious sectarian population. An actively aided in this spiral downwards with hyper religious sectarian laws. Doom.
IMRAN BAPU Dec 09, 2011 11:55am
NFP point of view on relevant research is noticed!!!!!
Taimoor Dec 09, 2011 12:34pm
Quit acting like Karachi is the most unique city in the world. Isn't the country divided into a gazillion pieces already and now comes NFP ready to enlighten us.
Naveed Siraj Dec 09, 2011 12:39pm
I humbly disagree with those who think that this is NFP's diatribe against the punjab. It is about the analysts like Najam Sethi who are otherwise brilliant, being inaccurate in their assessment about Sindh/Karachi and precariously close to missing the narrative altogether.
Shandana Dec 09, 2011 01:23pm
Mind you, NFP is a huge Najam Sethi fan. And those who are accusing him of being anti-Punjabi, should know he belongs to a well known Punjabi family. He is clearly against Punjab's hegemonic political, economic and military elite.
pirah Dec 09, 2011 01:23pm
Precisely, just log on to facebook and u will find all the PTI suporters there. Living in virtual world, far away from truth. They have in their mind a fairy land where the fairy God mother (IK) with the flick of her magic wand will solve all Pakistan's issues and everyone will live happily ever after!
Tahir M Dec 09, 2011 03:17pm
Well said and agree with you 100%.
Akbar Dec 09, 2011 06:10pm
Another good one. NFP keeps impressing more and more with each of his articles. All those being critique of the picture of PTI, I think the writer has a point to make that even though the party seems to be the choice of many it also has people carrying guns. While media portrays some areas of Sindh specially of karachi as no go areas. I am a social worker and have been to such so called no go areas and i saw nothing called NO GO AREA. its just false representation most of the times. Only under circumstances few areas become NO GO that happens to avoid further disputes.
G-H. Qamar baloch Dec 09, 2011 08:27pm
Mind you, Najam Sethi has hardly any fan in KPK but he is known in Balochistan and Sindh including Punjab. Najam Sethi one time was a great fan of Mohtarms Benazir Bhutto and PPP of the time. But Senior Bhutto's hounds imprisoned him alongwith Kahan Abdul Wali Khan in Hyderbad jail. Najam Sethi's thingking keep changing with time. Though I personally and Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur and other Baloch leaders are his great fan. He may be against the Military but NOT against Bureaucracy.
hamza Dec 09, 2011 08:31pm
Mr. NFP, please admit that target killing and ethnic violence is a phenomenon specific to Karachi. Such targeted killing does not happen in any other place in pakistan. When was the last time 5000 innocent people were killed by militant groups of political parties in a place other than Karachi, that too in a month like Ramazan? Its a fact that political parties in karachi have militant wings and they kill innocent civilians for their own ethnic agendas. There was no ethnic violence in Karachi prior to emergence of mqm. PPP and anp followed suit. And just to clear your misconception, PTI is the only political party in Pakistan which does not have a militant group. Because Imran Khan's movement is a non-violence movement. PTI wants to unite all ethnic groups in Karachi. The 25th December jalsa in Karachi will be a testimony to that.
Zaheer Baloch Dec 09, 2011 09:56pm
Loved every word it.
Ahmed Saeed Dec 10, 2011 11:06am
Very solid and based on facts.Good job done NFP
Naveeda Shaikh Dec 12, 2011 11:29pm
While reading this one (of course the previous ones as well), realized me again this man has more what we call a gut. Demonstrations took me to the sou moto and the status quo, which is nothing but a deadlock of two opposite powers which can be divided into subdivisions, in a country. Two opposite powers kill, or be killed. I am not ready for the violence. I can not manage it in my examination days, let us cry for our countrymen once again after a short while.
Hina Dec 15, 2011 03:29pm
NFP, like u, I too am a Punjabi (from both sides of the family) born in UAE and living in Khi for the last 15 years. I move fairly regularly between the provinces, but if truth be said, there's really no place like Khi. Despite my bias, I believe that Khi is by far a more dangerous place than Punjab (read Isb, Lhr, Rwp) will ever be. The only reason why we have accepted all these atrocities that take place everyday, each day, is because we have become acclimatized to our circumstances. So before taking swipes at misguided journos, try purging urself of ur own biases. They may be exaggerating, but not too far off the mark. As Khiites, we have to take responsibility of our province, why were enlightened ppl like u fiddling while our beloved rome burnt? and why r we still doing so, and placing the blame on a province that may be better off than us?
Hina Dec 15, 2011 03:49pm
How can NFP prove that Najam Sethi is wrong? Sethi MAY be wrong, since to my knowledge, he was not quoting from any survey; he was possibly extrapolating, keeping the different factors that are related to the growth in the population of a megacity like Karachi. But then, does that prove NFP correct? He was, afterall, quoting from the 1998 census results, 13 years old. How accurate can he be?