KARACHI, May 7: With the D-day just two days away, the air is filled with fear along with excitement after repeated terror attacks on some political parties took away much of the festivity from the elections and resulted in the cancellation of polling on one of the five national assembly seats in district east of Karachi.
The contest on NA-254 (Korangi) was cancelled after the murder of Awami National Party candidate Sadiq Zaman Khattak in Bilal Colony last week, leaving four national assembly constituencies NA-252 (PIB Colony-Bahdurabad), 253 (Gulshan-i-Iqbal and Gulistan-i-Jauhar), 255 (Landhi) and 256 (Shah Faisal Colony) in the district where people can elect their representatives on May 11.
It is in this swathe of land across the rivers of Malir and Lyari as well as the neighbourhoods between them where despite the east wind of violence the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) believes its kite will get good tidings as it survived dust storms during the past one month, the Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi (MQM-H) hopes to keep its candle burning, the Awami National Party (ANP) looks wiser to have lantern and the first-timer Majlis-i-Wahdat-i-Muslimeen (MWM) takes shelter in their well-pitched tent as the PPP seems carefully taking aim with its arrow to ensure that a gust of wind doesn’t sabotage its shot.
Little affected with the renewed wave of terror attacks, mostly claimed by Taliban, the Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) can be seen marching streets with its heavyweights in the field to let its scale do justice while the Pakistan Tehrik-i-Insaf (PTI) bats enthusiastically assuming the National Cricket Stadium in Gulshan-i-Iqbal as its home ground.
There are 30 candidates in the race in the NA-253 constituency comprising areas of Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Al-Asif Square, Abbas Town, Metroville III, Gulzar-i-Hijri, Hussain Hazara Goth, Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Safoora Goth, Pehalwan Goth and Dalmia.
Home to the highest number of registered voters (519,854 to be exact) in the city, the constituency has swung between the MQM and JI in the previous two general elections. The seat was won by MQM’s Hyder Abbas Rizvi against PPP’s Faisal Raza Abidi in the last general elections, while JI’s Asadullah Bhutto was returned to the assembly in 2002 with the support of a six-party alliance.
The emergence of MWM on the political scene has made the election in this constituency more interesting given the fact that there are quite a few Shia-dominated localities in here. At a time when the MQM has fielded Muzammil Qureshi in place of Mr Rizvi and the PPP has given the party ticket to Murad Baloch in the position of Mr Abidi, Shia votes may sway in favour of Syed Asghar Abbas Zaidi who is the hope of the MWM. But whether the support he drums up will return him to the assembly or only divide MQM’s vote to the benefit of Asadullah Bhutto who has jumped in the fray after a 2008 dry run is yet to be seen.
MQM’s Faisal Sabzwari says the party’s vote bank has remained intact in almost all the general elections since 1988 and will remain so this time too.
He says: “I am really surprised that the MWM, which had emerged as a reactionary political force against the Shia Hazara killings in Quetta, considers MQM as its rival though we have raised our voice against the killings of people from Shia, Bohra, Ahmadi and other religious minority communities and will continue to do so.”
Considering the threat level from religious extremists on the one side and from political rivals on the other, the MWM says it is facing a hard time to run its election campaign. “Transporters and caterers we hire refuse us later due to the element of fear prevailing in the areas, while my rival group has put up its party flags even on the rooftop of my house in Sadaat Colony without my permission,” says MWM’s Asghar Zaidi, complaining that he is not being allowed to lead the campaign. “In fact the MQM fears that the country-wide foundation we have laid will also allow the MWM to make inroads into the local politics that the MQM can’t afford.”Rejecting the allegations, the MQM leader says the MWM knows that it can’t win more than a few hundred votes and it is unfortunately using such tactics of blaming the party that had always stood against fanatics only to spoil the atmosphere.
Also in the run for this seat are PTI’s Abdul Jabbar Qureshi and ANP’s Irshad Khan.
The violent constituency
Even more interesting will be the fight in the NA-255 constituency with MQM-H chief Afaq Ahmed leading his election campaign from an armoured personnel carrier and a convoy of police vans in Landhi though analysts say chances are slim that the seat change hands this time round.
Complaining that he was not being allowed by the law-enforcement agencies to enter several parts of the constituency for security reasons, the MQM-H chief had earlier moved to the Sindh High Court to have the security paraphernalia.
He has fielded himself on both NA-255 and NA-251 constituencies that include his old and new area of residence, respectively.
But MQM candidate Syed Asif Hasnain, a resident of North Karachi, is confident to return to the assembly on the NA-255 seat just like the last general elections when MQM candidate defeated his runner-ups with a huge margin despite the recent arson attack on his election office. He says the law-enforcers were not providing equal opportunities to every candidate to run their election campaigns. “On the pretext of providing security to Afaq Ahmed, the Rangers and police are backing terrorists who had attacked, ransacked and torched my election office. They are harassing our voters by their so-called house-to-house search operations. It is their responsibility to restore peace but they are allowing terrorists to cause a breakdown of law and order. I have informed the returning officer of every detail. We are not being allowed to run our election campaign,” he complains.
In the last week violence, the MQM-H claims its activist was killed. The party says the MQM-H chief can easily win the seat if it’s given level-playing field that the party had in the 2002 general elections when its candidate won with a narrow margin from MQM and religious parties alliance candidates.
JI’s Abdul Jameel Khan, a joint candidate of a 10-party alliance, is also weighing his options of taking advantage of the fight between the rival factions of the MQM. He may wield some influence in areas populated by people from different linguistic groups in the constituency such as Nek Mohammad Goth, Mansehra Colony, Awami Colony and Korangi Industrial Area.
Landhi has witnessed not only poll-related violence and clashes but also bomb attacks in the recent months. According to a survey, Taliban’s Fazllulah group is active in some areas of Landhi and Korangi.
PPP’s Jawaid Sheikh is expected to muster his support from Bhutto Nagar and from the various goths off the Malir River. ANP’s Abdul Rehman Khan Yousufzai and PTI’s Khalid Mehmood Ali are also among the 10 contenders.
Among all the five districts of Karachi, district east has the highest number of voters (2.03 million to be precise) and 347,277 of them are registered in the NA-255 constituency.
There are 13 candidates in the run for PIB Colony-Bahadurabad seat. But the main competition is expected to be between MQM’s Abdul Rashid Godil and JI Karachi chief Muhammad Hussain Mehanti, a joint candidate of a 10-party alliance who also recently managed to fetch JUI-F support through seat adjustments.
While the seat was won by Mr Godil and Mr Mehanti in the general elections of 2008 and 2002, respectively, the constituency is traditionally a stronghold of the MQM if one goes by the past record as the party won this seat in four out of six general elections since 1988.
There are 16 candidates in the run for the Shah Faisal Colony seat that has been won by MQM candidates since 1988 with the only exception in 1993 when the party boycotted the general elections. MQM’s Iqbal Muhammad Ali Khan, who was returned to parliament twice on the seat in the previous two general elections, will face JUP’s Shah Owais Noorani who is backed by 10-party alliance this time. Also in the run are MQM-H’s Mushtaq Ali, PPP’s Manzoor Abbas, Sunni Tehrik’s Rizwan Ali, ANP’s Yunus Khan and PTI’s Zubair Khan.
As the district east is home to communities with diverse ethnic, sectarian and economic backgrounds, it holds out some hope for both old and new candidates of victory in the upcoming general elections.