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Number of Downlaods: 17

Published Date: Feb 1, 2002

Anatomy of Ethnic Militancy: Case of Karachi, Pakistan (W-71)
By:

Kaiser Bengali and Mahpara Sadaqat
2002

Abstract

This paper attempts to identify the roots of ethnic militancy in Karachi. It hypothesizes that militancy in Karachi is not rooted in the sense of economic deprivation, as in the case of erstwhile East Pakistan, but in the sense of political deprivation. The paper presents secondary data on economic disparities between East and West Pakistan to show that economic factors predominated the rise of insurgency in East Pakistan. It then presents an array of socioeconomic and housing data from primary sources to show that Mohajirs are better placed relative to other communities. However, data is also presented to show the decline of Mohajir representation in the political, financial and business spheres, which is stated to be the principal cause of disaffection and potential insurgency.

The political history of the world has witnessed the rise and decline of great movements. From nationalism in the 19th century to anti?colonialism and class struggle in the 20th century and to the more recent collapse of the socialist order, the world today is passing through a phase of ethnic nationalism. Yugoslavia is a case of ethnic nationalism tearing apart a nation state. However, other countries around the globe are not immune from ethnic related stress in varying degrees. These include Canada in the Americas, Spain in Europe, Rwanda and Burundi in Africa and Sri Lanka in Asia. Ethnic nationalism is not new to Pakistan either. Since independence in 1947, ethnic and regional political forces had posed muted opposition to the state polity. Towards the close of the nineteen sixties, however, nascent Bengali ethnic nationalism came to the fore and presented the first serious and organized challenge to the integrity of the state. The result was the secession of the province of East Pakistan and the emergence of Bangladesh in 1971.

The rise of Bengali ethnic nationalism and its manifestation in anti?Pakistan overtones was predicated in the deep sense of economic and political injustice and the perception of economic neglect and deprivation among the majority ethnic population of the eastern province. East Pakistan was under?developed relative to West Pakistan on almost every count. The province lagged behind in macro as well as household level economic and social variables and the disparity appeared to grow over time. Bengali political representations in key institutions of the state and in decision making at the federal level was nominal and within their own province effectively limited.

A decade and a half after the secession of East Pakistan, the state has faced another serious and organized challenge from what has come to be called Mohajir ethnic nationalism. Mohajir ethno?nationalism almost burst on the scene with the formation of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) in 1985 with its power base in urban areas of Sindh province. The decade since has seen urban Sindh plunge into violence and bloodshed. It has become a saga of terrorism perpetrated by those without uniforms as well as by those in uniform.

All along there have been charges and counter charges. The MQM has cried itself hoarse over charges of injustice and persecution against the Mohajirs, while successive governments have accused the MQM of engaging in terrorism and launched a series of carrot and stick measures to combat Mohajir militancy. The first Nawaz Sharif government (1990?93) formed a coalition in Sindh comprising Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) renegades and MQM members of the provincial assembly, but launched a military operation against the latter in1992. The succeeding PPP government of Benazir Bhutto (1993?96) described the situation in Karachi as a mini?insurgency and, apart from continuing the military operation initiated by the preceding regime, launched a multimillion rupee economic development package for Karachi. The second Nawaz Sharif government (1996?99) again brought the MQM into a coalition in the provincial government, but dismissed it after accusing the MQM of involvement in assassination of prominent citizens and other terrorist activities. In addition, anti?terrorist and military courts were also set up to deal with the situation.

Ironically, however, a dispassionate assessment of the causative factors of Mohajir militancy is lacking. Not surprisingly, the MQM has over the last decade failed to articulate Mohajir grievances or formulate a cogent set of demands. This is evident from the randomly shifting kaleidoscope of MQM rhetoric and demands. There is little in common between the set of demands presented by the MQM to the PPP in 1988, to the IJI in 1990 and again to the PPP at various rounds of negotiations since 1993. On the part of the government, it has succeeded in clearing MQM cadres off the streets. However, whether the military or economic thrusts have dented or are likely to dent Mohajir militancy is questionable.

This paper attempts to analyze the underlying causes of Mohajir militancy. It presents the case that Mohajirs are an economically privileged community, which is now being denied political privileges. It hypothesizes that, unlike the case of Bengali ethnic nationalism, Mohajir ethnic militancy is not primarily rooted in the sense of economic neglect and deprivation; rather, Mohajir grievances are rooted primarily in the sense of political deprivation.