Karachi’s concerns

The MQM has turned the tables by winning the 'super-byelection'

Karachi’s concerns
Farooq Sattar woke up at 5 in the morning on April 23. Many of his colleagues and senior leaders of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) had not slept at all. Their honour and political career were at stake. It was the matter of their survival in the city which had been their undisputed territory for the last three decades.

The entire Pakistan was waiting anxiously for the outcome of the so called ‘super-byelection’ in the NA-246 constituency. Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan had upped the ante by declaring that he would defeat the MQM and free the people of Karachi from “the shackles of fear”.

For MQM, it was a golden opportunity to redeem itself after a Rangers raid on its headquarters that raised questions about its future at a time when its leader Altaf Hussain was being investigated for money laundering, and a possible link to the murder of his colleague Imran Farooq, in England.

In the 2013 general elections, their candidate Nabeel Gabol had bagged more than 137,000 votes. His rivals said the election was rigged. The MQM’s goal was to win the by-election with more than 100,000 votes to prove its popularity and strength. They claimed the Rangers wanted them to lose.

The streets were abuzz with slogans by workers of three main contending parties – the MQM, the PTI and the JI – a rare sight for the residents of the constituency who were used to hearing slogans only in favor of Altaf Hussain. Independent analysts had prediced the MQM would get up to 70,000 votes, the PTI up to 40,000 and the JI up to 25,000. The results proved them wrong.

The MQM bagged more than 95,000 votes. The PTI stood second with less than 25,000, and the JI candidate secured only 10,000 votes.
The people of Karachi embarrassed Mr Khan at the ballot

Even before the official results were announced, it looked like the entire Karachi swarmed to Jinnah Ground, close to the MQM headquarters, where the party was celebrating. The sound system was no less than the one heard at PTI rallies, courtesy DJ Butt.

The PTI is among a unique brand of politicians who think really hard after they speak. First Mr Khan taunted the MQM workers, calling them living corpses who have the patience to listen to long sermons of Altaf Hussain. Then, he said he would liberate Karachi “from the clutches of the MQM.” The people of Karachi, one of the most bustling and lively metropolises in the world, embarrassed Mr Khan and his party at the ballot.

Soon after the elections, the PPP decided to warm the hearts of its own supporters in Lyari. The party had run into serious trouble after Bilawal Bhutto Zardari disappeared from the political scene, and Asif Zardari’s former friend Zulfiqar Mirza began to accuse the former president and the Sindh government of widescale corruption.

Sources close to Mr Zardari say he believes he could still play a final innings of his unprecedented political career. He announced at the rally that he would “continue to hold the reigns of the party until Bilawal and Assefa can take over.”

Meanwhile, General (r) Pervez Musharraf was repenting signing the National Reconciliation Ordinance with Benazir Bhutto to allow her and Nawaz Sharif to return. The former military dictator living in the safe confines of his bungalow in Karachi, recalled the days of his glory and power. What is amazing is his strong liking for Dr Tahirul Qadri – the cleric who first arrived in Pakistan to disrupt the 2013 general elections and then, last year, to topple a democratically elected government. But Gen Musharraf is impressed with what he calls his immense street power.

The general knows he cannot rule Pakistan again, but strongly wishes to have some kind of a leadership role in an alliance with Qadri, Imran Khan and other “like minded” people. The last time he did that, a new king’s party, the PML-Q, was formed, and a faction of senior People’s Party leaders abandoned Ms Bhutto to join his bandwagon.

But a majority of the people of Karachi is not interested in his plans. They are also not concerned with the MQM’s politics. They are not satisfied with the Sindh government’s performance either. What they do miss is the possibility of a weekly visit to Burns Road, where a Shami Anda burger is just Rs 30. And it is served with a handful of french fries.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @shahzadrez