Left, right and center

In Karachi, a sectarian group's popularity has attracted both the liberals and the conservatives 

Left, right and center
In a Pashtun neighborhood in Karachi, the left-liberal People’s Party and the sectarian group Pakistan Rahe Haq Party (PRHP) are campaigning together for the local council elections.

Residents of Muzaffarabad Colony, especially the elderly who had seen the ideology-driven politics of the 1970s, are astonished that the two parties – ideologically poles apart – are canvassing for a ‘joint panel’ in the local council.

And so is Dr Tauseef Ahmed Khan, a political analyst and a former chairman of the Mass Communication Department at the Federal Urdu University in Karachi. He is equally surprised that a sectarian group has become so strong that the province’s largest party is compromising on its principles to gain its support.

“We have also seen the Barelvi group Sunni Tehreek and the Shia group Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen becoming active in electoral politics,” he said. “This is not a good sign.”

“The MQM, the PTI and the Jamaat-e-Islami contacted us for seat adjustment, but we have decided to go independent, or to make alliances with other independent candidates,” said Asif Safvi, a spokesman for Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen. The group has fielded three “full panels” of candidates from the Soldier Bazaar, Jaffar Tayyar and Ancholi localities, where people belonging to the Shia school of thought are in majority. “As many as 47 candidates of our party are contesting for local councils in various parts of the city, and we are allying with many independent contesters as well.”

In Muzaffarabad Colony, Maulana Mohuiddin of the PRHP – a Deobandi group founded by a former leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba in 2012 – is running for the chairman of the union council, and Haji Misal Khan, associated with PPP, is his running mate, contesting for vice chairman.

There were reports that their election office was inaugurated by Taj Muhammad Hanafi, a leader of Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ) – a sectarian political party believed to be an offshoot of Sipah-e-Sahaba. Local leaders of the People’s Party and the ASWJ attended the event, insiders said.
"The dynamics of local politics are different"

The union council falls in the Sindh Assembly constituency in which ASWJ President Maulana Aurangzeb Farooqi (then a candidate of Muttahida Deeni Mahaz, an alliance formed by influential Deobandi cleric Maulana Samiul Haq) bagged 23,625 votes for a narrow loss to MQM’s Waqar Hussain Shah, who got 23,827. The People’s Party candidate in the race could only get 482 votes.

“The dynamics of local politics are different from those of national politics,” says People’s Party Senator Saeed Ghani, who had visited the Deobandi seminary Jamia Banoria on November 12 to get the blessings of its principal Mufti Muhammad Naeem – among the city’s most influential religious leaders. “The PPP had given a free hand to its local leaders to make seat adjustments with various political groups and parties,” he said. Ghani said that the party’s Karachi chapter would probe the matter, but added that PPP candidates would only run under its own election symbol – the arrow.

“We have made electoral alliances with Jamaat-e-Islami and JUI-F in the past,” he said, “but we did not compromise on our principles.”

PPP is not the only liberal party to have made an alliance with the PRHP. In the city’s central district, the Awami National Party (ANP) and PRHP have fielded joint candidates for chairman and vice chairman in the Pashtun neighborhood of Pahar Jang.

“We have more than 250 candidates, and are supporting ANP’s panel in at least three union councils,” said Ashraf Memon, the Karachi chief of the PRHP.

In the UC-2 constituency of the Malir district council, the PRHP has allied with the PML-N. In UC-1, their chairman’s candidate has a Jamaat-e-Islami candidate as his running mate. The two parties have also made alliances in North Karachi.

The party has fielded its own candidates for the chairman and vice chairman of 15 union councils, of which five are in the West district of Karachi, three in the East, three in central district and two each in South district and Malir, Ashraf Memon told me. He said the West district and Malir were his party’s strongholds.

Established in 2012 by Hakeem Muhammad Ibrahim Qasimi – reportedly a former provincial leader of Sipah-e-Sahaba – the PRHP gained attention during the by-polls in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly constituency PK-95 in May this year. Its candidate, Qari Ziaul Haq Haideri, received more than 3,000 votes.

Qasmi – who had been elected to the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly on an MMA ticket – bagged 6,673 votes in the by-election in Peshawar’s NA-1 constituency vacated by Imran Khan. ANP’s Haji Ghulam Ahmed Bilour had won the by-poll with 34,386 votes.

The party fielded 20 candidates for district councils in Peshawar in the local elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, its information secretary Irshad Muhammad Haideri had told reporters.

In the first phase of local elections in Sindh, the party won two seats of councilors from Khairpur and Sukkur, and one of its candidate was elected unopposed in Tando Allahyar.

The PRHP spokesman said his party was not associated with the ASWJ. The ASWJ also insists the PRHP is separate entity. But the parties have very similar flags, and many ASWJ leaders are close to the PRHP. Some locals say they use both the names when campaigning.  “We are only supporting them,” said Umar Muawiya, the spokesman of ASWJ.

The writer is a Karachi based journalist

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Twitter: @NKMalazai