Saturday, November 29, 2008

Karachi Gets Jittery

The simmering tension between the ANP and MQM in Karachi seems to be nearing boiling pointm, with the terrible attacks proving to be a catalyst.

I had planned to visit the cinema today with SM, SM's siblings and friends. We'd been hearing reports of there being trouble all day, but the trouble seemed isolated and far away. We were planning on leaving at 7 p.m. but around 6.30 p.m. we started receiving frantic calls that there were riots and shooting in Saddar. I immdiately headed home. It seems, so did the entire city.

The car showrooms on Khalid bin Waleed road were abuzz, cars were being reversed inside and tents were being put up to hide the showrooms from site. There was a rush of activity at every petrol pump I passed, people unsure of what was happening were taking precautions. It's telling that such survival measures come to us so naturally.

My mother, SM, FM 103 and FM 107 updated me on the 'situation' as I inched my way towards home. There were reports of rioting in Orangi Town, Surjani Town, Baldia, Sohrab Goth, Al Asif Square, North Nazimabad, Gulberg, North Karachi, Saddar and Defence. It appeared that the whole city was under seige. Zulfiqar Mirza was on the radio, he tried to calm everyone's nerves, I'm not sure saying that he had issued "shoot at sight" orders to the police helped anyone.

I passed Marriott, things seemed normal. I reached Gulf and it was full of aunties, surely getting ready for the wedding season. Shops in Zamzama were open, quiet, but open. I saw more than a few dodgy cars bearing PPP insignia, but then that is the norm these days (one car even had a speech of BB blaring out of the stereo).

A reporter for FM 103 who had earlier reported on the "hangama arai" (rioting) in Saddar, now stated that it seems that there was no rioting but a rumour of rioting, which led everyone (including him) to panic and run like mad.

I just returned from sea view which was deserted, as are most roads in the city. Panic had spread wide and far and resulted in everyone staying home. Why?

Well as I stated earlier, things have been simmering for a while. The MQM has very conveniently characterised every single Pathan a Taliban has resorted to running them out of the city - I've even heard of Dry Fruit street vendors finding their stalls burnt over night in North Nazimabad. (Arif Rafiq speaks about the worst case scenario over at his blog.)

The attacks in Mumbai certainly upped the ante. Many Karachiites have always felt that there is an intimate link between the two cities - they are both port cities, financial capitals of their respective countries, have a short history and play host to some similar communities (Bohris, Parsis, Khojas and insider trading stock brokers are just a few that I can think of).

I don't know if its fair to draw parallels between the two cities as I haven't been to Bombay since I was five. What I do know is that many Karachiites do feel a certain kinship with the residents of Mumbai and the attacks on Mumbai have caused a great deal of anxiety and despair. Yesterday (Friday), a client asked us to send our 'rider' to pick up documents in the morning as everyone at their office was planning on leaving before 6 p.m., they didn't want to take chances owing to the situation in Mumbai.

With the MQM already using the Taliban card to oust the Pathan, one wonders they have now taken a policy decision to go right after them. I'm not certain that they have, or will; even in the best of times such a decision would be a scary thought, in these tense times, it is certainly a recipe for disaster.


Just another thought, I'm watching our Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on T.V., the guy seems like a real stuck up twat. Perhaps that's what works in diplomatic circles. And one year at Cambridge, I'm presuming 30 years ago, shouldn't result in that medieval aristocratic accent, should it?)


Ahsan said...

You know what I want to read? A sociologist or anthropologist investigate the effects of cell phones and text messaging on in societies prone to rumor mongering. It seems to me that in one respect at least, cell phones have the potential to cause serious damage one day.

AKS said...

It's funny you mention that as a host of messages (SMS) were whirling around saying that there was firing here and rioting three. A radio presenter on FM 103 quoted a police official that the rumours were making things a lot worse and that people should disregard these messages.

One thing I forgot to add there, the traffic police were out in full force and they were trying their best to ensure that the traffic was moving as fast as it could, unfortunately the roads just couldn't it it.

Saadia said...

And then, MQM plays the moral police by expelling "Dr." Aamer Liaquat from the party on charges of inciting sectarian violence! What else is MQM known for!

Ahsan said...


There is no contradiction there. The MQM is against sectarian violence because it has a lot of Shias in the party, and many (though not all) Mohajirs are Shias. However, it has nothing against ethnic violence because it is, by and large, monolithic ethnically speaking.

khi said...

I guess it were not just rumors.

'Eight killed, 77 injured in Karachi violence'

Saadia said...

You are right, Ahsan. But this sectarianism was prompted against sunnis, not against shias. So you see the double standards of the MQM. I'll try and locate this video of Aamer Liaquat on YouTube.

Ahsan said...


Yeah, sorry for not being clear. Here's what I should have said:

The MQM, because of its Shia-heavy membership (and because many Mohajirs, even those that are not MQM supporters, are Shias), does not want sectarianism to be a fault-line in Pakistani politics. This is because if people are defined by sectarian membership, then Shias are destined to lose (as they constitute a minority in the country). So irrespective of whether or not Amir Liaquat called for attacks against Sunnis, Shias or whatever (as I recall, it was specifically against Ahmedis but I could be wrong), the MQM would want to put a lid on the politicizing of sectarian differences, because that is a battle they are destined to lose.

Ethnic cleavages, on the other hand, are another matter entirely. The Mohajir ethnicity is what defines, and has always defined, the MQM. In the last 10-15 years, as political (and politicized) Islam has grown in both Pakistan and the broader Muslim world, this focus on ethnicity has been matched with an emphasis on the MQM's decidedly secular and "moderate" politics.

So we see this strange sight of an avowedly violent organization being "moderate" on one political axis, and try to weave narratives of ethnicity (Mohajir), class (middle class), rural vs. urban divides (urban), and Islam vs. secular politics (secular) into one coherent political theme.

Needless to say, it can be quite unwieldy at times.

AAyub12 said...

The MQM attack on pakthuns is going to give the Taliban an opportunity to make inroads in the large Pakthun population in KHI. The ANP is unable to provide any support to the pakthun population and the Taliban will take advantage of the situation to recruit and build its base. In effect by targeting all Pakthuns as Taliban the MQM will make it a realty.

Majaz said...

A part of me wants to rationalize it as yet another ploy of A. Hussain to regain sympathy of voters and politicians, a sort of a rekindling of the old fervor. Dad, who had been appointed as a special reporter for him, says he feels like it's 1988 all over again. Which everyone knows is not good news.

Another part of me just wants to keep screaming and keep repeating why why why why why why why ...

AKS said...

Monday 1st December:

There are quite a few rumours circulating in the city about what's been happening, and of course everyone's taking them as cardinal truth.

The most frequently repeated story right now is that a number of Muhajir women were raped by Pathans. This is a masterstroke by the MQM propoganda machine as it creates moral outrage, paints the Pathans as barbaric and justifies over whelming force.

But the rumours shouldn't distract anyone from recognising that things in Karachi are getting more and more tense.

One of the peons at my office, Ghani Bhai - a Baluch reisdent of Landhi, tells me that on Saturday night, a bunch of Pathans stormed a Mithai store in his neighburhood which is owned by a Muhajir. They held him at gun point and proceeded to slice off his ear lobes. All of this took place in front of a large group of people (including Ghani Bhai). This act was apparently in retaliation to a similar event that had taken place earlier, in which Muhajir gangs had chopped the ear lobes of a bunch of Pathans.

The female staff at the office was given the option of taking the day off, almost all did. As did many of their male colleagues. We probably had 40% attendance. The two other offices on our floor shut shop altogether.

Its 5 p.m. and almost everyone's gone. The ones still remaining are rushing back.

Reports are coming in that 2 people have been killed in Gulshan, 3 in Gizri, half a dozen in Orangi Town (bringing the total in one part of that area to over 2 dozen). There's also unrest being reported in Malir starting from Stargate.

Majaz, I was too young to be paying attention to these things in 1988 but this certainly does feel like the mid-90s.

zeyd said...

My accountant (who's about 80 and been with my family for over 25 years) told me today that two pathan men who sit opposite his house every evening selling fresh fish (and have done so for years and years) were shot dead yesterday at point blank range. No apparent motivation, none needed I would think...

Ahsan said...