The Pakhtun in Karachi

Published: August 28, 2010

The writer is a director at the South Asia Free Media Association, Lahore khaled.ahmed@tribune.com.pk

The Pakhtun in Pakistan are estimated to be 15 per cent of the population. The census says they are around 35 million. Their diaspora is widespread. They are scattered like the Jews in history. Today, Pashtu speakers are concentrated in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Balochistan, Fata and Karachi.

Then there is the Afghan-Pakhtun diaspora to consider. In History of Pashtun Migration, 1775-2006, (OUP 2008), Robert Nichols says: “In Pakistan in 2004, perhaps 500,000 Afghans still lived in Karachi. One estimate of this period listed over one million Afghans still in Pakistani camps recognised by the UNHCR, plus 500,000 to one million urban refugees in Pakistani cities, and another million or so in the country for other reasons” (p.151).

The ANP leader in Karachi, Shahi Syed, has laid claim to four million Pakhtuns in Karachi. Does he include all the three categories: those from K-P, those from Fata and those from Afghanistan? His chief, Asfandyar Wali, not long ago came on TV to disown the Pakhtun from Fata. Owning them would mean: either the ANP changes or the Pashtuns change in character. If the ANP changes, it will get more than the two seats it now has out of 42 Karachi seats in the Sindh Assembly. It is clear that the ANP is changing under pressure, which will affect not only its relations with Pakhtuns in Karachi, but also the Taliban and al Qaeda elsewhere.

The ANP will thus create a counterforce to the MQM. It is politically advantageous too because Karachi is essentially the city of the Urdu-speaking and the Pakhtun. Karachi’s observing genius, Arif Hasan, says: “According to the 1998 census, 48 per cent of the city’s population is Urdu-speaking, 14 per cent Punjabi-speaking, 12 per cent Pashto-speaking and about nine per cent is Sindhi-speaking” (Dawn, June 25, 2010).

The Punjabis don’t count because they don’t have the ‘minority complex’ needed to band together linguistically. The battle is between the MQM and the Pakhtun, equalised by the “hinterland” support the Pakhtuns have and the numerically-superior MQM doesn’t. The ANP cannot ignore some facts even if it is leery about the Fata Pakhtuns. Karachi hosts the largest concentration of urban Pakhtun population, surpassing Peshawar, Quetta and Kandahar.

And it all started in Sohrab Goth, the Pakhtun ghetto. In his Partition and the Making of the Mohajir Mindset: A Narrative (OUP 2008), Brigadier AR Siddiqi recounts: “After the success of the mammoth gathering at Nishtar Park, Karachi, the MQM organised an equally big rally in Hyderabad on October 31, 1986. On the way to Hyderabad from Karachi, the MQM motorcade was attacked at Sohrab Goth, the notorious hub of Karachi’s drugs mafia” (p.128).

Today, the killing of MQM leaders is followed by the killing of ANP leaders. Is this a Sohrab Goth-like vendetta? There are ambiguities to consider. Shia Raza Haider was killed by Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a part of al Qaeda’s 313 brigade led by Ilyas Kashmiri in North Waziristan. In K-P, ANP leaders are regularly killed by the Pakhtun Taliban. Maybe this is not a vendetta between the MQM and the ANP. It is possible that a third party — the Taliban and their master the al Qaeda — is killing people on both sides of the divide.

Karachi is 75 per cent ethnically segregated. This is called ghettoisation. Ghettoisation began as a segregation of the victim community by those intent on genocide. Later ethnic communities began to segregate themselves for reasons of defence. This second type of ghettoisation is a recipe for ethnic war. And this is going on. The battle remains unequal because unlike the MQM, the ANP cannot lay claim to leading all the Pakhtuns of Karachi. At least not yet.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2010.

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Reader Comments (6)

  • Aug 29, 2010 - 2:25AM

    Thank you for such an informative article. Recommend

  • Taimoor Hassan
    Aug 29, 2010 - 2:59AM

    Its really a wonderful analysis. ANP leaders should read this article and relaise the facts.Recommend

  • Imran A. Azeem
    Aug 29, 2010 - 5:23AM

    The Karachi Leadership of ANP includes the Fata Pakhtuns, Most of the Leaders of ANP Karachi are Mehsuds & Wazirs from Fata, you can even see Bill Boards around Sohrab Goath.The reason why Karachi Leadership of ANP is providing backing to such peoples is cause they have mutual business interest. Land Grabbing echoed alot in Karachi and one can witness it while moving from Hyderabad to Karachi. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_iXbV5pP9JE

    there are other major areas too. Recommend

  • Aug 29, 2010 - 12:02PM

    great research and highlighting of facts. ANP should accept this fact so far more Pakhtuns of Karachi supports MQM than ANPRecommend

  • Aug 29, 2010 - 7:25PM

    PPP hasnt forgotten 1988 pitiful and deplorable defeat which they continue to face till today. By using ANP, it’s their naive way to derail the dominance of MQM. Recommend

  • Umar
    Aug 31, 2010 - 1:13AM

    The Pashtun in MQM is mere tokenism.
    Khalid ahmed is a genius. But I think he’s wrong about the ANP’s relationship with the Fata pashtuns. They feature strongly in the ANP
    s Karachi profile. Even the Baloch Pashtun migrants to Karachi, though they otherwise belong to the PkMAP, vote for the ANP.

    The last line of the article is about the basic question that has the potential to change a lot of things: the ANP’s recent success at getting almost all the electoral clout of the pashtun demographic in Karachi.Recommend

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