NA-247: It is here the seeds of ethnic divide were sown

Published: May 5, 2013

An aerial view of Gol Market. PHOTO: ATHAR KHAN/EXPRESS

KARACHI: 

In terms of violence, NA-247 has one of the worst records. It should come as no surprise then, that this is where it all began.

By now, the events of the tragic day are firmly etched into Karachi’s memory: On April 15, 1985, 20-year-old Bushra Zaidi lost her life in an accident involving two minibuses racing along Nawab Siddiq Ali Khan Road. The fuel for violence was already present in Karachi, given the influx of people into the city, the shifting demographics and the impact this had on who controlled resources. Bushra’s death – allegedly caused by the recklessness of a member from the other ethnic group – was used by some people as the ignition key to a major rampage. The incident escalated into the horrific Qasba-Aligarh massacre in December in 1986.

Delve deeper into history and you’ll discover that this was also a constituency where the first sign of trouble between different communities broke out after Partition. When General Ayub Khan won the elections against Fatima Jinnah back in 1964, his son Gohar Ayub Khan organised a victory parade. As it was passing through Nazimabad, a scuffle broke out, leading to one of the most significant ethnic clashes in the country up to that time.

There are other dimensions of violence too: During the 90s, Gulbahar, another area within the constituency, became a battleground for sectarian clashes in the city.

More violence ensued in the area during the army’s Operation Clean-up, which was initiated in the summer of 1992. The operation, which was initiated against anti-state actors after the alleged torture of an army officer in Karachi, claimed dozens of lives in the area. Older residents can remember the days when the men in khakis marched along the area along Khajji ground and the rattling of gunfire.

But from that fateful day in April 1985, the constituency has been an area where the law and order situation has remained very grim. A simple Google search using the names of the areas within the constituency as keywords will also return newspaper stories about target killings and sectarian attacks in 2012.

The landscape

When it comes to area covered, NA-247 is among the city’s smaller constituencies. It is bounded by Nazimabad’s block four to the north, some portions of Nazimabad’s blocks one and three to the west, Gulbahar to the south and areas of Liaquatabad to the east. Most of the residents here belong to the middle and lower-middle classes. The city’s second largest hardware market is also found within NA-247.

Though the constituency is nestled between the Orangi stream and Lyari River, the sanitation systems in the area have not been maintained, especially in the shanty towns. Because of choked sewerage lines, dirty water stagnates on the garbage-filled streets.

The residents claim that it is because the authorities did not hold the local body elections on time that the drainage system fell into a state of disrepair. Asif Mehmood, a resident of the Petal Wali Gali, which is famous for stalls where tea is served in glasses instead of cups, was livid. He wanted the government to be accountable for how they had spent funds for the uplift of the area.

Talking politics   

A quick trip around Liaquatabad and Nazimabad will reveal that as far as flags and banners are concerned, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is on top. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) flags are also visible in the area.

Though NA-247 has been the traditional stronghold of MQM, the dynamic of sectarian violence over the past few years may affect the basis on which the area’s residents cast their votes. A marriage of convenience between Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulama-e-Pakistan is likely to give a tough time to MQM in its traditional stronghold in NA-247. Analysts point out that in some pockets of Nazimabad and its adjoining areas, there are a number of people who support the Muttahida Deeni Mahaz and have no interest in the upcoming elections and will not vote for the MQM.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 5th, 2013.

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