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By Nadeem F Paracha.

May 12, 1989.

I am 22 years old. It is hot across the country, and I am on my way to Lahore after missing my exams at Karachi University where I study political science. I have
a history of being a staunch member of the leftist National Students Federation (NSF). I am not liked at all by the other 22 year olds running the Islami Jamiat Taleba’s (IJT) dreaded ’Thunder Squad’ at the University.

On reaching Lahore I stay at the house of one of my mother’s closest cousins, who is married to the daughter of the former Editor of the Dawn, the late Ahmed Ali Khan.

I am 22 years old and quite a sight. I have a ’revolutionary beard,’ and my hair is long; I wear a Che cap and my malaangi bangles go kling klang whenever I move my hands and wrists. I am an early edition of what will become known as ’Generation X’ in the first half of the nineties, God bless grunge.

The tyrant Zia-ul-Haq has died, and we have Benazir Bhutto. Not a rational reason then for a young leftist to run away to another city, now is it?

In February 1989 I got involved in a vicious gun battle between the student wing of the Pakistan Peoples Party, (PSF), and activists of the IJT at the hostel area of the Sindh Medical College.

The gun battle was intense. We had a couple of shot guns and a few pistols while the IJT members sent down volleys of bullets from their AK-47s and TT pistols. The fight was over a room at the hostel. Yes, a room. By early morning we were pushed out.

Back at the university I was approached by an activist belonging to the APMSO, the student wing of the MQM (then called the Mohajir Qaumi Movement). “The IJT has to be beaten at their own game,” he told me.

The APMSO had armed itself because this was the only way it thought it could overcome the IJT’s tyrannical hegemony at the university. By May 1989 they had more or less succeeded.

Subsequently, I became one of the most vocal supporters among the NSF leadership for striking an alliance with the APMSO. The politics of ideas was not working in sidelining the gun-toting IJT thugs. So I joined the ’secular’ and ’liberal’ gun-toting thugs.

But when on May 12, 1989, the APMSO began its gory war with the PSF, I took leave, never managing to complete my Masters.

Later, in Lahore my mother’s cousin’s house was visited by a string of Lahore’s intelligentsia. Some arrived with a visiting American journalist.

Right away the whole lot went into a talk about violence in Karachi and, of course, synonymous with this was mention of the MQM.

“Gentlemen,” I politely interrupted at one point, “May I add that you people have absolutely no idea about what is going on in Karachi and what the MQM is really about.” There was a sudden, tense silence, thankfully broken by a wide smile from a Pindi based journalist,

“Okay, young man then let’s hear it from you.”

And they did. The gist being, “The social and political dynamics of Karachi can never be understood with certain political constants that make up the political theories applied in the understanding of the politics of the rest of Pakistan.”
“Err, let’s hear that again,” said the American journalist who kept calling the MQM ’fascist.’
“The MQM is not a fascist party!” I continued. “It is just a party that came about at a time of great ethnic paranoia characterised by a persecution complex that was ripe during the Zia era. It will always have a violent streak if and when it sees a situation where it finds its turf being attacked by other mostly Punjab and Pukhtun based groups.

Yet, even though I am a Punjabi from my father’s side, I am a Karachiite and must tell those who do not live there that the MQM will always win elections in the city and any attempt to curb its influence will always end in a bloody failure. If the MQM is fascist, then I am afraid so is at least 70% of Karachi’s population. Are you calling me a fascist, lady?”

May 13, 2007.

It is the day after Karachi bled. I am sitting in front of the television with my father, a long-time PPP supporter. I tell him this year, I will again accompany him and vote for the PPP. Then Mr Aitzaz Ahsan’s press conference comes on the screen. In it he lashes out at the MQM.

“Oh, boy,” I say. My father looks at me. “These guys,” I tell my father, “they still don’t know what Karachi is about.”

Though one of my favourite politicians, Mr Ahsan’s talk reminded me of what I heard from all those wonderful intellectuals in Lahore in May 1989.

After Ahsan, a Jamaat-e-Islami leader appears in a news clip and calls MQM fascist. I remember this man from university. He used to visit the Thunder Squad guys a lot. I burst out laughing, and tell my father: “If the MQM is fascist, then I’m afraid so is at least 70% of Karachi’s population!”

My father smiles sarcastically “It seems you won’t be voting for the PPP anymore. Looks like you’ll be voting for the MQM.”

“Of course, not, Papa.” I say. “Since when did fascists believe in voting?”



One Comment

  1. Excellent article…I believe I have read it before…but the writer made a very good point there.

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