No, Hamza, Karachi IS that important to Pakistan’s politics

As the only ones in the extended family who were based in Lahore, our home was always open to guests passing through the city for something or the other. Most of these guests would come from Karachi, where both my parents’ families were based. And as such, every time someone called to say they would be staying over at our place, I would bring out my list of why “Lahore Lahore hai”.

But the one thing that I never had an answer to would be when someone pointed out the vibrancy inherent to Karachi because of the unparalleled diversity of its populace. I would scoff about how all of those groups just wanted to kill each other all the time. After all, what good is diversity if there’s no security?

I saw a glimpse of that ignorance in a recent video by actor and self-styled political pundit Hamza Ali Abbasi, following the crushing defeat of the PTI (the party Abbasi spends the latter half of his video eulogising) in Karachi’s local body elections.

Abbasi begins by saying how disappointed he is with the election results.

How self-centered and arrogant must one have to be to think that his disappointment should be a factor in anyone’s decision to do anything?

The visual of this arrogant man paternally speaking at Karachi’s voters from on top of his plush Islamabad home is downright offensive.

But, it isn’t just his arrogance which blew my mind, but the ignorance that he proceeded to display in the next 30 seconds of this 16.5 minute-long rant.

“If one were to speak honestly, politically, you can neither make a federal government nor a provincial government by winning Karachi’s four or five seats,” he says in Urdu, which I am translating. He added;

“This one city is not that politically important.”

At this point, I am grateful that Abbasi chose to make a video, so that any arguments that his words have been mistranslated or manipulated can barely even get off the ground. Because this claim of his is simply, absolutely, and completely W.R.O.N.G.

I apologise for bringing facts into an argument that is based purely on emotion, but Karachi is that important.

According to the Election Commission of Pakistan, Karachi does not have four or five seats – it has 20, a little less than eight per cent of the contestable seats in our country’s National Assembly, and seven more than the second-largest city of Lahore.

Therefore, Karachi is more politically significant than any other city in Pakistan. It is true that by winning Karachi alone, you cannot make the federal government, but if a party were to win all of Karachi’s NA seats, it could very well establish itself as the third-largest political party in the country.

While I can concede that Abbasi’s general point about Karachi’s importance to the National Assembly has some merit, his argument about the city’s role in the formation of Sindh’s provincial government is laughably inaccurate.

Karachi has 42 seats in the Sindh Assembly, about a third of electable seats.

Just by winning Karachi, a party is pretty much already eligible to make a coalition government and needs only 24 more seats to form an independent government.

Moving on, Abbasi talks about how there is really nothing in Karachi other than “Clifton and Defence”.

As if that wasn’t insulting enough to the majority of Karachi’s population that lives outside these cantonment areas, Abbasi then brags about his life in Islamabad, which apparently is so good that the only reason he would walk into Karachi’s Orangi Town or Lyari neighourhoods would be if he had been bit by a rabid dog. This is some first class arrogance on display, folks.

As he continues to patronise Karachi’s voters from the comfort of his own home in Islamabad without knowing even so much as the number of seats in Karachi, the irony is lost on him as he criticises MQM’s exiled chief for controlling the city from outside.

He goes on to claim that Peshawar – the scene of Pakistan’s most horrific terrorist attack to date – and insurgency-hit Quetta have better law and order than Karachi. These claims are so wild that one struggles to even think of a cogent argument to refute them.

Abbasi then says that if things stay the way they are in Karachi (the horror!), nobody would want to come to the city.

Really, Hamza? Remind me again, where was the television serial produced, you know, the one that propelled you to fame? Didn’t you just say a few minutes ago that you regularly come to Karachi for work?

Undoubtedly, it can be argued that Karachi deserves better than the MQM. But Karachi isn’t irrational. Karachi knows what it needs to go on, because it knows how to go on.

Karachi is not Lahore or Islamabad, where the oppressive homogeneity of the population makes politics seem a zero-sum game.

In Karachi, there are competing interests of the sort that Abbasi doesn’t and probably will never understand.

This blog appeared on Dawn Blogs here: http://www.dawn.com/news/1224986/no-hamza-karachi-is-important-to-pakistans-politics

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The APS Peshawar embarrassment: 5 lessons for Imran and PTI

You know you have done something very, very wrong when distraught, infuriated parents who have lost their children can still find the strength to tell you they don’t appreciate your show of solidarity. That was exactly the public embarrassment that Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf chief Imran Khan had to face when he bothered to show up at the reopened Army Public School, Peshawar, the scene of a heinous attack that killed over 130 children and shocked the nation last month.

I hope that Imran Khan sb and the PTI leadership uses this as a wake-up call that they have kept this nation – their own voters – waiting for far too long. Here are some key lessons that they can learn from today’s protests.

  1. Khan’s point that the attacked school is run by the Army who is thus responsible for its security is completely valid. However, the students who attend that school and their parents are first and foremost Pakistani citizens who live in Peshawar, the capital of the province that PTI won by a huge mandate, which does rest some responsibility squarely on the administration’s shoulders. When the people vote for you or your party so overwhelmingly, they expect you to advocate for them. They believe that you will work towards improving their lives and speak out for their welfare. In a situation like this, making statements such as “we didn’t run it so it wasn’t our responsibility” appears to be attempts to shirk responsibility instead of showing resolve to take the fight head on.
  2. The people still have a soft corner for you, sir. Even when you appeared to put your personal happiness before their sorrow. Even when you and your party leaders disappointed them by not showing up at the school even once in the month between the attack and the school’s reopening. Even when you chose to shift your focus and your energies back on your demands of alleged rigging barely a month since the attack. Even when you ideologically align yourself with the parties that apologize for the murderers of their treasure, and then sometimes do it yourself too. This is a huge responsibility, Mr. Khan, one that you have borne since you became this nation’s beloved by leading its cricket team to an unlikely win at the World Cup of 1992. You cannot fail us now, this nation (even those who vehemently disagree with your politics) still refuses to give up on you.
  3. Winning an election is tricky business. When your people are hurt and scared, when they have lost everything they lived their lives for, they don’t care about rationales about who is responsible. Everyone is responsible, because everyone disappointed them and everyone failed to protest their children. So even in times when you feel your hands were tied, you will be held responsible because you are the people’s representative. Also, remember that the lines you use can also be used against you – especially when they sound suspiciously like the ones used by “status quo” politicians, many of which found space in your speech after the APS protests.
  4. Are public schools any better secured? At this point, you can sort of get away with it by putting all the blame on the Army’s shoulders. But if, in the future God forbid, a public school were to come under attack, are you prepared? You are right in stating that the government cannot provide security to 65,000 schools across the province, so then should Peshawar’s students and citizens stop expecting that the administration will at least try to secure them? This was an Army-run school, what about the ones run by private individuals or organizations? Should they interpret this to mean they are on their own since those who run the school are the ones solely responsible for its security? Make your chief minister do his job to the best of his ability, instead of showing him a way out by making irresponsible statements such as these.
  5. Don’t throw away these votes for ones that you didn’t get, due to rigging or otherwise. This nation, especially the voters in the areas you won, came out to vote despite immense threats, with terrorism one of the biggest ones. You and your party must get off its campaign trail now and singularly focus all you’ve got on governing for those who did vote for you. Those who didn’t, or those whose was robbed, give them another chance with compelling reasons to vote for you. Your Naya Pakistan, sir? Show, don’t tell. Make it happen, and see the logical conclusion that this nation takes the movement you started.

Imran’s quotes are from this press conference he did soon after the protests: http://tribune.com.pk/story/821723/imran-perplexed-by-parents-protests-says-aps-run-by-army-not-province/

Did PPP really handle the assorted marches “better” than PML-N?

There is no doubt that, on the face of it, the Zardari Administration has handled the political crisis of Imran Khan’s and Tahirul Qadri’s previous marches much better than the Nawaz Administration has so far. However, the constant comparisons that political pundits have made between the two situations are not only unfair but also erroneous.

The reason that the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government was able to handle the situation with “calm” was not because Zardari is some sort of a political mastermind. Contrary to what we would like to believe, the PPP’s response was not part of some strong commitment to a democratic plan or a political master stroke by the party’s leadership.

I see three key differences between the situation as it was during the PPP’s tenure and as it is during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz’s (PML-N) time, which can explain PPP’s calmness and PML-N’s nervousness in the face of the proverbial storm.

Firstly, the political situation before and after the elections of 2013 is completely different. When the PPP was faced with the nuisance of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) and Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT), no one had any idea about the PTI’s or the PAT’s position in the political universe of Pakistan. It was the first time that the country was transitioning from one democratic government to another, a situation so rare that it was excitingly impossible to predict any result with any certainty at all. This time, however, the PTI has established itself as a formidable political force with a loyal voter base, even after the avowedly disappointed voters who supported the PTI in the 2013 elections. As for PAT, although they did not perform well in the election, they were still able to manage a fairly large number of people in Islamabad during their first rally. We now know the levels of loyalty and support for PAT and PTI, and also their ability to demonstrate street power. Furthermore, this time both PAT and PTI have decided to join forces, something that the PTI had categorically refused to do pre-elections.

Secondly, the PPP was pretty much at the end of their term when PAT mobilized itself while the Nawaz Administration has barely made it through its first year. Even if the PAT had been able to dislodge the PPP government, a caretaker would have had to take over – something which was going to happen anyway and, in this case, would just have happened earlier than scheduled. The Nawaz league, on the other hand, has waited for its term for 10-odd years and is thus desperate to ensure that it is able to complete its five-year term. This makes a significant difference to the way the two parties perceive the PTI and PAT shenanigans.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, neither the PTI nor the PAT threaten the core vote bank of the PPP i.e. Sindh. By the time these dharnas and revolution marches started happening, the PPP was well aware that it had lost any chance it had of winning Punjab in the 2013 elections, which was the core focus of both PTI and PAT. This means that the PPP really wasn’t so nervous about the outcome of these marches, while the PML-N’s future may well depend on this. Additionally, the fact that PML-N, PTI, and PAT share the same vote bank makes negotiations that much more difficult than it did for the PPP. Comfortable in that knowledge, it is then small wonder that the PPP didn’t bother to respond with anything other than calm.

This is not to defend the PML-N or their fascist, control-freak tendencies. As friend and journalist Zarrar Khuhro (@ZarrarKhuhro) put beautifully in one of his tweets, the PML-N’s greatest talent so far has been to panic and in the process manufacture a political mess where there was none. Given how huge a mandate the PML-N won in the 2013 elections and that it is not in a coalition government, it is amazing to see them so besieged! But, to say that the PPP is somehow better at managing political crises like these or that Zardari is some sort of a genius of a statesman are completely invalid statements. It was their callousness, not some intelligent leadership capability, that made the PPP ignore Qadri’s chants of revolution and Imran’s general belligerence.