Despite its increasing popularity in Karachi that made it a formidable political force in the 2013 general elections, the Karachi chapter of Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) is in the middle of an organizational crisis.
For several months, the party has had two presidents in the city – Najeeb Haroon and Ashraf Qureshi. But on December 25, the party’s central leadership nominated Ali Haider Zaidi as Karachi president, deepening the crisis.
Zaidi had run from the NA-252 constituency in Karachi and the NA-208 constituency in Jacobabad in the elections, and is considered close to the central leadership.
“PTI Chairman Imran Khan has personally recommended Zaidi for this position,” a PTI official said.
Najeeb Haroon accepted the decision and acknowledged Zaidi as the new party leader in Karachi. But a number of local PTI leaders were unhappy with the decision, saying it was an example of the party’s undemocratic behavior and would harm their popularity in the city.
Ashraf Qureshi, who still insists he is the genuine Karachi president of the party, cited an internal report prepared by Justice (r) Wajihuddin Ahmed on the party’s organizational elections, to argue that the central leadership does not have a right to appoint anyone. “In a democratic party, there should be elections, not selections,” he said.
Zubair Khan, another key leader of PTI in Karachi who runs the ‘Insaf Panel’, also organized a meeting on December 29 against the appointment of Zaidi. “In the meeting, supporters of the Insaf Panel openly criticized PTI secretary general Jahangir Tareen for interfering unnecessarily in the affairs of the party’s Karachi chapter,” said one of the participants in the meeting.
Background interviews with party leaders and political analysts suggest that party has a strong support base in the city but may find it difficult to match the street power of its rival Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM).
For several months, the party has had two presidents in the city
Sartaj Khan, a Karachi-based political analyst, believes that the emergence of the PTI has disturbed the political equation in the city. “It is a force to be reckoned with. It won the elections in the very heart of MQM and People’s Party strongholds such as Azizabad and Lyari,” he said. The party had transformed Karachi’s politics, he said, by creating a mass base in may pockets across ethnic and class lines.
“The MQM has reasons to worry,” French scholar Laurent Gayer says in his recently published book Karachi: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City. “Not only did the PTI become Karachi’s second party in terms of vote share (and a party which, adding insult to injury, garnered a significant number of votes from MQM traditional constituencies, unlike the PPP), but its candidates polled in second position in twenty-two provincial constituencies (out of forty-two) and fifteen (out of twenty) national constituencies.” The PTI managed to win one National Assembly and three provincial assembly seats in Karachi.
The PTI also had its presence felt in the city on December 12 when many areas of Karachi were shut down in line with its protest call – a part of the party’s Plan C to pressure the government into forming a judicial commission to probe electoral rigging in the 2013 general elections.
“The general elections show that residents of Karachi are frustrated with the traditional ethno-political and religious parties and it provided the PTI an opportunity to become a representative political force, having support in all ethnic groups,” said a party leader who contested elections from a constituency in Karachi. “But sadly, the organizational crisis within the party, a generally weak organizational structure, and the influence of some specific leaders belonging to affluent areas of the city, are the main hurdles in its path to success,” he said.
Raees Ahmed, another political analyst, said the PTI had not hurt MQM’s popularity in Karachi, but was only replacing Jamaat-e-Islami. “Votes and organizations are two different things. The MQM has a strong organizational set-up while the PTI has failed to organize its Karachi body so far,” he said.
Veteran party members say the central leadership does not visit the city regularly to discuss their issues and plans. “They just meet leaders who are likely to join the party, and then leave without interacting with the party,” said a former Karachi office bearer.