If there is one road in Karachi that is buzzing all day long, it is 24-Market road in Saeedabad, starting from Chandni Chowk bus-stop and ending at the local NADRA office. The road has half a dozen branches of commercial banks, and links various other streets with shops, eateries, chai walas, and hawkers selling fruits and vegetables.
The residential blocks on both sides of the road are sector 5-G and 5-J, blocks of Saeedabad, Baldia Town. They require pointing out because they are inhabited by people from different ethnic backgrounds. Kathyawadis, Junagadhis and Sarraf (goldsmiths), collectively known as Urdu-speaking people, reside in block 5-G, whilst Pashtuns, Punjabis and Hindko-speaking people have their homes in 5-J block.
In recent days, the hussle and bussle of business activity was accompanied by the loud noise of songs and anthems coming from the offices set up by different political parties on the eve of Local Bodies elections. The area fell under Union Committee number 30 of Baldia Town, District West, and due to its mixed ethnic population, the presence of almost all political parties could be seen. Hence, all parties had fielded their candidates, some chose to have solo flights while others made alliances on the basis of ‘give and take’, notwithstanding the so-called divide of ideological notions or political standpoints. The MQM, with its unified vote in these areas, and its history of conveneient victories, chose to fight alone, whilst the PPP made an alliance with the JUI-F after negotiations at a local level. The PTI and Jamat-e-Islami were contesting separately, as opposed to their alliance at the city level, while the PML-N too had its candidates from a sizeable Hindko-speaking community.
The ANP made an alliance with the Rah-E-Haq Party, a rebranded Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat
The result was a close contest between the MQM and the PPP-JUIF alliance, with the former securing 3,800 votes and the latter 3,500 votes. None of the other three candidates fielded by the JI, PTI and PML-N managed to cross the four-digit mark. But a split caused by the votes favoured the MQM candidates, and they won the seat of chairman and vice chairman.
Perhaps the result from this constituency was a reflection of most of the constituencies with mixed ethnic composition, and the MQM had the advantage of a split in the vote against it. The neighbouring Union Committee number 32, with no MQM candidate, was easily won by the PPP-JUIF alliance. The PTI and JI had an alliance there as well, coming in as runners-up, whilst the ANP – despite the presence of a large number of Pashtun votes and the constituency being the home of its provincial-level leader Rana Gul Afridi and former Baldia Town nazim Aurangzeb Khan – was relegated to third place. Interestingly, they had an alliance with the Rah-E-Haq Party, a new form taken by the Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat (ASWJ).
What was surprising for people was to see local-level alliances between parties that are idealogically at odds. Localities with mixed ethnic compositions and split political support have formed mohallah committees, or have broken down into clans or tribes that have established welfare organisations to serve the interests of their particular clans.
The candidates, after obtaining party tickets and spending hundreds of thousands on their campaigns, are desperate to negotiate with whoever assures them of support and attracts some votes, notwithstanding their political affiliation or sectarian inclination. The party leadership at the district level relies heavily on local support and adapts to the demands set by the contestants. Qari Usman of JUI-F was completely fine with the three-party alliance of JUI-F-PPP-ANP in different Union Councils of District West, while simultaneously having leaflets distributed outside his mosque at Shershah Colony that claimed secular parties were conspiring to turn Pakistan into a liberal state.
The PML-N, which has a non-existent party infrastructure at the town- and UC-level in Karachi, had assigned tickets to whoever approached them. Boasting of the recent ‘achievements’ by law enforcement agencies, the PML-N candidates emphasised in their campaigns appreciation for both the Sharifs, the prime minister and the army chief.
As a result of operations by Law Enforcement Agencies (LEAs), extortion cases have significantly declined, as have inceidents of forced shutter-downs and vehicles being torched. But the shift in favour of LEAs has its own drawbacks.
An owner of a kebab stall in Baldia Town explained, “When the MQM was in control of this area, I only had to pay Rs 20 per day for running my stall along the green belt between the two roads. But now, I have to pay Rs 1000 a week to the local police station and Rs 50 to the police van on a daily basis.”