Pashtun Man-date

Like in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many Pashtun women of Karachi do not vote
Like in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many Pashtun women of Karachi do not vote

Gul Meena, a 63-year-old Pashtun woman from the hilly Dir Colony in the North Nazimabad area of Karachi, has not been to a polling station her entire life. She was surprised to hear on TV that some women from her hometown in Lower Dir went to Peshawar High Court when they were not allowed to vote in a recent by-election.

On May 18, women from the PK-95 constituency of the provincial assembly went to the PHC against the May 7 by-election in Lower Dir in which the contesting candidates had made a verbal agreement that women would not be allowed to go to the polling stations. A Jamaat-e-Islami candidate won the polls.

On June 2, the Election Commission of Pakistan canceled the result. “The by-election of Constituency No PK-95 Lower Dir-II is hereby declared void for the reasons of disenfranchisement of female voters,” said a notice released on Tuesday.

But in Karachi, Gul Meena and many other Pashtun women continue to be denied their right to vote. As many as 47,282 women had voted in the general elections in the same Lower Dir constituency in 2013. That amounts to about 37 percent of the total votes – almost the same ratio as that in PS-93, a Pashtun-dominated constituency in Karachi’s west district, if not better (an election tribunal found 6,000 bogus votes polled at only six of the 88 polling stations in the ultra-conservative Banaras locality). The percentage of women voters in Pashtun-dominated areas of Karachi (such as PS-89 Keamari, PS-94 Baldia, and PS-128 Landhi industrial area) is very low compared with other constituencies in the city.

10 percent of Pashtun women in Karachi do not even have a CNIC

Back in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, neither the religious Jamaat-e-Islami nor the liberal Awami National Party made an effort to resist the disenfranchisement of women. JI emir Sirajul Haq blamed the practice on culture.

The same ‘cultural legacy’ is the reason behind low percentage of women voters in Pashtun areas of Karachi, analysts say.

“It happens in localities and communities inhabited by people who belong to the areas where they do not let women vote. It is reflective of those cultures and traditions. In other areas, women turn out in full force,” says Afia Salam, a Karachi-based journalist who covers gender issues.

Hamidullah Khattak, the information secretary of ANP in Sindh, blames lack of education, especially among women, that keeps them unaware of their of their rights. Karachi’s Pashtuns will hardly see any progress without active participation of women in electoral politics, he says.

Most Pashtuns in Karachi are poor laborers, says Nazir Jan, a central leader of Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PMAP). “They need proper guidance, but the religious and nationalist parties who claim to represent them have never bothered to address this issue.”

Abdul Razaq – the head of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Pashtun Jirga and its emir in west district – believes Pashtun women would be encouraged to exercise their right to vote if they were given an electoral environment that was in accordance with their culture. “In the last general elections, we asked the Election Commission to convert more than five percent of the combined polling stations to women-only polling stations, for a better female turnout,” he said. “But our request was ignored.”

But low female turnout is not the issue, according to Nazir Jan. “The number of women registered as voters is equally low.” According to Abdul Razaq, a two-time Union Council Nazim from the Pashtun-dominated SITE area, more than 10 percent of women don’t even have Computerized National Identity Cards because of reasons deep rooted in their culture. “They cannot establish a family tree,” he said. “When a woman does not have an identity card, her daughter cannot have one either.”

In Dir and the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women often vote for the candidate their families vote for, and therefore their disenfranchisement with the mutual consensus of all contenders doesn’t turn into a political disadvantage for either, says Mudassar Rizvi, chief of the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

The case is exactly the opposite in Karachi, experts say. To bar women from voting or not encouraging them to come out on the polling day deprives the concerned community of sizable votes.

“In an urban setup like Karachi, where women’s participation or absence from the electoral process directly impacts the overall results for the ethnic community, women become very important,” says Dr Fouzia Khan, a Pashtun social right activist. “In Karachi, all political parties claiming to represent Pashtuns, should realize the power of women voters.”

Hamidullah Khattak says his party, the ANP, discusses the issue in the regular meetings of its Sindh Council, which also has a woman member – Kamila Arif Khan, the party’s central vice-president on Sindh quota. “But it takes time for people’s ways to change.”

The less popular PMAP is seems to have done more work in this regard. “For the next voter registration, we have planned to run a drive to convince Pashtuns to get their wives, daughters and sisters registered, so that their voice can be heard in Sindh’s provincial legislature,” said Nazir Jan. “Without bringing women into the mainstream, the Pashtuns of Karachi – on its way to becoming the largest ethnic community in the city in two decades – cannot progress.”

The story was published in 5th June issue of TFT


The Rohingyas of Karachi

Pakistan’s Burmese immigrants have fled persecution, but they still have no nationality
Pakistan’s Burmese immigrants have fled persecution, but they still have no nationality

By: Naimat Khan

Hundreds of people gathered outside Karachi Press Club on June 5 to protest against what they called a genocide of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s Buddhist regime. But only three of them were from the Ronhingya community of Karachi. There are nearly 0.8 million Rohingyas – generally known as the Burmese – living in various neighborhoods of Karachi.

One of them was Mufti Noorul Bashar, a scholar at Darul Uloom Karachi – a prime religious seminary of the country situated in Korangi industrial area. He even addressed a JUI-F demonstration against the violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar.

But other Burmese Muslims living in Karachi did not join in. When I spoke to them on the eve of the June 5 protest, most of the dwellers of Arakan vicinity in Karachi’s Korangi area told The Friday Times that they won’t participate. The reason, they said, was that they did not have national identity cards, and could therefore not move freely in the city.

There haven’t been any new Burmese refugees in Pakistan since the early 1990s, according to Noor Hussain Arakani, organizer of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) in Pakistan. “But despite having lived here for decades, the Rohingyas are denied a Pakistani identity,” he says.

Mufti Noorul Bashar says the history of discrimination against Rohingyas goes back to 1942, six years before the independence of Burma, but life became difficult for Burma’s Muslim minority after their government decided to take back their nationality in 1988.

“We want nothing – no gas, no electricity and no food. We just want Pakistani nationality”

The Rohingya exodus to Pakistan began soon after President Ayub Khan – who had served in Burma in 1944 and 1945 – offered during his visit to the country in 1965 to settle them on Pakistani soil, local Burmese elders say. A large number of Rohingyas migrated to what was then West Pakistan, and many others settled in what is now Bangladesh.

There were two more mass emigrations after clashes in 1978 and 1992, but the Bangladeshi government turned their boats back from its side of the river Naaf.

Those who reached Karachi praise Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen Ziaul Haq, who allowed them to leave their refugee camps and live in the city like its other residents. “But the successive governments did not allow us to obtain Pakistani nationality,” says Tajul Islam, a Rohingya fisherman from Machchar colony. “Those who fled to Turkey, Norway, Denmark and Canada, among other countries, have acquired the nationality of their host countries,” he says. “Gen Zia had announced to grant Pakistani nationality to Rohingyas, but he died before the promise could materialize.”

“By allowing Rohingyas to live outside of refugee camps, the government has deprived them of assistance from UNHCR, which grants proof of registration cards and relevant facilities to Afghans only,” says Rana Asif Habib, president of Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF), who has worked closely with the Burmese community for many years.

Although a small number of them live in Lahore, most of the Burmese reside in Karachi, Thatha and Badin – cities that connect them to their traditional fishing livelihoods. “The fishery industry of Pakistan depends on Burmese and Bangladeshis,” according to Shahid, who trades with local fishermen.

“Unlike other refugees, we are not a burden on Pakistan,” says Noor Hussain Arakani. “Three key industries – garments, carpet manufacturing and fisheries – depend heavily on cheap Burmese labor.”

Najma, who weaves carpets at her home in Arakanabad, gets Rs 2,000 (roughly $20) for a job that lasts more than a month. The carpets are sold at up to $1,000. Her husband Ramadan works at a textile mill.

The Burmese community of Karachi lives in more than 60 slums all over the city, key among which are the Burmi Colony in Korangi, Arakanabad, Machchar colony, Bilal colony, Ziaul Haq Colony and Godhra Camp. About five percent of them have Pakistani nationality. Since most of them do not have identity cards, they enter the sea illegally, compromising on their wages and their safety.

“We demand nothing – no gas, no electricity and no food. We just need Pakistani nationality, without which we can’t enter the sea legally, we can’t enroll our children in schools, and we are harassed,” say Noor Hussain Arakani.

Rohingyas are questioned by the FIA and police on a regular basis, says Rana Asif Habib, and some complain of harassment. FIA and police spokesmen dismiss the harassment allegations.

About 20 percent of Karachi’s street children are Rohingyas, according to Rana. Some are victims of child labor at fish harbors, while others become informers for the police or criminal gangs.

According to the sixth edition of the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department Redbook, among the province’s most dangerous terrorists is Qari Jameel Burmi, a Rohingya. Associated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Burmi recruited for the outfit before he fled to Dubai, according to the Redbook. He has a Rs 500,000 bounty on his head.

Allama Hasan Turabi, a Shia scholar associated with religious political alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was killed at the gate of his house by a Burmese suicide attacker, Abdul Karim, on 14th July 2006. The teenaged Karim, whose confession video emerged later, was a resident of Musa Colony – a lower class locality mostly housing Bengali and Burmese immigrants.

Local elders say many Rohingya children are denied admissions to schools because they do not have B-Forms. Many have no option but to send their children to religious seminaries. The community is largely religiously conservative.

According to a news report published on June 8, a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in Islamabad discussed settling the Rohingyas of Myanmar in Karachi. Leaders in the past made the same offers, the Burmese of Karachi say, and they are grateful. “But the government should also pay heed to problems of those Rohingyas who already live in Karachi,” said Kareem, a Burmese fisherman.

The writer is a freelance journalist
Twitter: @NKMalazai

 This story appeared in the June 12, 2015 issue of The Friday Times Lahore 

The political economy of crime

Karachi operation faces a different kind of turf war

Karachi operation faces a different kind of turf war

By: Naimat Khan

Karachi’s major political parties have always reacted strongly to allegations that they patronize crime, but a recent statement by the paramilitary Sindh Rangers – who are part of a law-enforcement operation in the city – aroused an extraordinary response from the usually-calm former president Asif Ali Zardari.

On June 4, Maj Gen Bilal Akbar, the director general of Sindh Rangers, told an “apex committee” overseeing the operation that more the Rs 230 billion were being generated every year through extortion, smuggling of Iranian diesel, corruption in water supply, and land grabbing, mainly patronized by “a major political party”. A week later, on June 11, the information was shared with the media in a press release.

Although it was taken as a veiled reference to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the most scathing reply came from Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) co-chairman Asif Zardari, who warned the military against stepping outside its domain.

Other leaders of the party, such as Senator Aitzaz Ahsan and Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah, have questioned how the criminal economy can be measured.

“Since there was no scientific survey, the Sindh government cannot comment on the figure,” says Rashid Channa, a media advisor to Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah.

But Arif Hasan, a social researcher and urban planner working in Karachi, does not agree. “This is not the first time the size of a crime economy has been quantified,” he says. “The Orangi Pilot Project has done it, Geo TV has done it, and even we have done it before the Rangers.” In fact, he says the figure given by Rangers is much lower than other estimates of roughly Rs 300 billion.

“The Rangers director general has said nothing new,” Arif says, “except the claim that the money is being used to toe a foreign agenda.”

“The information about who has how much of a role in the crime economy of the city was available since long,” says Syed Shoaib Hasan, a Wall Street Journal reporter who has been investigating the financial aspect of violence and militancy in Pakistan in general and Karachi in particular.

MQM says the Rangers have not named it. “We reject the report if it hints at MQM,” party veteran Dr Farooq Sattar said in a news conference. He said the Rangers had spoken of various political and religious parties, but the statement was followed by a media trial of MQM.

The PPP was not being referred to in the statement, says Rashid Channa, but it “has felt it as an effort to weaken the Sindh government”. Such press releases are not issued by Rangers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Punjab, he says.

A handout issued by the Chief Minister’s House after the June 4 meeting said extortion, collection of charity and animal hides, kidnapping for ransom, payments to ghost employees, land grabbing, and smuggling, particularly of Iranian oil, were among the major sources of financing of terrorism and violence.

The provincial government had concealed nothing, and everything was shared with the media, except the figure, which was questioned by Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah in the apex committee meeting, according to Channa. “Even the Rangers DG had said the figure of Rs 230 billion shouldn’t be deemed final,” he says.

“It is obvious that Mr Zardari is targeting a sensitive national institution to veil his own wrongdoings,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar said in response to the statement by the former president.

But the Sindh government says it has already agreed to form a task force on the matter. “The government hasn’t stopped the Rangers from taking action,” Rashid Channa says. “Even the Nine Zero raid was brought into the chief minister’s notice after it was conducted.”

Shoaib Hasan agrees. “If Rangers can conduct a raid at Nine Zero and detain criminals associated with the MQM, then they can take action against anyone,” he says. “Action has been taken against political gangs, religious groups and proscribed outfits in Karachi. It should be no more a politicians-vs-security apparatus affair,”

Amid disowning responsibility of action it is hoped that ‘fuel of violence’ should be stopped by someone, no matter who. Analysts think that it is action  that matters. Those identified  in the investigations should be brought to book. The media should buildup pressures for empowering the security agencies to take actions against the culprits.  “But only taking action against political parties will not work.  The people of security and spy agencies are also actively involved in this heinous business. There is also a nexus between cadres of political parties and security agencies. Hence, across the board action against black sheep is the  only solution to end this menace” opines Shoaib Hasan.


Although a three member task force as already been formed – consisting of Justice (r) Ghulam Sarwar Korai as chairman, and retired judge Arjun Ram K Talreja and Home Secretary Mukhtiar Hussain Soomro as its members – analysts say the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Sindh anti-corruption department should also have swung into action.

NAB did swing into action days later, arresting five high-ranking officials of the Lines Area development project, accused of china-cutting 1,200 plots worth Rs 4.5 billion and selling them to builders and “land mafia”. Reports said the money was used for financing terrorists.

Meanwhile, Sindh Rangers raided the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) office and questioned the staff about their former director general Manzoor Qadir aka Kaka, who has reportedly left for Dubai. They also seized important data and records.

According to Arif Hasan, three important institutions – planning, land control and law and order – have ceased to exist in Karachi. “The people of the city need four major things – employment, residence, transport and security,” he says. “Unfortunately, all four department are serving as major sources of extortion.”

The writer is a freelance journalist


Twitter: @NKMalazai

 A shorter version of this has appeared in The Friday Times- lahore