We all love to ask questions from our politicians. It’s kind of our favourite job. Give us an opportunity and we will take all our frustration out on the first politician we see, whether in power or not. Recently, a show ‘Campus Awaaz’, was hosted by Faisal Qureshi at the Institute of Business Management (IoBM), Karachi. The show invited students of the College of Business Management (CBM) to interact with the former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal. Before the show started, Faisal Qureshi prompted the students to express themselves openly through any questions they may want to ask Mustafa Kamal. “Show who you are,” he encouraged. The question-answer session evidently gave the students the opportunity to do just this; what was presumably aimed to discuss social uplift in the country turned to an event which displayed how politically aware and politically motivated some of the students were.
Faisal Qureshi began by terming Karachi as a flashpoint city; he introduced it as a chaotic city, highlighting the horrors that take place every now and then. After elaborating upon how the city has descended into “absolute anarchy and chaos,” Faisal stated, “Karachi hasn’t always been this way.” With that, he introduced the guest on the show, Mustafa Kamal.
The question at hand was: what had happened to the city post-Kamal? “Four years ago, we were on the driver’s seat; now we are not,” he began. He then sketched out the problems the city faced, and why they existed. He explained that it was the system, not the individuals, which accounted for Karachi’s once well-to-do situation. However, the same ‘system’ is no longer in place with the appointed bureaucrats in the local government as opposed to elected officials.
Mustafa Kamal went on to say that people’s vote should be based on what they perceive as the intentions of those they are voting for. Faisal then put forth the question: “Do you think this coalition government is less willing to bring social change?” To this, Mustafa Kamal replied that there was “no point” in dithering over such questions because the “diagnosis of the issue is not a problem, we need a remedy”. Ironically enough, a ‘remedy’ is precisely what the event failed to produce. The event appeared to be a series of questions, coupled with accusations tossed at Mustafa Kamal and his party, the MQM. Mustafa Kamal defended his party, dodged the accusations and provided counter-arguments - and at times justifications - but a solution to the ethnic violence, target killings, escalating crime rates failed to surface.
According to the former mayor, Karachi as a city is doing better than places like Balochistan where a separatist movement has been brewing, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhua and interior Sindh where floods have caused mass devastation. The importance of Karachi as a key city to Pakistan’s well-being was also mentioned. “The anti-state elements,” he stated, “know that as long as Karachi is okay, nothing can cripple Pakistan. It is the backbone of Pakistan’s economy, and generates 68 percent of our revenue. If Karachi gets paralysed, Pakistan gets paralysed. It is the hub of Pakistan’s business activity and educated elite.”
The floor was then opened to questions, most of which were addressed to the guest speaker directly. One student referred to the comparisons that had so far been made between the pre-election and post-election era - before and after Mustafa Kamal became the mayor. “I understand the situation was bad pre-election, but post-election, was it really a safe haven?” To this, Mustafa Kamal responded by first highlighting the pre-election horrors. “History tells us that the streets were drenched in blood due to sectarian violence,” he explained. “Imam bargahs and masjids were burnt.” However, when Mustafa Kamal was mayor between 2005 to 2008, there was great job creation and industrial expansion. Undoubtedly, much has changed under Mustafa Kamal’s governance. He was worthy of the World Mayor Prize for which he was shortlisted in 2010. Yet, during this period, as brought up by other students, the MQM’s reputation was not entirely untarnished. At no point had Karachi been a safe place.
A student asked, “We voted for you. So you tell us, when can we see the change?” The response was a rather dismissive, “We [the MQM] have 25 seats in the National Assembly; we are the 4th largest party. Three others have a larger majority.” He suggested that they were a small majority and one must also keep in mind who all of Pakistan votes for.
Perhaps one of the most motivating moments of the event was the one where Mustafa Kamal commented on what kind of people the public should vote for, be they members of MQM or not. He prompted the youth to vote for someone form a problem struck area, someone who has the same problems as they have and a deep understanding of those problems, regardless of where they are from and what party they belong to. “If you find someone better than us, by all means vote for him.”
However this selfless piece of advice was clearly not sufficient to quell the dissatisfaction many had with the MQM. Another student brought everyone’s attention to the massacres of 12th May. Mustafa Kamal retorted that the people conducting these killings did not belong to his party and that 13 to 16 people of the MQM had also fallen victim to the atrocities of that day. “Five parties came head to head and we also suffered,” he stated. Another student brought up the Nishtar Park attack, which Mustafa Kamal dismissed as “suicide bombings, not target killings.”
He further mentioned that his party helped bridge the once highly prominent Sindhi-Muhajir divide in interior Sindh and that they had even expelled 3000 people from MQM who were detrimental to national interest. “Why then, were these 3000 people allowed to infiltrate into such high posts in the party? Does that mean the MQM has no system of checks and balances regarding this, and that anyone can enter, mess up, and get expelled once the damage was done?” I asked. To this he responded by saying that it was because of the party’s efficiency that those 3000 were expelled. “Name one other party that had done this!”
Why has the MQM failed to gain the support of whole Pakistan if it claims to be so nationalistic? What is the explanation behind Mustafa Kamal’s unwavering support for president Zardari? Why does the death of one MQM member spark off riots throughout the city? These were all questions put forth by the students of CBM. The “corrupt status quo” and “too centralised” system were among the former mayor’s main answer.
After approximately two hours of a highly MQM-centric discussion, Faisal Qureshi concluded the show by thanking Mustafa Kamal for sharing his time with the audience and answering all their questions. Undoubtedly, he did defend his party with utmost loyalty, but failed to discuss some of the solutions he had claimed were what the city needed at the moment.