Last Thursday we ran through the history behind the rise and fall of one of Pakistan’s largest student organisations, the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT).
This week we shall analyse the evolution of another controversial student outfit, the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) – the student party that became the leading reason behind the decline and at times ouster of the IJT from Karachi’s major universities and colleges.
APMSO was formed at the University Of Karachi (KU) in 1978 by Altaf Hussain and Azeem Ahmed Tariq.
Husain and Tariq were both students at KU. Whereas Hussain till 1977 was a sympathiser of the Islami Jamiat Taleba (IJT) and played an active role in the movement against the Zulfikar Ali Bhutto regime that was orchestrated by the Jamat-i-Islami-led Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) in 1977, Tariq had flirted with an assortment of progressive student groups, including the Liberal Students Federation (LSF) that was headed by the current PPP Senator, Raza Rabbani at the KU in 1974.
The most common account of the formation of the Muttahida (originally Mohajir) Qaumi Movement (MQM) and APMSO (that gave birth to the MQM) involves claims that it was a party conceived by the military dictatorship of General Ziaul Haq as a way to counterbalance the influence of certain political forces in Sindh. However, there is precious little clarity on the part of those political historians who toe this claim.
The Jamat-i-Islami (JI) was the first party to assert that the Zia regime had ‘created MQM’ to sideline JI’s influence in Karachi, even though between 1977 and 1984, the JI was openly supporting Zia.
In the late 1980s, Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) insisted that the MQM had been formed by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to curb the PPP in Sindh, whereas Sindhi nationalist parties were of the view that MQM came into being at the behest of the Zia regime because of the way Sindhi nationalists had protested during the violent anti-Zia MRD movement in Sindh in 1983.
Nevertheless, if one were to summarise the collective thesis on the subject by academics who have written extensively on the MQM – such as Muhammad Wasim, Laurent Gayer and Oskar Vaarkaik – one can suggest that, though, there was some involvement of Zia’s agencies in the formation of the MQM (from APMSO), this experiment soon backfired when the MQM quickly spun out of the agencies’ orbit and became an aggressively independent entity.
The MQM’s arrival was not simply about a Mohajir-centric student organisation (APMSO) evolving into a mainstream political party born out of the political and economic frustrations of Mohajirs.
One can treat this as an immediate historical snippet, but it is certainly not the complete story. Academics specialising in the politics of Sindh, such as Amir Ali Chandio and Dr Tanvir Tahir, trace back the formation of the political Mohajir ethnicity way back to the 1960s.
Along with Punjabis, Mohajirs dominated Pakistan’s initial ruling and economic elite and thus both these communities continued to invest their political support in either federalist or religious parties or in military dictatorships.
Even those Mohajirs and Punjabis who joined outfits led by Sindhi, Pashtun, Bengali and Baloch nationalists (such as the National Awami Party (NAP), were largely part of the NAP’s Marxist wing that wanted to eschew politics of ethnicity and work towards a bourgeoisie-led socialist proletarian revolution.
But by the late 1960s, much of the country’s leftist tendencies were absorbed by the emergent PPP, and thus progressive non-Punjabi and non-Mohajir nationalists became more exclusivist.
Consequently, the first ever demand to separate Karachi from Sindh and recognise the Mohajirs as a distinct ethnicity actually came from an influential faction of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF) that was associated with the NAP.
In 1969 Amir H. Kazmi, the head of his own faction of the Marxist NSF, was one of the first political leaders to raise the banner of Mohajir nationalism.Logo of the left-wing National Students Federation (NSF).
But few Mohajirs took the notion seriously, as they were still firmly imbedded in the concept of federalism and (like Punjabis) repulsed by ethnic nationalism.
However, as most of the left-leaning Punjabi and Sindhi intelligentsia and working classes and peasants invested their support in the federalist PPP, Mohajirs stuck to continue backing the federalist Islamic parties.
By the late 1960s Mohajirs had already begun to be dislodged from the Punjab-dominated ruling and economic elite with the gradual entry of the dictator Ayub-Khan-initiated entrance of the hardworking Pashtuns in the cherished fold.
The rise of the PPP-led by Z A. Bhutto further added to the sense of dread rising amongst Mohajirs. This erupted in the shape of 1972 ‘language riots’ in Karachi when the Bhutto regime reintroduced Sindhi in educational institutions and Mohajirs saw this as ‘an attack on Urdu.’
The aftermath of the riots saw the formation of a city government movement (CGM). Studded with Mohajir intellectuals and former Karachi-based leftist student leaders and some businessmen, it again called for Karachi to be separated from Sindh.