Immigrant Loyalties Waver
KARACHI, PAKISTAN — PARTY slogans and pictures of guns cover walls along the dusty streets. The green, red, and white Mohajir National Movement (MQM) flag flies from rundown buildings and tiny, modest homes in this lower-class neighborhood. Businessmen chafe at the curfews and the MQM-inspired strikes and violence that frequently shut down their small shops. But residents express respect for an organization which they say stands for the rights of mohajirs, Muslim refugees from India, and has given them political muscle against native Sindis. They hope, too, that MQM will get their sons work.
``When people migrated to this area, it was just desert. We built it up and had peace until [former Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto came and took our jobs,'' says Nasir Ali in his shop, which sells eyeglasses. ``Then this Benazir [Bhutto] came, and we waited for months. But our children still don't get any jobs. We built this organization to give our children jobs.''
This neglected neighborhood has become a flash point in the MQM's stormy rise to power. During the Feb. 7 general strike called by the party, Liaquatabad became a battleground for angry mobs who attacked police stations, barricaded streets, and stoned and fired on the Army patrols.
Liaquatabad's armed youths are part of the MQM's vast grass-roots organization that defend the party's turf, political observers say. MQM leaders also have won support through community work such as repairing roads and mediating local disputes.
``We are fighting for our rights,'' says Shakeel Ahmed who often mans barricades during trouble.
However, the emergence of the MQM, which enjoys support in poorer areas and slums, also has divided Pakistan's mohajirs along class lines. The well-to-do, who live in comfortable neighborhoods behind heavily guarded gates, often echo MQM concerns.
But they also decry the party's growing militarization and partly blame it for the growing violence and crime in Karachi. With the economy in a tailspin, jobs and college admissions tight, and more violence looming, wealthy mohajirs are joining the flight of business and capital from Karachi.
``My family came from India to this city for shelter,'' says a businessman. ``But my son can't enroll in college and my family isn't safe. I will have to move them to Lahore or Islamabad or even out of the country.''
But for the less well-off, leaving is not an option. ``We used to live in India. We came here to get peace but now there is no peace,'' says Kamar, a bespectacled mother of eight. ``We want Karachi to be better because we have to live here. Those people with enough money have no problems. But those of us who have to earn daily, we are the ones who suffer.''