One is not really sure how many people live in Karachi, but there are many guesses. “We are officially at 14 million but in my estimate, it is closer to 20,” comments Arif Hasan, one of the city’s most prominent architects and town planners. In Islamabad, they don’t agree – citing the figure to be 12 million. The last census – held in 1981 put the number at 9 million.
The disagreement runs deeper. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, the city’s main political party, says that the number of Mohajirs — or immigrants — comprise 70 per cent to 80 per cent of this population. The MQM, despite attempts to be a national party, remains very much a Mohajir party out of Karachi. But the Awami National Party, which traditionally has the Pakhtoon vote, says that there are as many Pakhtoons in Karachi as in Peshawar.
And between the two, there has been trouble brewing for the past several months. The MQM says that with the Pakhtoons comes terrorism and “fundamentalist ideology” which is not compatible with the secular outlook of the city.
In the past two years, Pakhtoon influx in Karachi has been considerable. Thousands of traveled the entire length of the country following the earthquake in that region, then the takeover by the Taliban and then the fighting between the Taliban and government forces. Even today, as KP fights floods and food shortages, hundreds come to Karachi.
The MQM says that amongst these people come Taliban sympathisers and escaped militants.
“It is not without reason that many of the Taliban and Al Qaeda figures are arrested in Karachi,” comments Faisal Sabzwari, an MQM spokesman. Despite being coalition partners, the two parties are fighting a silent war.
In this year alone, over 200 people —activists from both parties, have died in targeted shootings. The high profile killing of Haider Raza, an MQM lawmaker recently led to a city shut down and violence that left many dead and several injured. The MQM blames the ANP for that death.
President Zardari pushed both parties to sign a code of conduct, but this was shattered within days following another spate of killings. The bigger fear is of an all out war between the two sides. Already there are Pakhtoon areas and Mohajir areas in parts of the city.
There are fears that the city would revert to its turbulent time of the sixties when rioting, violence, strikes and curfews had become a daily routine. That would affect the economy of Pakistan given that Karachi is an economic powerhouse.
So far, the city continues to live in suspense.