Urban politics vs rural politics

Published: October 21, 2010

Urban Pakistanis tend to vote in favour of allegiance to political parties, while rural citizens often vote for well-known personalities instead.

Politics in Pakistan are a tangle of confusion, lies, deception, favouritism and broken promises. Anything that goes wrong, whether it is getting in trouble with your boss or having a lesser player selected for team captaincy, can be blamed on politics.

In my experience of both Karachi and interior Sindh, I came across two distinct forms of commercial politics (politicians are, after all, contractual employees). Personality-based politics has strong roots in the countryside where, in a given area, a certain landlord will hold the most influence. No matter which party he chooses, or even if he decides to stand as an independent candidate, the votes in his locality will go to him (it is debatable whether this is due to popularity or coercion). This gives the candidate bargaining power and he chooses the party that benefits him the most, or to whom he’s most loyal.

Party-based politics has a strong base in Karachi and perhaps other urban centres like Lahore. The party chooses its candidates and the extent of individual candidates’ bargaining power varies. It is up to the party to decide whether to have a well-known or relatively new politician run for its seat.

We have seen the effect of both political styles on a local and national level and have examples support both voting styles, depending on the locality. We have seen Jamshed Dasti winning the election in Punjab again after resigning, in spite of having a fake degree. Likewise, we have seen the previously unknown figure of Syed Mustafa Kamal rise, when the MQM nominated him against veteran politician Naimatullah Khan. Despite having no distinguished record of politics, Mustafa Kamal became the second mayor of Karachi and effected great change through construction projects.Both politicians were supported by people who supported either party based or personality based politics, depending on where they came from.

Both politicians were supported by voters respectively. This proves that both, party and personality driven politics can work in a constituency.

In Pakistan, our presidents are military usurpers, back-door entrants, puppets and ceremonial figureheads chosen to smile and nod to show that “all is well” in the country. Is it possible that Pakistani politics will evolve to a point where politicians are ripped to their essence and their worth is judged by 180 million Pakistanis? If so, will it be urban party based or rural personality based politics that ultimately dominate?


Wasio Abbasi

A business graduate who studied Information Systems, interested in current affairs and politics. He tweets @wasioabbasi

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Muhammad Zeeshan

    Dear Author,

    I take this as a serious insult and hitting below the belt and attack on dignity and ….


  • faraz

    Dasti is not a feudal, he is a son of an ametuer wrestler and belongs to a middle class family. In elite circles he may be reviled as a fake degree holder but he is a poor man’s hero. He defeated the traditional politicians of feudal background. He listens to poor people and understands their issues. Actually, he is the Mustafa Kamal of rural areas. For the poor villagers of Muzaffargarh, he represents change. Recommend

  • http://blogs.tribune.com.pk/author/13/syed-ali/ S. Ali Raza

    … and the only way to evolve is Land Reforms. Recommend

  • Faiza Javed

    Mr. Faraz
    i was looking for a link just to show a true picture of jamshed dasti but unfortunately i couldn’t find it. if somebody wants to have a fake degree in his respective area he is the first person to help him out. he might be a hero for a poor peasant but torture, women’s humiliation and empowerment of certain group of people is common. Kindly refrain from praising such person how has lost dignity once. Recommend

  • http://allaboutmqm.org Dr Asif

    Mr Syed Mustafa Kamal have great personality, his work shown his family background and specially his Great Leader Mr Altaf Hussain THOUGHT for PAKISTAN….

    We Love You… Recommend

  • Fhumaila Farooq

    as far as mustafa kamal is concerned, i put him on hieghest lavel, he brings change to comon citizen’s life, he is the one who showed the different face of politics in pakistan, infact politics for humanity, regardless of community, ethincity or sect, he worked for the ppl, and if we take jamshed dasti, yes he duznt belong to feudal class, infact he defeated feudals in POLLS, bt he is kinda ” badmaash ” of his area, we have seen him in different talkshows, the way he speaks ….. ummm.. i dont see anything different in him, he speaks like feudal, he came from labour politics where he is known for his ” dhons nd dhamki ” style, his brothers are involved in different crimes. neways my argue is the two personalities mentioned here dont match eachother at all, we shud cpmpare apples wid apples. Recommend

  • http://abbasiworld.blogspot.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi

    The concept behind this post is to compare politics of Urban areas and that of Rural areas. Each has its own needs and requirements, that’s why they are prevalent in their respective constituencies. The article is, not primarily, comparison of personalities but how these personalities attained the position they did.

    Comparison of apples with apples is not possible because Karachi is:

    The largest city of Pakistan
    Has the most diverse ethnic mix
    Has the largest budget
    Has the highest population in Pakistan

    So any comparison with any other city, town or village of Pakistan is simply not possible due to various complicated factors involved. The only possibility is highlighting the similarities and differences across the board in terms of urban and rural politics and focus on best available examples. Anything else is reader’s personal understanding, ideas, believes and preferences and are welcomed to share to increase collective knowledge base.Recommend

  • kashif

    @Fhumaila Farooq:

    Yes ‘Dasti’ duznt belong to feudal class, same like ‘m.Kamal’. Also they both are of same kinda. We also seen him talkshows, where both uses the same pattern of language, but dasti at least didn’t call names to anyone i.e. ‘ullo ke pathe’ etc. There are a lot of videos available on youtube which shows the ‘Tameez’ level of both the persons.

    Both also belongs to criminal background, one have brother and one’s political party is popular in criminal activities i.e. Bhatta, Killings, Thappa etc. So both can be compared.Recommend

  • faraz


    Obviously Dasti is involved in petty crimes and is opposed to women rights but thats how things are done here. He threated Mukhtaran Mai who is an inspiration for us, but voilation of women rights is part of their culture. He is not a statesman, he is a poltician and will say things that people want to hear. Such acts cant be justified but they also tell us about the dynamics of that society.

    Here in Lahore, i am one of the rare admirers of MQM because it doesnt belong to the traditional rural elite. The politics in Karachi is different from that in Lahore. In lahore, PML-N deliberately weakened its student wing because incidents of bhatta from public vans were bringing bad name to the party. While Karachi has a history of voilence and a party belonging to middle class has to use force to counter the different interest groups which are trying to suppress it. The big achievement in case of Dasti is that a son of an ametuer wrestler got elected by defeating feudals. And you cant expect a local politician to be exhibit constitutionalism and enlightenment along European lines. Compare Dasti to a feudal who holds people in bonded labour, not a human right activist. Here on the blogs, we are only concerned with theoretical concepts; bloggers may be politically correct but they have no impact on the society. The poor villagers will vote for the candidate who provides them the basic needs of life; whether they come from a criminal or a fake degree holder, it isnt an issue. Dasti organized free bus service for villagers who previously had to walk on foot for miles; for these villagers such a facility is nothing less than a revolution.Recommend

  • Abdul Rauf

    I agree with Mr. Faraz.Recommend

  • IZ

    I know many, many people who voted for MQM in the last elections because they associated it with Mustafa Kamal, not for the candidate in their area. Wasn’t that personality based politics? Recommend

  • http://abbasiworld.blogspot.com Wasio Ali Khan Abbasi


    There would be two factors to consider in your argument. Both can be taken together or independently.

    1) Probably people voted for MQM by keeping Mustafa Kamal as an example. The first question to ask is, how did Mustafa Kamal himself came into politics himself and built such a name?

    2) Secondly, would people have still kept him as an example if he was disassociated with MQM? A case to keep in mind is of Amir Liaqat Hussain.

    Personality based politics is not dependent upon party. Would you still vote for Mustafa Kamal if he joins Jamiat and stands for election from Nazimabad or Malir constituency? In personality based politics, it is the candidate who chooses the party depending upon what benefits he/she gains. Pir of Pagara was in Muslim League Functional group, he could have easily joined PPP but he found more advantage in remaining aloof and now as a collective force by combining with Muslim League Q.

    These ‘Personalities’ have enough groundwork that even if they fight elections as Independent candidates, they would still have very strong odds to win. A case to consider here would be of Haji Munawwar Abbasi, brother of Senator Safdar Abbasi, who has always won elections from Larkana seat until his first defeat against Mir Murtaza Bhutto and now he fights elections from Ghotki seat. He has enough trust and support from people that he can still win even if he leaves PPP. He’s current Vice Chairman of Water Board.Recommend

  • http://www.cbs.com jpr shemp

    There is an old saying that work talks. Comparison between Mustafa Kamal and Dasti is laughable. Dasti actually has a higher position as an MNA, whereas Mustafa Kamal was just on a level of councillor. But one can see how much Mustafa Kamal was able to achieve and what DAsti claim to fame is his fake degree and threatening Mukhtaran Mai to compromise with her rapists. Amazingly, Mustafa Kamal does’nt hold any elected office but still is relevant, most people trying to justify their crook[sorry their MNA or MPA] compare with him. The notion of people liking Mustafa Kamal amounting to personality-based politics is also ludicrous. If people vote for Mustafa Kamal is due to his working backgroundnot his family background or party affiliation that a chief minister will be able to preside who makes merry with photo-ops like Punjab’s, how he developed the physical infrastructure of the most neglected metropolis in the world is commendable whereas Dasti belongs to the most economically backward area called Muzaffargarh ehich has become more backward and its image has been dented in the eyes of PAkistanis, where people have accepted certain hardships.Recommend

  • http:shahhayat.blogspot.com Shah Hayat Ahmad

    Whilst no one can doubt Mustafa Kamal’s contribution to Karachi as Mayor – there have been many who criticize Jamshed Dasti without really knowing the facts. If really interested please read up on what New York Times had to say about him:


    I understand most things are biased – there is always a specific angle that things are portrayed from but since nobody is all good and nobody is all bad I think Dasti too must be commended for having risen that high without having been the ‘Rais’ of his area. He is not an aristocrat and the dynamics as we can see are changing in the rural areas too – the media is educating people about certain rights and thus empowering them to do so as well. Had that not been the case then it is doubtful Jamshed Dasti would have ever won.


    On a side note with reference to history:

    Pir Sahib Pagara is not the Pir of Pagara (denote a particular place) – perhaps the way people refer to as Pir Sahib of Golra Sharif but instead the term is vernacular for Pir Sahib Pag-waro as was refered to his ancestor the first Pir Sahib Pag-waro. The term ‘pag-waro‘ means the ‘one with the turban’ in Sindhi. This is because Pir Hazrat Rozeh Dhani Shah (The first Pir Pagara with the present Pir Pagaro being the seventh) was one of the foremost Ulama of his time. Back then in Sindh should any scholar win a debate – as was the custom of most scholarly discourse in the world of Islam – would be handed over the Pag or Turban of all the other scholars present there. In his case he collected an uncountable number of Turbans and was hence referred to by the title which was then handed down.Recommend