The MQM is dying because Muhajirs don’t need it anymore

Published: August 24, 2016

Supporters of MQM shout slogans during a sit-in protest calling for party leader Altaf Hussain's release, in Karachi on June 5, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

The Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) is dying. And no, Raheel Sharif and the Pakistan Army have absolutely nothing to do with its death, though they certainly seem gleeful at the prospect and appear to be doing everything within their power to hasten the demise of the party that claims to represent the interests of Muhajirs in Pakistan.

To put it simply, the MQM is dying because it has no reason to live anymore. And while some of its supporters still cling on to its slogans as comfortable relics of the past, and its machinery of death and destruction can still do damage to the country’s financial capital, the MQM cannot escape reality: Muhajirs are not a threatened ethnic group in Pakistan and a party that sustains itself on stoking a sense of fear within that ethnic group will strangle itself to death.

To understand why the MQM is dying, you do not need to watch Altaf Hussain’s speeches, nor do you need to pay attention to the army operation in Karachi, and most certainly don’t listen to the know-nothing talking heads on television. You do not even need to talk to Muhajirs about their political views. All you need to do is stand on the sidewalk on II Chundrigar Road in Karachi at 9am on a weekday morning. Stand in front of any building and ask the young men and women going into those buildings just two questions: how much money do you make, and how much money do your parents make?

While you will meet many sons and daughters of comfortably middle class families, you will also meet the 24-year-old commercial banker at Bank Alfalah, making Rs40,000 a month, whose father is a rickshaw driver scraping by on Rs15,000 a month. You will meet a young accountant at PricewaterhouseCoopers whose parents own a fruit cart and barely make it above the poverty line. And you will meet the young lawyer whose father owns a small paan shop on a street corner in one of the many working class neighbourhoods of the city.

These young men and women have one thing in common: they have managed to secure a ticket out of their working class background into Pakistan’s rising and increasingly affluent middle class, and they did not need a government job to do so. Some, maybe even most, did not even need a government-subsidised education to get there either.

Why is this relevant to the MQM’s imminent death?

Because the fundamental premise that justified MQM’s existence in the first place was the notion that Muhajirs were being prevented from gaining access to economic opportunities by virtue of their ethnicity.

Muhajir resentment emerged in the early 70s when, after two decades of dominating the Civil Service of Pakistan, they were finally forced to make room for people from other ethnic groups in the country through the introduction of geographic quotas for government jobs. Of course, Muhajirs did not see it as an injustice being corrected: they had been raised to view other ethnic groups as unworthy cretins and saw this policy measure as the death of meritocracy.

Built on half-truths and lies though it was, that culture of resentment at least held some credence when the government was the dominant economic actor and the only paths to upward economic mobility relied on access to political patronage and a government job for yourself or for one of your family members. But as the economy liberalised in the early 90s onwards, there is now no longer just one path to the Pakistani upper middle class: there are many, and many of them are controlled by Muhajirs themselves.

In other words, the economic anxieties of the 70s that animated the rise of the MQM no longer exist. The fastest path to the upper middle class life in Pakistan is no longer through the government but through corporate Pakistan. The smartest students no longer want to attend the Pakistan Military Academy at Kakul on their way to becoming colonels and generals, nor Government College Lahore on their way to becoming DMG officers. They now want to attend LUMS and IBA on their way to becoming brand managers at Procter & Gamble and Unilever.

The government no longer controls access to economic opportunity through patronage, and so the democratic order no longer threatens Muhajir economic interests. It did when they relied on the disproportionate power in the civilian bureaucracy that was only possible through undemocratic control. The geographic quotas remain, but Altaf Hussain’s successors at the University of Karachi either no longer care, or are no longer threatened by them. Even if you want a government job as a Muhajir, there are now so few people applying from urban Sindh that the quotas perversely begin to work in your favour.

In short, Muhajirs no longer need the MQM to guard their narrow ethnic economic interests in the federal government because those interests no longer hinge around government jobs. Now they have a much wider set of economic interests and need a party that is interested in governing the country’s largest city and providing it with a functioning infrastructure.

Under the Musharraf Administration, it had briefly felt possible that the MQM could make the pivot from being the insurgents to being the responsible governing party. Then came the brilliant Pakistan People’s Party ploy in 2011 of using Zulfikar Mirza to make the MQM go back on the ethnic defensive, and all of a sudden the MQM’s evolution stood aborted. The party reverted to being the well-organised gang of thugs it always was.

Some observers, such as Zarrar Khuhro in the Herald, argue that the MQM needs to find a post-Altaf Hussain strategy to survive. While Khuhro’s analysis of the break-down of the MQM is very well laid out, I argue that no viable recovery strategy exists: Muhajirs want to revert to their pre-88 voting patterns of voting for national parties and in the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI), many of them have found one they can accept. If Imran Khan can stop being so painfully Lahore-centric, Karachi and Hyderabad are the PTI’s for the taking.

Meanwhile, the MQM will die. And there is nothing anybody can do to keep it alive. Not anymore.

This post originally appeared here.


Farooq Tirmizi

The author is an investment analyst. He tweets as @FarooqTirmizi (

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

  • Fahim

    Very well written but without government jobs this city can run but badly. If Pakistanis don’t get Public sector jobs then how much we can import government servants and from where ?Recommend

  • Farhan

    Sorry, the suburban affluent middle class utopia that the writer paints is restrained to I.I. Chundrigar road.

    After coming back from their air-conditioned corporate environments, these hapless souls have to drag themselves back to the likes of Gulshan, North Nazimabad, North Karachi and other areas over the dilapidated landscape of Karachi using whatever paved road they can find.

    They still have to worry about water and power woes, They still have to encounter lawlessness, decadence and indifference to their problems by an incumbent government. A government whom they cannot change or vote out because despite their numbers, they are underrepresented in Pakistan’s electoral landscape owing to a lack of census and appropriate allocation of seats.

    Moreover, the insistence of the writer on the death of MQM is premature. The emasculation of AH from power and rise of Farooq Sattar and/or other saner leaders was definitely something desired and discussed quietly among MQM and wider Muhajir circles for sometime now. An MQM guided by a saner and foresighted leadership is still not to be taken lightly.Recommend

  • Gopal

    Bullpucky in triplicate. YOU stepped into it.
    Muhajjirs want a separate province. For Urdu
    speakers, whose parents/grandparents migrated from India.
    One way or a another.. Or it will be Balochistan Two in Karachi,
    Thatta and Hyderabad, strongholds of the Muhajjirs.Recommend

  • Dan

    Any community anywhere regardless of the geography needs political representation. In absence of MQM who will represent urdu speakers? Imran Khan has always been biased against urdu speakers/ Karachi citizen. His past is shady enough to justify that claim as he destroyed careers of many aspiring young cricketers of KarachiRecommend

  • wb

    Correction: “Indian Muslims who came to Pakistan in 1947.”Recommend

  • wb

    But, why did you use a Hindu name for this topic? I can recognize you no matter what name you assume, like recognizing flatulence in any situation.Recommend

  • Khalid

    Great article. Very true.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    MQM should end now ….. Whoever talks against Pakistan, should go to HellRecommend

  • AntiChrist

    It’s about development of Karachi. Recommend

  • Acorn Guts

    Have you live in Karachi? probably not .. but I have for 18 years, and let me tell you that your ‘cousins’ are not angels like you’d like to paint them. I and my friends have witnessed their criminal activities firsthand so please spare us from your anti Pakistan rigmarole, we know the reality too well.

    Bottom line is that there is no Punjabi or Mohajar, this is an issue of extortionists, murderers, terrorists, political extremists vs peaceful citizens of Pakistan and nothing more.Recommend

  • Hassaan

    Criticize supposed ‘racism’ by being racist.. Ah the hypocrisy.
    But we Muhajirs are used to that by now, 30 years of my life and that’s all that I’ve seenRecommend

  • Beat the heat

    What a false and stupid comment!Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    A Mohajir just became Mayor of Pakistan from the Jail cell his Punjabi jailors had thrown him into. The author appears to be another clueless Punjabi.Recommend

  • Patwari

    Don’t worry about Pakistanis. They do not need a Banarsi Mulla from the
    polluted shores of the Ganga screeching about who is Pakistani.
    There are Dalits, Christians, Muslims, Indigenous ethnics in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Mizoram, Manipur, Laddakh, Kerala, and the King Kong in the room,….. Hindustani Occupied Kashmir. Worry about them,…first.
    Make sure your shadow does fall across a higher caste hindu. Now that,
    is a no no,..bad juju….bad karma. Just walk in circles, so your shadow keeps
    falling only on you….
    You savvy?Recommend

  • Sane

    I being a ‘Mohajir’ and my parents migrated from India. I do not have any grudge from Panjabis, Sindhi, Balochi, Pushtoons or any other ethnicity of Pakistan. We educated ourselves and did hard work to have a reasonable life style. Never wanted any kind of quota in education or job. This is Pakistan, our motherland that gave us the opportunity. Mohajirs are absolutely not a threatened ethnic group in Pakistan. Mohajirs sacrificed their lives and properties for Pakistan by leaving from India. Punjabis also have great contribution and sacrifices resulted in Pakistan. Sindhis, Balochis and Pushtoons and all those ethnicity living in Pakistan have their valuable role in creation of Pakistan.

    By the way my family is also among those who did not claim and get compensated against left properties in India.

    We are proud Pakistanis and we love our homeland PAKISTAN.Recommend

  • Sane

    Your comment shall over vehemently be appreciated/endorsed by Indian and all those who are enemy of our homeland PAKISTAN. By the way your comments are absolutely baseless.Recommend

  • AJ

    Well put Farhan!Recommend

  • GulSher

    Judging by your statement, shouldn’t you be at school (I’m guessing grade 9 or 10). It was around 12:30 pm there when you posted this comment.Recommend

  • GulSher

    Dear Cousin from India,
    We are all very content and happy in Pakistan, hope you could feel the joy of freedom in its true sense as we’ve been doing in Pakistan ever since my grandparents (mother’s side) moved here after partition. I will make dua for you to be guided to the truth.

  • Tanzeel Ahmad

    Specially signed in to appreciate your comment. You made it : )Recommend

  • Pakistan

    Its burial should not be delayed.Recommend

  • wb

    Well, I have 8 thumbs up on my comment of which at least 4 are Muslims. It’s possible that 7 are Muslims. So, there’s truth in what I wrote.Recommend

  • wb

    At least 4 Muslims have appreciated my comments. So, what I wrote is completely true.Recommend

  • wb

    I bunk classes all the time. By the way I’m in grade 7.Recommend

  • wb

    Stockholm Syndrome : feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of slaves towards a captors/masters.

    And that is neither freedom, nor joy.Recommend

  • wb

    Which Kashmiris? Shia? Sufi? Hindu? Sikh? Barelvi? Wahabi? Deobandi? Christian? Buddhist? Jain?

    And how will you fight?Recommend

  • wb

    He’s not Indian. He’s a Pakistani Sunni extremist who keeps changing his name to patwari, Golnath, Gopal, Rangoonwala, Lahorewala etc etc.

    He thinks that he can fool people by changing his name. Yes, he can fool Pakistanis, but I always spot him and expose him. We have a love connection between us.Recommend

  • Neelam Parvez

    Altaf Hussain is not a muslim and not a Pakistani. He ashmed for the whole life that he do this disgusting thing to his motherland.

  • Laskero

    Problem arose only in Karachi? What about Bangladesh, Balochistan and KPK? It seems like every other province has issues with Punjab’s hegemonyRecommend

  • stevenson

    You really think the absence of Urdu speakers is the reason for corruption in government and military structures? Corruption knows no ethnicity but it is improved by transparency. Then you need to ask yourself why there is more corruption in the government in India. I don’t think India is government by Sindi, Pashtun, Punjabi or Baluchi culture is it? It is unfair to tar any group with one brush but the reality is that the majority people everywhere will eventually reach a critical mass and enter the work force. Sindhis and other Pakistanis are getting educated so no group has a monopoly on education anymore. I am not for Jiya Sind party but I believe we need to promote fairness for people in interior Sind just like US promotes minorities in their schools and jobs – eg Hispanics and others. I think it is good that people like you live elsewhere and no need to worry about Pakistan and its future if you don’t like the native people there. Your ancestors may have moved to Pakistan but you can still move back to India if you think their culture has more respect for humanity. Just don’t be surprised by the caste violence, dalit treatment, daily rapes , not renting to Muslims etc that you will see in the that land where your ancestors seem to think they had humanity!Recommend

  • And guess what, they found it! Now you please stop oppressing the poor Indian Muslims who were left behind. Stop raping, killing, marginalizing, and converting them in your Hindu nationalist mania.Recommend

  • Your logic is plainly sillyRecommend

  • Pakistanis are killing Palestinians? what???Recommend

  • I don’t think MQM is dying, but don’t for a minute pretend that Urdu speakers are disenfranchised. They have been badly let down by MQM itself, which has had political power pretty much non-stop for a quarter century. It squandered that opportunity by building up it’s mafia-like structure and extorting from the city instead of delivering good governance. It’s high time Karachi walas held MQM accountable.Recommend

  • qt

    Well they have been in power for 20+ years in Karachi. it’s a big number to say that they are not the answer to the problem.Recommend

  • Saad

    The sad reality is that if there was no party representing the muhajir, the muhajir would be treated almost like Palestinians in Palestine if not the same. It is an unfortunate reality that ethnic racism still exists in the new generation.Recommend

  • qt

    So what this party representation has done for you in these 20 years or so? I am not ignorant as you might think about the whole issue but , but really very very pathetic ,lame and stupid thing to say my friend. I had to say that they had played mahajir mazlomiat card really well. Congratulations to them . many people think like you, but time is really changing.

    Many free souls also exists here . We are not burdened by any ethnic divide. (Please join us.). Who ever will good we will go for it.,it be pathan, punjabi , sindhi , balochi or anyone. ethnic divide do exists at many places in Pakistan but it doesn’t exist in our mind. and that’s the thing that really matters.periodRecommend

  • Sane

    Have you stopped killing in India? have you stopped rapes in your country? Have you stopped killing people for beef eating? Have you addressed around 60 freedom movements in your country? Have you liberated Indian occupied Kashmir and Khalistan? Have you clothed your population? Have you given food to your starving nation? Have you stopped atrocities and injustice to Dilats in India? Once you get free with all your problem, then only poke your nose in matter of others.Recommend