Does Karachi belong to Imran Khan?

Published: March 14, 2018

Dirty politics may have darkened Karachi, but in the vacuum which exists today, Imran’s win could bring back the nostalgia people associate with the ‘City of Lights’. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ever since Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Chairman Imran Khan announced his intention to contest elections from Karachi, there has been rigorous debate on whether this is the right decision or not, and whether he actually has a shot at winning. Only time will tell if Imran can conquer Karachi or not. Nevertheless, this decision is a strong political move for the PTI, which is why the party should try to bolster its electability in the city before the upcoming general elections.  

The effect of Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification has undoubtedly subsided, mainly due to our voting class suffering from short-term memory loss. In any other country, a disqualified leader like Nawaz would not even secure 100 votes from any constituency. In Pakistani politics, however, Nawaz has been successful in pitching the narrative that he is a cornered tiger who will return again to serve the people of Pakistan. Perhaps, given Pakistan’s political situation, Imran needs to build a similar “filmy” narrative.

Despite being 100% accurate when it comes to the corruption entrenched in the Sharif dynasty, Imran still has not been able to significantly break into their vote bank. The way the Sharif brothers have deeply poisoned the bureaucracy and state machinery, it appears the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) will find its way back into power in the upcoming election. Without proper electoral reforms barring corrupt officials, it doesn’t seem likely for more members of the PML-N to jump ship anytime soon.

Thus, to start with, Imran needs to build on the narrative promoting him as a national leader, and for this purpose, the decision to contest from Karachi is wise. Nevertheless, this will be merely symbolic if additional steps are not taken alongside the decision. If we recall, when Zufiqar Ali Bhutto decided to enter the domain of Punjab, he mobilised some key figures in the province, such as Ghulam Mustafa Khar. In Imran’s case, he needs to mobilise more powerful figures in Sindh, because rural Sindh – bound by old roots responsible for the state it is in – has not, and will not vote on pure rationale.

For Karachi, both the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) have failed to solve the city’s problems, and its people are in search of an alternative. In the political vacuum created, the PTI has not been able to carve its space yet, due to displaying a lack of understanding when it comes to Karachi’s problems. Despite being an economic hub, Karachi easily seems underdeveloped when compared to Lahore and Islamabad. The water issue, for instance, is growing worse in Karachi by the day, and seeing Imran and his party take up such issues and provide workable solutions for the future of the city will go a long way to build their vote bank.

Furthermore, Imran also needs to display an understanding of the city’s ethnic dynamics. It is important the Urdu speaking community relate to him, and in this endeavour, mere anti-Nawaz rhetoric will not suffice. For years, this community has relied on the MQM for representation and the solution to their problems. Though I am not in favour of the MQM, one has to admit they were rather well organised when it came to running the city. The people of Karachi are now used to the unit system set up by the MQM, and the areas where the party still has a stronghold should be the ones Imran focuses on.

If the people of Karachi ever pinned their hopes on Imran, it was during the 2013 election, when the fear of MQM was at its peak and Altaf Hussain was commanding the reigns of the city. Since then, however, the scenario has changed almost entirely. Given the current state of the MQM, the community is now in need of a party for representation. Altaf is now a part of history, the MQM is split, and there is another contender in the market in the form of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Nonetheless, the people who previously voted for MQM still only look to those party workers as fit to represent their grievances.

As Imran focuses on his electability in Punjab to win the next election, he should do the same in Karachi in order to build his base, especially by targeting voters of the MQM. It may not be an easy task, but with the local PTI leadership having friendly ties with individuals like Faisal Subzwari, it will surely not be impossible. With increasing divisions in the MQM, and given their abysmal performance in the senate elections, the possibility of Imran unifying the “good” elements of MQM does not seem farfetched.

In an attempt to address more of Karachi’s issues, it is also necessary for Imran to gather support from the powerful trading community. One possible option could be to sign a resolution in which all the traders show confidence in Imran, and agree that if he ever comes into power from Karachi, the PTI will ensure no “bhatta” or extortion is allowed in the city. This has been a major issue in Karachi during the many decades spent under the MQM, with traders, fearing for their lives, paying the sum demanded. A commitment on this issue from the PTI will prove they are serious about the future of Karachi and protecting its citizens from harm.

Lastly, the recent jab made by Bilawal Bhutto, likening Imran to Altaf, indicates the PPP will be deploying the ‘Taliban’ card on Imran in the coming elections. Given the difference in ideology of both parties, Imran will have to lean more towards the left-wing if he is to achieve success in Karachi. Everyone is aware of how poorly right-wing parties, such as Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), have performed in Karachi, mainly because its people are generally more progressive and liberal. The upscale areas, Defence and Clifton in particular, are more of a PPP stronghold, and completely different from the MQM areas. Thus, changing his tone and reclaiming the urban crowd (which he has lost since the 2013 elections), will be necessary if Imran is to win Karachi.

The Karachi of the 70s can be remembered as the Paris of South Asia, as people came here from all over the globe to enjoy its modern festivities and educational advancements. The politics of a certain party may have darkened Karachi, but in the vacuum which exists today, Imran’s win could bring back the nostalgia people associate with the “City of Lights.

If Imran starts a campaign promising to revive Karachi and bring back the city of old, this vision of a modern and developed Karachi will surely appeal to the entire city, including the elite. However, to win Karachi, the PTI will need a dedicated team and a solid campaign more than anything. True youth empowerment, like the tsunami he promised years ago, where big names are overshadowed by a massive city-wide movement, is the need of the hour. This is essential to revolutionise Karachi and ensure a win for Imran and his PTI, particularly because the 2018 elections could truly deliver the change he promised years ago.

Ahsan Warsi

Ahsan Warsi

The author is an entrepreneur based in Dubai. He is a well wisher of Pakistan and dreams to see Pakistan as one of the greatest nations in the world. He tweets @ahsanwarsi (

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

  • Shakir Lakhani

    Imran Khan should stay away from Karachi. His party will not win a single seat in the city, unless he allies with the PPP (as he did in the recent Senate elections).Recommend

  • sterry

    Funny that you talk about revitalizing and bringing Karachi back to prosperity but you conveniently forget that Pakistan has gotten back on track with the current government. Look at its economic growth and stability over the past few years. There is less terrorism, crime and numerous infrastructure projects and of course CPEC. By the way the voting class doesn’t suffer from short term memory loss but instead they see the ground reality which is overall improvement after so many years of decline. They understand that an elected Prime Minister was removed from office due to politically motivated legal moves by bought off judges – oh he didn’t declare 3000 dollars from his son’s business so is not sadiq and ameen! Give me a break. You may fall for that but the general public sees through these games and wants to see a prosperous and developing Pakistan. Look at what Shahbaz Sharif has accomplished in Punjab with Metrobus- after years of calling it Janglabus U turn Khan is now making the same Metrobus in Peshawar ( more expensive and borrowing money from the Asian Development Bank) so the people of Karachi need to seriously look at their options. If they want the development and long term planning that the PML N has used to put Pakistan back on the right track, they should vote PML N ( Nawaz Sharif or not) and forget about U turn Khan who will only deliver negativity, dharnas name calling, copying others policies and nothing of substance.Recommend

  • WhiteAndScaredOfEverything

    This paper is unabashed politicized.Recommend

  • Khurram

    Really? You call artificial over valuation of rupee a great economic policy! Wow, such policies can be expected when economists like you are part of the government.
    Long term planning? Certainly to a narrow mind person the Green line BRT must seem like an all stakeholders plan but, everybody knows the project is going to be wreaking a havoc and to no benefit. Poor bus users cannot afford to pay 20 rupees from Surjani to Saddar, do you think they are foolish enough to use an AC bus for 50 PKR and end up getting out at radio Pakistan, only to pay additional 20 PKR for a bus bound for tower? Pah, foolish baldy felled the trees for nothing. Such oddities may be seen as development by one side thinkers like you but, to masses the BRT has been a pain since it started.

    Finally, you say Lahore is better developed and getting even more better, tell that to the Lahoris’, who are shifting to Karachi for good future prospects. Silly, the ecological environment in Lahore and once lush green Islamabad has deteriorated and is getting even worse, Karachi cannot afford this because already it is under a lot of stress from the population concentration from across the Pakistan and the felling of trees shall leave us gasping for clean air in the near future.Recommend

  • abidawaan

    the writer has mentioned genuine issues of Karachi which require attention but Imran Khan is not expected to solve such issues as he did not solve issues in KPK for the poor public at all. He wanted to build a nation but he only built a crowd who knows nothing but to abuse the opponents.Recommend

  • abidawaan

    you missed one thing. N league never gives tickets to anyone in karachi. it can only win when it appoints candidates there. N league can make it I am sure if it extends its effort in other provinces than only punjab.Recommend

  • Tariq Amir

    “Without proper electoral reforms barring corrupt officials, it doesn’t seem likely for more members of the PML-N to jump ship anytime soon.” This sentence shows your understanding of politics and your deep bias against PMLN, due to PTI propaganda.Recommend

  • sterry

    I don’t know what world you live in but maybe you have to read some impartial international reports from financial houses or media outside of Pakistan – try the New York Times or Standard & Poors or Finches. They all seem to think that the Pakistani economy is picking up and things are looking better. Maybe you disagree with independent Western analysts but the ground reality is that Pakistan is better now than it has been in ages – remember the dark days ( no pun intended) of Musharraf and his decade dictatorship when everything was bleak and down – not only with terrorism. Finally there is an upturn in the economy. Cities in Punjab whether Multan, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi, Gujranwala and Lahore are doing better due to the management of Shahbaz Sharif but over CPEC is poised to improve the lot of the entire nation. If local people don’t want the Green Line, they should work to cancel it or suggest something better but at least with this government things in transit will be addressed or folks can just leave things as they are – the status quo. If people from other parts of Pakistan move to where Karachi or Gwader for economic prospects, that’s the right of all Pakistanis – I don’t think native Sindis and Baluchis would object any more than the people who have moved to Punjab to escape past violence in Karachi. Pakistan is the home of all Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Ali S

    Karachi needs a third option as a grassroots alternative to MQM. PPP is a tried and tested failure and PTI cares only about the crown which is in Punjab. Above all, an empowered local body government (with funding allocated to every UC) is absolutely critical for the day-to-day functioning of a city as large and economically vital as Karachi.Recommend

  • Zahid

    IK did not do anything in KP? Its pretty clear you are biased towards great Khan. IK has brought in many positive changes in KP and it would be the first time in KP history that they re-elect the same political party twice in a row…Recommend

  • waqas

    PTI can clinch a seat if it focuses on Karachi, Imran khan never ignored Karachi. He came to karachi five times but people karachi vote based on ethnicity. its same with interior sindh. There are all ethnic votes. Sindh is not like KPK or Punjab where people vote based on narrative and performance. You have to understand that. The same goes for interior Sindh. How did Imran ignore Karachi when you guys never gave him the chance to get elected? Go to downtown Karachi as anyone . All they say is we dont care about anyone, they will only vote based on ethnic grounds even when they know that MQM and PPP have looted Pakistan. Sorry to say but you analysis is very wrongRecommend

  • waqas

    Have you heard the MQM slogan: Manzil nahee rehnuma chayai”? They dont care about corruption, they will vote for an Urdu speaking person and Sindhis will vote for Sindh. its the sad but bitter truth. Look at KPK . PMLN has won seats. PPP has won seats. PTI has won seats. In KPK, the people remove their leader after every termRecommend

  • waqas

    This is from an urdu speaking person who has lived in karachi most of his lifeRecommend

  • waqas

    For gods sake stop mixing mqm with Urdu speaking . this the problem with Karachi . they think mqm means Urdu speaking . vote for national parties. Recommend