Karachi: A War Zone for Black Flags
By Syed Kamran Hashmi
Westfield, IN
“So tell me, are you going to donate the animal
hides at this Eid to Imran Khan?” I asked my Hafiz-e-Qur’an nephew, who is a
21-year-old, shy, college student in Karachi. I knew he typically stayed away
from active politics but I thought I should inquire about his predilections. In
my opinion, he possessed all the characteristics of a Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf
(PTI) supporter: a middle-class, educated, urban young man with some religious
“No, not at all, instead, we intend to help the ‘Bhai log’,” he
said with a smile on his face, obviously referring to the Muttahida Qaumi
Movement (MQM).
I was taken aback by my nephew’s response as I was visiting
Pakistan after many years, thinking of a mega ‘tsunami’ and having an entirely
different opinion of the younger generation. Before his response, I was certain
he would name a party with at least some religious inkling like the PTI,
Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz or Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). Traditionally, the JI had
a large support base in Karachi, but to my surprise, he did not favor any one of
them; instead, he was in support of an ethnic political party.
“Are you
afraid of the Bhai log since you live in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, the center of their
political strength?” This was my way of asking him if he had already been
approached by the unit in-charge of the area or his associates and been harassed
by them. My nephew clearly understood the undertones of my question, and with a
smile on his face again, he denied all kinds of threats.
“What would happen
if they showed up at your door step, asking for the animal skin and you refused
to hand it over to them?” I had decided to nail him down with my pointed
questions by asking him directly and trying to unearth his ‘fears’. “Nothing
will happen to us; we have never donated to them in the past and they probably
know this too,” he said plainly. The discussion was not going in the direction I
wanted to take it. I was eagerly waiting for an opportunity to bash MQM but this
young kid was not giving me an opening.
Based on my assessment of the
political situation in Karachi from outside, he should have been extremely
nervous, unable to formulate a response to express his fears, and petrified to
share his concerns about the safety of our family. Nevertheless, to my
disappointment, he did not sound frightened at all.
“Are you going to vote
for them too?” I asked him angrily and in disbelief. “Obviously, yes,” he
responded confidently. This could not happen to me, my heart said to me; my own
family member could not be supporting a ‘fascist organization’.
“Only they can deliver in Karachi,” he continued, referring to the five-year
term of Mustafa Kamal as the mayor of the largest city of Pakistan in which the
MQM had initiated and completed more than 100 projects of public interest.
that time, we were entering the Liyari Express, an incomplete, one-lane bypass
route that connects the main city and the seaport with the Super Highway in
Sohrab Goth. “You would know the difference on our way back from the city when
it will take you two hours on the local roads instead of 20 minutes on the
expressway,” he said. “If the MQM had been in power for another six months, this
project would have been completed that has been deliberately left unfinished for
the last four years.” He sounded proud of their performance, especially in
building the infrastructure of Karachi. On the other hand, I was running out of
patience. I had to blurt out my anger and confront him about the rationale
behind the target killings and land grabbing mafias, both allegedly sponsored by
the MQM.
“So why would you help an organization that is the most violent
among all political parties?” I could not restrain myself any more. “You are
right about the ‘political parties’, but what about the ‘non-political’
parties?” my nephew questioned me, referring to the organized criminal gangs
surreptitiously sponsored by many mainstream political parties, in addition to
the increasing sectarian violence in the city lead by the non-political
Taliban-minded Sunni extremists.
To validate his point further, the young man
brought something surprising to my attention: “Did you notice those black flags
on the rooftops of most of the apartment complexes in Sohrab Goth before we
entered the Expressway? Just a few years ago they used to be mostly red; but
they have been replaced recently.”
I knew he was talking about the Taliban
and the Awami National Party (ANP) black and red flags respectively. Without
knowing their significance at that time, I remembered I had observed miles-long
series of apartment buildings covered by black flags on both sides of the Super
“Do you know what the future of Karachi is?” my nephew asked me
this time, and went on to answer his own question as if he was talking to
himself. “Everyone has to lay down his arms; political or not, regardless of the
ethnic backgrounds, we all agree on that. But the real future of the city rests
in the hands of the state if she wants to seriously solve the problem with a
single, fathomable strategy against extremism that has bewitched Pakistan from
Khyber to Karachi,” he said. “Or be ready for the black flags from the north to
the south.”
(The writer is a US-based freelance columnist and can be reached
at [email protected] )