Posts Tagged ‘Demography of Karachi’



By Zia Ur Rehman

July 4, 2014

Sindh’s nationalist parties and civil society organizations have raised concern over the influx of the people displaced by the North Waziristan military offensive in the province where migrants – both local and foreign – are already common. They fear that large-scale migration of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) would alter the already disturbed ethnic balance of Karachi.

A migrant Pashtun boy points an imaginary machine gun at his friend, in their neighbourhood on the outskirts of Karachi

Protest demonstrations and rallies have been carried out by Sindhi ethnic political parties and civil society groups in various towns and cities against allowing the IDPs in the province. Sources familiar with the political developments in this regard say various Sindhi nationalist parties – which have so far been carrying out their own protests – are likely to form an alliance to pressure the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the ruling party in Sindh province, to withdraw its decision of allowing IDPs in the province.

The Sindh government had initially announced that the IDPs of North Waziristan would not be allowed to migrate to the province, but before long, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah withdrew the earlier decision.

“Our rulers have turned Sindh into orphanage,” said Dilshad Bhutto, a central leader of Sindh National Party. “Because of that, Sindhis have become minority in their own motherland.” He said that the resettlement of the displaced people from North Waziristan in Sindh would change the demography of the province in a way that would hurt Sindhis.

“We are not ready to sacrifice our identity,” said Majid Khaskheli, a leader of Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz, another Sindhi nationalist party, warning that any forced settlement by the government would meet a strong resistance from residents of the province.

In 1947, Sindhis were 60% of Karachi’s population, but today they are no more than seven percent. Sindhi nationalist leaders say that at the time of partition, a majority of migrants were settled in Sindh, which has changed demography of the province. As a result, the land that did not see any riots even during Partition, is now in the grip of violence.

Tracing the history of immigration in Sindh, Manzoor Solangi, an editor of a Sindhi newspaper, said that the British first settled Punjabis from Potohar region in Sindh in 1899, to counter the Hur Movement in the region. Migrants from India in 1947, followed by migrants from Bangladesh in 1971, from Afghanistan in 1978 and from Iran in 1979 because of the revolutions there have changed the demography of Karachi, and therefore the entire Sindh.

“Every Pakistani has a right to move from one part of the country to another”

Karachi Police chief Ghulam Qadir Thebo believes more than 2 million undocumented migrants from Afghanistan, Myanmar, and Bangladesh live in the Karachi, a city of around 22 million people. Also, in the last decade, tens of thousands of families from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and FATA moved to Sindh because of an increasing influence of the Taliban and the continuous military operations.

Solangi said that the PPP’s local leadership understands the sentiments of Sindhi nationalist parties and civil society groups over migration issues. But their central leadership, which believes in federal politics, cannot take the criticism they expect if they stop the IDPs from settling in Sindh.

A PPP parliamentarian said the government could not stop the IDPs from entering the province because every Pakistani has a right – guaranteed by the constitution of Pakistan – to move from one part of the country to another of their own free will. But transporters complain that police personnel harass Pashtun passengers coming in from various parts of the country at the Sindh-Punjab border, including those passengers who are not even from North Waziristan.

Security officials believe that along with the IDPs, many Taliban militants also migrated to Karachi. Over years, Karachi has witnessed three factions of the TTP taking control of a number of Pashtun neighborhoods of the city and exert their influence in many others.  Background interviews with police officials and Awami National Party leaders reveal that a number of the TTP militants came to Karachi in the guise of IDPs and then organized their network in the city. Now, they are killing Pashtun elders and police officials, and forcing Pashtun traders to pay large sums of extortion money.

Tribal elders of North Waziristan say the IDPs of North Waziristan are not likely to migrate to Karachi anyway. “The two main tribes of Waziristan – Utmanzai Wazir and Dawar – do not have any relatives or community in Karachi and Sindh,” said Malak Ghulam Khan Madakhel, an Utmanzai Wazir tribal elder. “They would prefer to migrate to Bannu, Lakki Marwat, Kohat, Peshawar and Rawalpindi. It is now up to the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa governments how they deal with the displaced people.”

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By Zia Ur Rehman

April 06-12, 2012

On March 23, when the entire country was celebrating the 72nd anniversary of the Pakistan Resolution, Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) – a Sindhi nationalist party led by Bashir Khan Qureshi – staged a rally in Karachi for ‘the independence of Sindh’.

A similar call for Sindh’s independence was made by another ethnic party – the Jeay Sindh Tehrik (JST) headed by Dr Safdar Sarki – at a similar rally held at the same venue on March 15.

Although leaders at the two rallies demanded freedom for Sindh, political analysts say they were meant to show the strength of these parties in Karachi.

“In general, ethnic parties are becoming very popular in Sindh,” said Imdad Soomro, a senior Sindhi journalist. “The important thing is that the number of people who attend such rallies is increasing exponentially in Karachi.”

Ethnic parties are becoming popular in the entire Sindh province, but the number of people who attend their rallies in Karachi has increased exponentially

“It is not only because of the failure of the Pakistan People’s Party-led government to address the issues of Sindhis,” he added. “The groups have gained strength after they began to oppose demands for a separate Mohajir province in Sindh.”

The demand of a Mohajir province has been made time and again in the past, but it had so far not been seen as a serious threat by the Sindhi ethnic groups.

Although the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a party seen as representing Mohajirs, has denied supporting the demand in the past, a two-page pamphlet distributed by mourners at the March 31 funeral of MQM activists killed in the recent political violence in Karachi called for a new Mohajir province.

Before that, the Mohajir Sooba Tehreek, a little known group, held a rally at the Karachi Press Club on March 6. It sent out emails to news organizations and wrote slogans on the city’s walls.

On March 9, the Sindh Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning the campaign for the Mohajir province and asked the government to find out who was behind it.

Days later, five members of the provincial assembly who had been particularly critical of the campaign received threatening letters from a previously unknown ‘Mohajir Sooba Liberation Army’. All of the legislators belonged to the PPP and one of them was a provincial minister.

MQM leaders, especially its chief Altaf Hussain, have repeatedly stated that they have nothing to do with the campaign and do not want the division of Sindh. “The abhorrent wall chalking demanding a Mohajir province is not the issue of Urdu speaking people,” said Syed Jalal Mehmood Shah, chief of Sindh United Party and grandson of prominent political leader GM Syed. “It is a matter of the PPP and MQM trying to blackmail each other.”

Ayaz Latif Palijo, head of the Awami Tehrik, accused the MQM of wanting to separate Karachi from the rest of the province at the behest of the US. “The city occupies a strategic position on the Arabian Sea and serves as the gateway to Afghanistan and Russia,” he said. “After handing over of Hong Kong to China and closing of Bandar Abbass port by the Iranian regime, the United States is eyeing the Karachi port for access to the natural resources of Afghanistan and Central Asia and for controlling the region.”

In a video message on March 29, Altaf Hussain criticized Sindhi ethnic leaders for making provocative statements against Mohajirs and warned them of the consequences.

Some Sindhi ethnic groups fear large-scale migration of internally displaced people from the northwest into Karachi had disturbed the ethnic balance of the city.

“Sindh has become an international orphanage where refugees not only from within the country but also from the neighboring countries including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma are coming to settle. Because of that, Sindhis are on the verge of turning into a minority in their own province,” said Afzal Chandio, a participant of the March 23 JSQM rally.

In 1947, Sindhis were 60% of Karachi’s population, but are now no more than seven percent. “At that time of partition, a majority of the migrants settled in Sindh and that has changed the demography of the province. Resultantly, the land which did not see any riots during partition is in the grip of violence,” said Chandio, who is also a student leader at Sindh University.

Sindhi student organizations complain students from rural Sindh are not admitted to Karachi’s main academic institutions, especially Karachi University. PPP MPA Humaira Alvani told the Sindh Assembly on February 22 that admissions were denied to Sindhi students because KU only admits students who either belong to Karachi or have studied in the city before.

Sindhi parties have concentrated their political activities in Karachi’s Sindhi dominated areas. Karachi Sindhi Shehri Ittehad, a city-level political alliance, was formed on March 31. “Sindhis are the indigenous people of the city and it is high time Sindhi leaders come out and focus on Karachi,” said Ali Hassan Chandio, who heads Sindh National Movement. A large number of Sindhis whose permanent address was in Karachi were missing from the city’s voter lists, he complained. Other leaders complain Sindhis are politically underrepresented, or have been deliberately kept backwards by the MQM-run city government.

The recent floods in the province and lack of employment opportunities have compelled a large number of rural Sindhis to move to Karachi, and that has changed the political reality in the city.

Sindhi ethnic parties have also announced they will contest the next elections from all over Sindh from the platform of Sindh Progressive Nationalist Alliance. Palijo said the aim was to send middleclass grassroots leaders to the parliament.

Since the parties generally represent the middle class, analysts say the decision would affect the coming elections.

“They have no representation in the parliament because they didn’t believe in parliamentary politics in the past,” Soomro said, “but the entire province comes to a standstill when they call a strike.”

The Friday Times Logo

By Zia Ur Rehman

2-8 September, 2011

On August 17, Amjad Peshawari’s body was found in a sack in Nazimabad. “He was a tailor’s apprentice and had nothing to do with politics,” his sister said. “They killed him because he was a Pashtun.”

Amjad was among about 200 people killed in violence since the beginning of August, and among more than 1,400 people killed for political or ethnic reasons this year so far.

As ethnic tensions in the Karachi increase, a large number of those killed, according to statistics, are Pashtuns. Dozens of shops and restaurants that belonged to Pashtuns were set on fire.

Karachi hosts the largest urban Pashtun population that surpasses Peshawar, Quetta and Kandahar. Migration of Pashtuns from the northwest to Karachi began during Ayub Khan’s regime, when the economic boom and rapid industrialisation created new opportunities of employment, especially in the construction, textile and transport sectors. The hardworking Pashtuns were ready to take the low-wage jobs that the locals did not want. This was because of a lack of economic opportunities in their own province. The Pashtun contributed significantly to the economy of Karachi through labour, petty jobs and small trade. There were about 1.3 million Pashtuns in the city at the time of the 1998 census – 14 percent of the city’s entire population.



But the demography changed as new Pashtun migrants arrived from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Tribal Areas in the 2000s, particularly because of the 2005 earthquake and counter-insurgency operations from 2007 to 2011. According to new estimates, Pashtuns are now 22 percent of Karachi’s population. The changes in demography also change the political realities in the city.

Karachi has a history of urban ethnic violence which has increased since 2007. Relations between Mohajirs (Urdu speaking ethnic community) and Pashtuns have remained tense. Pashtuns mostly live in western and eastern parts of city including Sohrab Goth, Mingophir, SITE Town, Qasba Colony, Landhi Insdustrial Area, Korangi Industrial Area, Kemari, Baldia Town, Sultanabad and Pipri.

Experts believe that long ignored mass migration and settlement patterns resulted in a serious societal breakdown, leading to even serious conflict. Dr Marvin Weinbaum, a researcher at the Middle East Institute, says the Pashtuns have often left the Tribal Areas to seek their fortune in Pakistan’s economic hub Karachi, and this migration has made the Mohajirs very uneasy. “Here we have two very different cultures coming into contact with one another and again fighting over scarce resources, fighting for turf,” Weinbaum said in an interview with the Voice of America. “And a lot of it, then and now, continues to be in the category of simple criminality, which gets an ethnic patina on it.”

Arif Hasan, a prominent urban planner, believes that the failure of state institutions, bad governance and ethnicisation of politics are key factors that fuel ethnic violence and tensions in the city and strengthen ethnic political groups. “Because of the collapse of the state institutions, ethnic political groups are consulted for employment or admissions in educational institutions, and other administrative issues. As a result, these ethnic parties exploit ethnic communal support for political and personal interests,” he said.

Pashtuns, despite being second largest ethnic community, are politically underrepresented and have been kept backwards by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)-led district and provincial governments, complains Shahi Syed, president of Awami National Party (ANP) in Sindh. The discrimination against Pashtuns in Karachi was exacerbated during Gen Pervez Musharaf’s regime when he completely handed over Karachi and Hyderabad to the MQM, he alleged. “The fight in Karachi is not the fight of Pashtuns or ANP. It is a fight for control of Karachi by MQM that says Karachi and Hyderabad are theirs and no one else’s,” he claims. “According to the 1973 constitution, every Pakistani can live and do business in every city of the country. He accuses MQM of running a propaganda calling all Pashtuns Taliban. “They want this myth to be perpetuated to rid Karachi of Pashtuns.”

Karachi’s Pashtuns have traditionally aligned themselves with religious parties, but in the last few years the ethnic-based ANP has successfully projected itself as sole representative of the community.

“Rejecting the ethno-lingual politics of the ANP, Pashtuns of Karachi had voted for religious parties in 2002 general elections and Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA) had four Pashtun members in Sindh Asssembly and one in the National Assembly from Karachi,” said Ishaq Khan, a Pashtun leader of Jammat-e-Islami (JI), who heads the party in Karachi’s Pashtun-dominated west district. He said the ANP won two seats from Karachi this time because of an arrangement with the Pakistan People Party, and because the JI boycotted the polls.

“Of the victims of violence, around 75 percent were Pashtuns who had nothing to do with armed gangs or ANP but were killed only for basis of ethnicity,” he said.

The violence of on May 12, 2007 was a key event in Karachi’s ethnic history when dozens of Pashtuns – who wanted to welcome then-deposed chief justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry – were killed. ANP’s support increased after that.

“Ethnic riots and violence did take place between 1985 and 1988, but our leaders met and reached a conclusive peace accord,” says a former leader of ANP. He said (late) Wali Khan and Altaf Hussain wanted to end ethnic violence between the two communities and they did end it at that time. But the two parties are not ready to negotiate a new truce right now.

MQM outrightly rejects ANP’s claims. It also insists it does not represent only Mohajirs. “Pashtuns don’t have economic clashes with Mohajirs. It is a wrong perception,” Gul Faraz Khattak, a Pashtun member of Rabita Committee of MQM, said in an interview. “Not all Pashtuns support the ANP. Some elements fuel ethnic violence in the city to protect their illicit businesses.” Khattak said MQM was interested in talked to the ANP if that could end ethnic violence, but the ANP leadership is not interested.

Abdul Waheed, an Asoka fellow and a social activist working in education sector in Katti Pahari, one of the areas worst hit by violence, said things were worsening. “Internal migration within the city has started because of ethnic violence and people are under pressure to sell property and move to the neighbourhoods where their ethnic community is in majority,” he said.

“Hospitals, schools and roads are now segregated on ethnic grounds and people are reluctant to go to the neighbourhoods where rival ethnic groups live,” Waheed said. “People are just being picked off the streets and killed because of their ethnic background.”

A number Pashtuns are abandoning the city, leaving behind their property and businesses. “It was very difficult for me to stay in Karachi any longer,” said Arshad Ali, a resident of Nusrat Bhutto Colony in Karachi. “I could not go to work and my children could not go to school.” Arshad has moved his family back to Swat. Many like him are thinking of doing the same. The only problem is, there are no jobs back home.

The writer is a journalist and a researcher who works on militancy and human rights. He can be contacted at


Weekly Friday Times , July 15-21, 2011

Karachi’s system of governance has long ignored mass migration and settlement patterns that resulted in a serious societal breakdown

Karachi is in the throes of violence yet again. More than 120 people have been killed and dozens others injured in the recent spate of violence that began on July 5. In addition, around 1,138 people have been killed between January and June 2011, of which 490 were target killed on political, ethnic and sectarian basis, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s (HRCP) recent statistics revealed. Observers say Karachi is becoming another Mogadishu.

Karachi is not only the largest metropolis of Pakistan and its commercial hub, it is also known as a ‘mini-Pakistan’ because of the ethnic and religious diversity of its population. The city has a history of urban ethnic and sectarian violence and there has increased since 2007. Now, conflicts in Karachi generally erupt over ethnic issues and the struggle for power and resources in the city. Relations between Mohajirs (Urdu speaking community that migrated at the time of Partition) and other ethnic communities (including Pashtuns, Sindhis and the Baloch) have remained tense.

Some analysts have said the recent violence in Karachi is a result of clashes between gangs involved in drug trade, land grabbing, extortion and gunrunning, under cover of political parties. But there are clear signs it is being fuelled by ethnic and sectarian tensions, political fragmentation, economic disparity, mass migration that rapidly changes the demography of the city, and bad governance.

During the last 10 years, mass influx of Pashtuns and Sindhis to Karachi owing to military operations and the recent flooding has changed the political realities in the city. Farrukh Saleem, an Islamabad-based political analyst, thinks Karachi’s system of governance has long ignored mass migration and settlement patterns which resulted in a serious societal breakdown, leading to even more serious conflict.

With a Pashtun population ranging from 4 to 5 million according to an estimate, Karachi is now considered the world’s Pashtun capital. After 50 years of economic migration from Khyber Pakhtukhwa and FATA, there was a new wave of displaced Pashtuns moving into Karachi particularly after military operations in the north. That has changed the demographic equation.

Pashtuns are about 25% of Karachi’s population and around 15% of the entire population of Sindh. Karachi’s Mohajir population stands somewhere between 7 and 9 million – about 45% of the total population of the city, and about 23% of the population of Sindh.

Of the 168 seats in Sindh Assembly, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), representing the Mohajir population, has 50. The Awami National Party (ANP), representing the Pashtun population, has only two seats. “Based on demographics, the Pasthuns of Karachi could have up to 25 seats in the provincial assembly, but they have only two,” Saleem wrote in The News.

According to Ismail Mehsud, an ANP leader in Karachi, Pashtuns are politically underrepresented and have been deliberately kept backwards by the district government run by the MQM. They had now started fighting for their rights, he said.

Sindhi nationalist parties have their own fears. They have expressed concerns that large-scale migration of IDPs would alter the already disturbed ethnic balance of the city.

“Sindh has become an international orphanage where refugees not only from within the country but also from the neighbouring countries including India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma are coming to settle. Because of that, Sindhis are on the verge of turning into a minority in their own province,” said a leader of Jeay Sindh Mahaz.

In 1947 Sindhis were 60% of Karachi’s population, but today they are no more than seven percent, he said.

The Baloch, who are among the indigenous population of Karachi, express similar fears. Lyari, one of the 18 towns of Karachi, is a Baloch majority area. It is considered one of the most neglected in terms of state-funded development in education, health, sanitation and employment, residents complain.

“From the beginning, the establishment’s policy is to keep the Baloch of Lyari hooked on drugs and other criminal activities because the residents of the area are staunch supporters of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP),” said Habib Jan Baloch, a PPP leader from Lyari. The radicalisation of these ethnic grievances is the cause of violence in the city, he said.

In a proxy war over control of Lyari, the PPP and the MQM are said to support armed gangs of criminals – the People’s Aman Committee (PAC) and the Arshad Pappu Group. This has often caused Baloch-Mohajir ethnic clashes, according to police officials in Lyari.

The MQM accuses the government of supporting criminals who target its supporters. “We are not afraid of any demographic changes happening due to the mass influx of IDPs in Karachi. Our party is now also becoming popular among Pashtun and Baloch people,” said an MQM legislator.

The PPP government’s recent move to revive the old commissionerate system has also angered the MQM as it will lose control not only of Karachi but also Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas. “The local bodies system was introduced during Pervez Musharaf’s dictatorship at the MQM’s behest, to weaken the PPP,” Habib Jan Baloch said. “There was immense pressure on the PPP leadership by the people of Sindh to abolish the system.”

The move has also resulted in renewed calls for making Karachi a province of Mohajirs. “The PPP’s one-sided move has created ethnic divisions in the city,” MQM leader Waseem Aftab told reporters. “These measures are forcing people to call for making Karachi a Mohajir province where they could get their rights.”

Analysts say the ghettoisation of Karachi along ethnic lines is the main reason behind the increase in violence in the city. It will be impossible to bring peace in the city without strengthening the administrative capacity of the government to deal with the change in the demographics and addressing the fears it gives rise to.

Zia Ur Rehman is a journalist and a researcher based in Karachi