Month of the gun

I am 22 years old and it is hot across the country. I am on my way to Lahore. 

Just missed giving my exams at the Karachi University where I study at the University’s Political Science Department.

I am 22 years old with a history of being a staunch member of the leftist National Students Federation (NSF).

I am not liked at all by the 22 year olds running the Islami Jamiat Taleba’s dreaded “Thunder Squad” at the University.

On reaching Lahore I stay at the house of one of my mother’s closest cousins, who is married to the daughter of former Editor of Dawn, the late Ahmed Ali Khan.

I am 22 years old and quite a sight. I have a “revolutionary beard,” my hair is long, I wear a Che cap and malaangi bangles go kling klang whenever I move my hands and wrists. I am an early edition of what would become to be known as “Generation X” in the first half of the nineties, God bless Grunge.

May 1989 and the tyrant Zia-ul-Haq has died and we have Benazir Bhutto.  Not a rational reason then for a 22-year-old leftist to be running away to another city, now is it?

In February 1989 I got involved in a vicious gun battle between the student wing of Pakistan Peoples Party, (the PSF), and activists of the IJT at the hostel area of the Sindh Medical College.

The gun battle was intense. We just had a couple of shot guns and a few pistols (also two air guns, if I am not mistaken), while the IJT members send down volleys of bullets from their AK-47s and TT pistols. The fight is over a room at the hostel. Yes, a room. By early morning we’re pushed out.

Back at the University I was approached by an activist belonging to the APMSO, the student wing of the MQM (then called the Mohajir Qaumi Movement).

“The IJT has to be beaten at their own game,” he told me. 

The APMSO had armed itself because this was the only way it thought it could overcome the IJT’s tyrannical hegemony at the University. By May 1989 they had more or less succeeded.

Subsequently, I became one of the most vocal supporters amongst the time’s NSF leadership to strike an alliance with the APMSO. Politics of ideas was not working in sidelining the gun-trotting IJT thugs. So may as well join “secular” and “liberal” gun-trotting thugs?

But when on May 2, 1989, the APMSO began its long-winding and gory war with PSF, I took leave. Never managed to complete my Masters, I’m afraid.

In Lahore my mother’s cousin’s house was frequently visited in the evenings by a string of Lahore’s intelligentsia. Some of them arrived with a visiting American (lady) journalist.

Right away the whole lot went into a talk about violence in Karachi and, of course, synonymous with this was the mention of the MQM.

They went on and on and on.

“Gentlemen,” I politely interrupted. “May I add that you people have absolutely no idea about what is going on in Karachi and what the MQM is really about?”

There was a sudden, tense silence, thankfully broken by a wide smile from a Pindi based journalist: “Okay, young man then let’s hear it from you.”

And they did. The gist of it being: “The social and political dynamics of Karachi can never be understood with certain political constants that make up the political theories applied in the understanding of the politics of the rest of Pakistan.”

“Err .. let’s hear that again” said the American journalist. She also kept calling the MQM “fascist.”

“MQM are not a fascist party!” I continued. “It is just a party that came about at a time of great ethnic paranoia and a persecution complex that was ripe during the Zia era. It will always have a violent streak if and when it sees a situation where it finds its turf being attacked by other … mostly Punjab and Pukhtun based … groups. Yet, even though I am a Punjabi from my father’s side, I am a Karachiite and must tell those who do not live here that MQM will always win elections in this city and any attempt to curb its influence will always end in a bloody failure. if MQM is fascist, then I am afraid so is at least 70% of Karachi’s population. Are you calling me a fascist, lady?”

May 13, 2007

It is the day after Karachi bled. I am sitting in front of the television with my father, a long-time PPP supporter.  I tell him this year (again) I will accompany him and vote for the PPP. Then Mr. Ahtezaz Hassan’s press conference comes on the screen. In it he lashes out at the MQM.

“Oh, boy,” I say. My father looks at me.

“These guys,” I tell my father, “they still don’t know what Karachi is about.”

Mr. Ahsan, (though one of my favourite politicians), his talk reminded me of what I heard from all those wonderful intellectuals in Lahore in May 1989.

Then a Jamaat-e-Islami leader appears in a news clip and calls MQM fascist.

This guy I remember from the University. He used to visit that “Thunder Squad” guys a lot. So I burst out laughing. I tell my father: “If MQM is fascist, then I’m afraid so is at least 70% of Karachi’s population!”

My father smiled sarcastically: “It seems you wont be voting for the PPP anymore. Looks like you’ll be voting for the MQM?”

“Of course, not, papa.” I said. “Since when did fascists believe in voting?”  

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