MQM, Sindh and Quota System

Urdu speaking immigrants (Mohajirs) migrated to Pakistan in 1947 from different geographical regions, linguistic groups and ethnic communities of India. As such, the imperialist position that ethnicity is a product of common history, language, territory and tradition does not explain the mohajir movement. As for the instrumentalist approach, it focuses on the activist dimensions of an ethnic movement including its organizational profile, strategy of mass mobilization and political agenda. However, the two core variables of the instrumentalist approach, i.e., elite competition and state policies are problematic in this context. First, the Muttehda Qoumi Movement's (MQM) movement is typically non-elite. Most of the MQM’s party ideologues, campaign organizers, and other activists belong to lower middle class. Secondly, the centrality of the state policies for explaining the mohajir phenomenon has to be considered with great caution, especially as some analysts have actually applied this model to previous ethnic movements in Pakistan. In a typical third world country, state’s policies do not incorporate large sectors of public and private activity where patterns of interaction at the local level create new interpersonal, inter-sectoral and inter-ethnic conflicts. In the case of mohajir nationalism, a whole series of changes ranging from regional developments such as the Afghanistan war to indigenous revival in Punjab and Sindh defy an explanatory model based on state policies.

A majority of migrants came from East Punjab and settled in West Punjab. They got relatively assimilated with the native population within a generation. On the other hand, Urdu speaking mohajirs came from areas further east, south and west in India and settled mainly in urban Sindh. They remained largely UN-assimilated with the local population even after two generations. Unlike in Punjab, refugees in Sindh defied integration in the local society because of their linguistic, cultural and historical remoteness from Sindhis. These differences were patterned along sectorial lines. 63.9 percent of refugees in Sindh lived in urban areas, 86.16 percent in Hyderabad district and 71 percent in Sukkhur. In Karachi, there were only 14.28 percent speakers of Sindhi in 1951 as opposed to 58.7 percent who spoke Urdu as their mother tongue. Thus, Karachi overnight became a mohajir city. The government of Pakistan carved the city out of Sindh in July 1948. It became a federally administered area as capital of Pakistan. The process of refugee rehabilitation in Karachi and Sindh generally remained far from satisfactory. Even in 1954, i.e. 7 years after partition, no less than 2,40,000 out of a total of 7,50,000 refugees in Karachi were still to be rehabilitated. While in Punjab, immigration had virtually stopped in 1948, in Sindh it continued even after the passport and visa system was introduced for travel between India and Pakistan. About 1,00,000 refugees from India continued to come to Pakistan each year, with a majority belonging to ‘urban classes’ who generally came straight to Karachi. This created an immense problem of settlement, which in turn led to gross frustration among refugees.

The Urdu speaking population not only dominated politics and bureaucracy but also business. The Gujrati-speaking migrants from Bombay in India, especially Memon, Bohra and Khoja communities, were in the vanguard of industrialization in Pakistan. Gujrati speaking mohajirs controlled seven of the twelve largest industrial houses. In 1972, when Bhutto nationalized industries in ten leading sectors including electrical engineering, petrochemicals, iron and steel as well as rudimentary automotive assembly plants, mohajirs were dealt a severe blow. The mohajir-led political leadership in the immediate post-independence period sought to identify Pakistan with the Islamic world. Political loyalties in Pakistan were thus ‘externalized’ in the name of religion. Mohajirs also continued to be deeply involved in the fate of Indian Muslims across the border. They were acutely sensitive to the latter’s needs to get jobs and tried to help them migrate to Pakistan. Indeed, mohajirs interpreted the Two Nation Theory itself in the context of the right of Indian Muslims to migrate to Pakistan. This led to a general deification of the state, accompanied by a cult of unity of the nation in the face of the perceived Indian bellicosity, largely at the cost of provincial autonomy, indigenous cultures and local languages. Mohajirs’ political attitudes were typically based on a paternalistic vision of the society, enhanced commitment to ideological mobilization and lack of tolerance for provincial and ethnic aspirations.

Three broad areas of change adversely affected mohajirs: first, One-Unit was conceived to counter the weight of Bengalis in the National Assembly of Pakistan in view of the latter’s share of 55 percent in the country’s population. However, under One Unit, it was Punjabis not mohajirs who expanded their job circuit. Secondly, the 1958 coup put Punjabi generals in control of key positions in the corporate sector, opening up jobs for their co-ethnics. Finally, the shift of capital to Islamabad in the vicinity of the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi pointed to the centrality of Punjab-based army in the new dispensation, largely at the expense of mohajirs. The indigenous revival put a new generation of Sindhi leadership in power. It represented popular aspirations identified with historical and cultural identity of Sindh and was committed to the goal of cultural preservation against the perceived onslaught of mohajirs. It criticized the fact that only one fourth of the material in school text books reflected indigenous Pakistani cultures and their heroes while three fourths represented northern Indian cultural symbols and that making of Pakistan as attributed predominantly to Muslims of minority provinces while the role of majority provinces, especially Sindh which voted for Pakistan before others, was ignored.

In 1974, the government of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) under the leadership of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was trying to use every possible tool to maintain control of the remaining Pakistan after split in December, 1971. In order to maintain the support of the majority in Sindh, the PPP government of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in Sindh used “divide and rule” policy. Their target was to win the hearts and minds of Sindhi Speaking people on the cost of creating differences between Sindhi-Speaking and Urdu-Speaking communities. The common Sindhi-Speaking people are very generous, simple and loyal to Pakistan. They are the ones who opened doors for immigrants during the partition process in 1947. Since then Urdu-Speaking and Sindhi-Speaking have been sharing businesses, social friendships and marriages. The fact of the matter is that these Vadera-cum-politicians are the main culprits of division between Sindhi-Speaking and Urdu-Speaking. They are corrupt and unfaithful to the rich land of Shah Latif. These vedaras (feudal) have never been sincere to the interest of the people of Sindh. Even the most powerful politician and the first Sindhi Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, when came in to power, never looked back to the problems of the common people of Sindh. Instead, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, on the name of benefiting Sindhi-speaking introduced Quota System in the government jobs and higher education in order to reward these jobs to their fellow vadera-cum-politicians who then used them as products to buy votes from the simple Sindhi-Speaking population and became law-makers of the state.

The quota system has been at the heart of the MQM politics. After the Sindhi dominated PPP government took power in Karachi in 1971, the issue of the share of Sindhis in education and jobs re-emerged on the political agenda. The MQM points to a deliberate policy of discrimination against mohajirs.  The MQM has claimed that mohajirs constituted 60 percent of the population in Sindh and that the 1961, 1972 and 1981 census figures were manipulated to reduce the population of mohajirs by more than half. The MQM defined mohajirs as those who:

(i) migrated to Pakistan from Muslim minority provinces of the sub-continent at the time of the partition

(ii) are not considered to belong to any of the nationalities of Pakistan—neither Punjabi, nor Sindhi, nor Balochi, nor Pakhtun, and

(iii) migrated from those areas of East Punjab whose language and culture was not Punjabi.

The MQM took exception to the fact that the four provinces of Pakistan were constantly being declared as four brothers, excluding those who did not originally belong to any of these provinces.   Altaf Hussain bahi declared that the slogan of mohajir nationality was indeed the product of reaction to the slogan of four nationalities. It was claimed that mohajirs had now aligned themselves with the destiny of Sindh and become de facto sons of the soil. The MQM demanded rationalization of the prevalent domicile system so that only those locals should be issued domicile that had lived in Sindh along with their whole family for at least 20 years. It defined ‘locals’ as those who lived a family life, earned, spent, died and got buried in, and linked their interests with, the interests of Sindh. This was essentially a nativist idiom rooted in a part of the territory of Sindh.

In 1993, the quota system again extended for another 20 years while PML was in power. The bill was presented in Senate after a 45 minute-exercise, the speaker announcing the results, saying that the Bill had been adopted by 162 votes. The MQM voted against the Bill with a tally of four votes. Earlier, the MQM legislators in the National Assembly put up a stout opposition to the Bill. Dr Nishat Malik of the MQM speaking on the Bill said that the MQM, who had four representatives present in the house, should be given opportunity to speak out their mind on an important bill. In 1973, he said that the government had taken the plea that the quota system was being kept in force for only ten years in view of the existence of backward areas in the country since equal education and other facilities were not available to the population of these areas so to compete with the population from developed areas. However, Dr Nishat said that even after ten years no steps had been taken by the government to bring such population at par with the developed areas in terms of education. He also said distinction of urban and rural was maintained only in Sindh, while in the other three provinces, no distinction on the basis of rural and urban was made. He expressed apprehension that in the year 2013, once again another constitutional amendment would be sought to extend the period on the same grounds. MQM members Kunwar Khalid Yunus, Arif Khan advocate and Tariq Javed also opposed the Bill terming it as being against the spirit of the Constitution. The members were given two minutes to speak on the Bill. They said that the discrimination on the basis of rural and urban divide would create frustrations among the people and would generate feelings of alienation among them, leading to creating a new Bangladesh in the country. The MQM MNAs Dr Nishat Malik, Kunwar Khalid Yunus, Arif Khan and Tariq Javed, later moved their amendments in the Bill which were opposed by the minister for parliamentary affairs Yasin Khan Wattoo. The MQM members' amendment sought to add that after the first proviso the following proviso be inserted that "Provided further that the provincial allocation reserved on the basis of population shall not be further sub-divided or bifurcated by any province on any ground or classification whatsoever, including sub-division or bifurcation on the basis of class, region or area." The MQM also came up with another amendment but these were rejected by the house when put to vote by the speaker. The votes of the combined opposition and the independent representatives put together totaled 31, showing that out of 162 MNAs, who voted for the Bill, 31 MNAs were either from the opposition or were independents. Thus the treasury could muster 131 votes. This shows that PML, on its own, cannot get an amendment in the Constitution passed unless it gets support of the opposition and independents.

The Constitution (Sixteenth Amendment) Bill, 1999 provided that in the Article 27 of the Constitution, Clause (1), in the first proviso for the word "twenty" the word "forty" shall be substituted and shall be deemed always to have been so substituted. When the speaker put this Clause to vote, he first asked the members who wished to support it to rise from their seats. The count revealed that in all 155 members voted for the adoption of Clause 2. This was followed by the count of those who opposed the Clause 2. Only four MQM MNAs stood up to oppose it. The speaker then put the clause to vote and asked the members supporting Clause 1 to rise from their seats. The counting of the votes showed that 162 supported it. Then the speaker asked the opponents of the Bill to rise. Only four MQM MNAs stood up. The speaker declared the Clause passed. The Prime Minister Nawaz Shareef did not attend the House though he had earlier presided over the PML parliamentary party meeting and was present in his chamber till the passing of the Bill.

After recently held election in Pakistan, PML (N) has formed a government the third time. MQM supported Mr. Nawaz Shareef un-conditionally for becoming Prime Minister of Pakistan. That was the era of Nawaz Shraeef when Quota System was extended for 20 years, and since Nawaz Shareef's party did not have simple majority they could not amend the bill. Soon, the bill will be up again in national assembly and in senate regarding Quota System. Since MQM is not a part of the government, they would be the strongest opposition for extending that bill. If Mr. Nawaz Shareef is sincere with Pakistan and with the people of Pakistan, this is a golden chance for him to abolish the Quota System from Pakistan, so the country of Pakistan can become a progressive state and one of the developed countries of the world.


Ethnic Conflict in Pakistan: The Case of MQM. MOHAMMAD WASEEM (1996)

The Pakistan Development Review 35 : 4 Part II (Winter 1996) pp. 617—629.

Pakistan: Quota system for Mohajirs in education or employment?  Immigration and refugee board of Canada. March 1990.

Quota System – Tool of Divide and rule Sindh. Syed Atiqul Hassan (2012).



Rizwan Hashmi


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