This column has been prompted by a question recently posed to me by one of my regular and according to him, avid readers. The question concerned the Mohajirs of Pakistan, of whom this scribe happens to be one. The reader asked how they have fared in Pakistan from its birth, in general, and more pointedly in the past three decades or more—a roller-coaster period of great turbulence and turmoil in Pakistan’s history.
Mohajirs is the terminology used consistently in Pakistan to describe those Muslims who had emigrated to the newly carved out (off India) sovereign state of Pakistan from those areas of undivided British India where they were outnumbered by their majority Hindus.
The process of migration involved a great deal of sacrifice, if not of life than in most cases of property—both movable and immovable—left behind in their ancestral abodes. But the pioneering spirit of those who’d chosen to live in Pakistan over staying put in their native homes and hearths made it worth the price.
A lot of idealism attached a sense of elan and pride to the act of migration. The term, Mohajir, was dutifully embraced by the pioneers because of its historical connotation harking back to the migration of Muslims’ Holy Prophet Mohammad; he’d moved, voluntarily, from his native Mecca to the then fairly remote city of Medina, in the north, to give himself more room and freedom to preach Allah’s gospel.
So elevating was the sense of pride among the pioneers that they wouldn’t give two hoots for leaving behind, in India, ancestral properties. My late father, for instance, was a bureaucrat who’d opted for Pakistan. He’d left behind in Delhi the house he’d built with pride but wouldn’t file a claim for compensation under the Evacuee Properties agreement, of 1949, between India and Pakistan. My mother’s protestations to the contrary couldn’t budge him. “Come on,” he’d tell my mother, “think positively. The house we left behind is nothing compared to the future our children will have in Pakistan.”
Well, my father’s sanguinity and optimism wasn’t just a romantic infatuation with Pakistan. He and his generation—and to a varying degree of his sons’ generation, too—did, indeed, fare quite well. The Mohajirs, because of their superior education, talent and endeavour, did rule the roost in bureaucracy until at least two decades of Pakistan. My father’s rosy expectations, of a bright future for his sons, weren’t belied, either. This scribe proved him right by entering Pakistan’s Foreign Service on merit, needing no crutch of a domicile from this or that province of Pakistan.
But the Mohajir domination of civil services waned with time, not because of any decline in their talent but because of the swelling tide of ethnic and linguistic parochialism raising its ugly head among those provinces of West Pakistan which were backward in every sense at Pakistan’s birth.
The Mohajir intelligentsia ruefully refers to it as the ‘Azad syndrome’ in paying a much delayed tribute to Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, one of India’s illustrious freedom fighters and its first Education Minister after independence. Addressing those Muslims migrating to Pakistan, Azad had asked them to think of what their lot would be in a new land when its natives would start asserting themselves and question the provenance of the immigrants? Would they be able to survive the ethnic backlash?
That’s precisely what has hit the Mohajirs since ethnicity started ruling the roost in Pakistan. While Mohajirs stuck to their pride, and its concomitant sense of vanity, ethnic-based feudalist politics pulled the rug from under their feet. The absence of their roots in the native soil of Pakistan trumped their claim of being one of the federating segments of the Federation of Pakistan. They became a rootless people.
The rise of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) seemed like a belated attempt by the younger generation of Mohajirs to stake their claim to be equal partners in the spoils of national politics. But MQM, from its inception, had the long shadow of Pakistan’s omnipotent ‘Establishment,’ in common parlance the military-intelligence complex, dogging it. Within a few years, its pioneers fled Pakistan to the safety of Britain, from where it had been run and controlled, remotely, until recently like a powerful mafia. Its founding god-father, Altaf Hussain, in declining health, has been accused of money-laundering and gun-running. He also carries the stigma of working for RAW.
MQM has lately splintered into a number of factions, with each claiming to be the real standard-bearer of the Mohajir rights. But none has managed to delink itself from nauseating interference of the ‘Establishment.’ Recently, those pulling its strings made an abortive attempt to foist the discredited General Pervez Musharraf—in self-exile in nearby Dubai—to preside over a hastily patched-up ‘union’ of splintered factions. Musharraf is a Mohajir, too. However, the exercise backfired with Musharraf embarrassingly holding the bag.
That’s where the Mohajirs’ three-decades-old struggle to carve out a place for themselves under the sun of Pakistan’s regularly-hobbled political landscape is presently poised. In more senses than one, it’s a critical situation. The Mohajir leadership, fashioned at its grass-roots by the self-serving ‘Establishment’ for its interests, stands discredited and resented by those who’d euphorically put their eggs in its basket.
The Mohajir youth, especially, are bereft of guidance like a rudderless ship at the mercy of choppy waters. Their elders are haunted by the memories of those halcyon days when they’d envisioned living in a utopia, named Pakistan, and bemoan having laughed off the visionary Azad’s caution to step gingerly.
Karamatullah K Ghori
Former Pakistani diplomat