This is a captivating book, but not an easy read for residents of
Karachi, who live in close proximity with the MQM and cannot escape the
culture of violence fostered by the party. Whether they love or hate the
MQM, the reality of the partys ethos cannot be denied. And no matter
which way you look at it, no matter how much MQM apologists may justify
militant ways, a killer is a killer.
Furthermore, when the party holds a city hostage by bloodshed and
destruction under the guise of fighting for human rights, it is a
downright insult to peoples intelligence.
The antipathy felt for the MQMs terror tactics by organisations and
people desirous of social change through non-violent democratic
processes is matched by their abhorrence for all perpetrators of
violence, whether they inflict it in the name of religion, or in the
name of nationalism. Nonetheless, fear and aversion aside, there are
many who would like to understand how so many young men get sucked into a
system that so flagrantly defies the law, that disregards basic human
tenets and which has, apparently, no value for life.
A fine anthropological study by Nichola Khan, a lecturer at Brighton
University, is now available that can perhaps answer these questions.
We learn through Khans book, that the killers are not psychopaths
they have made choices, and then proceed to follow instructions handed
down to them. The men engaged in such activities talk of their
experiences clinically, describe their acts of violence in graphic
detail, and discuss what motivated them to adopt their chosen paths. The
stories of their very personal pathways to violence are eye-openers,
and often very sad. They are not mechanical beasts, and often their
disillusionment with their party leadership can be sensed. Yet, they
continue on their course. That such people can be amidst us for they
have not been apprehended, tried or punished for their crimes, is eerie
is a cold hard reality in Pakistan today.
Nichola Khans book, Mohajir Militancy in Pakistan: Violence and Transformation in the Karachi Conflict
provides a vivid glimpse into the lives of four MQM killers, and one of
the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI). There is also a brief account of a woman, a
widow, and the induction of her two sons into the MQMs militant cadres.
The book neither comments on, nor judges the various characters, and
only describes what they did and how they came to do so. The author
analyses some of the actions by invoking several researchers of similar
violence in other countries Northern Ireland, Spain and India, to name
a few. The purpose is not to compare acts and forms of violence, but to
examine how various researchers explain the many possible causes
underlying violence. This is a scholarly enterprise and the 20 pages of
reference material is ample proof of the sincere effort made by the
writer to lay bare a very complex phenomenon. In doing so, the many
determinants of violence come to light. Exploring the life of some MQM
militants, the writer states:
�.. whilst diverse social contexts shaped the process of acquiring
adult autonomy for militants, reproducing dominant-gender hierarchies of
dominance, militancy also represented a particularistic disinvestment
of parental values and societal conventions. But why, in a situation of
large-scale political mobilisation, did only some men become notorious
killers? How do the highly disciplined male-dominated cultural aspects
of political violence bear on the gendered dynamic of boys relations in
the family, particularly with fathers?
She then reflects:
From Anna Freud to Erikson, theorists of adolescence have stressed
the establishment of emotional autonomy and independence from parents as
a central feature, whilst also acknowledging the influence of earlier
intra-psychic dynamics in the formation of adult identities, and the
role of history and society in determining the duration and modalities
of social adolescence.
In her profiles of the MQM militants young men of modest
backgrounds, inspired by the partys message to address the unfairness
experienced/observed by the Mohajirs one can perhaps understand to
some degree, where the rage stems from. But would this explain or
justify the wide-scale murders committed by the party cadres, the mayhem
engendered and the petty crime indulged in, with poor Mohajirs the
people who the MQM claim to champion the cause of often being the
Thus, while those readers of Nichola Khans book who live in Karachi
and have been exposed to the many bouts of violence unleashed by the
MQM on their city, may begin to get a glimmer of understanding of the
genesis of the party and the complexion of its cadres, it is unlikely to
dislodge their contempt for the violence perpetrated by the party.
The underlying causes of the making of a killer are not easy to
establish, especially among those who are the direct or indirect victims
of violence. A purely intellectual reaction is perhaps possible only
when the violence has abated, and even if not forgotten, receded in
memory. Pakistanis may find it easier to understand the ruthless
killings in other conflict-ridden countries, but to clinically
understand and discuss the killings within Pakistan would be a
monumental task.
All that notwithstanding, Nichola Khans expos� of the thoughts and feelings of some killers in their own words is eye-opening.
Says one killer: By 1997, life was unbearable. Many loyalists died.
There was immense government pressure to eliminate us. Many top-class
boys were martyred. I left for South Africa on fake papers. My friends
remained, but I built a good business there. Why stay and be killed?
Says another young MQM man: Nobody murders for nothing.
Circumstances forced us� After my brothers and brother-in-laws were
killed in 1996, I fled to Bangkok. On my return in 1998, the police
remanded me for 14 days. They registered 33 false murders against me.
Those I had committed, they werent aware of ! I received bail and fled
to Bangkok. Im keen to forget that life.
There are also narratives of how a pregnant woman was decapitated in
her house and how workers sleeping on Karachi footpaths were gunned
down. Orders were given, received, and acted upon, but the book does not
describe the source of these orders. There is also an account of a
�friendship between two rival militants one from the MQM and the
other from the Jamat-e-Islami. This relationship reveals a human
dimension that is retained through the madness, despite the gross
inhumanity engendered by the mens actions. What sense/meaning can be
derived from this reality? The reader is left to draw his/her own
This book is a �must read for all those keen to understand the MQM.
But it would perhaps be most beneficial for MQM supporters and workers,
not least because the book lays bare the suffering that violence
inflicts on the militants themselves and their families.