CHUP recently introduced its new correspondent. Each week, Jackie, an American now living and working in Karachi, [see her first post], will discuss the prevalent day-to-day issues occuring on the ground. Below, she addresses the controversy surrounding Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal‘s alleged award of being the world’s “Second Best Mayor”:
Last week, several media outlets, including Dawn, reported that Foreign Policy (FP), a U.S.-based magazine, identified Karachi Mayor Syed Mustafa Kamal as the “Second Best Mayor in the World.” Shortly after, major billboards around Karachi were blanketed with pictures of Altaf Hussain, founder of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), hugging Kamal and congratulating the young mayor on his award, [see image to the right].
For those unfamiliar with the MQM, it is one of the largest political parties in Pakistan, and was founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984. It sprung out of a student organization, All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization, also led by Altaf Hussain. Amid rising tensions between the military and MQM in the 1990s, Altaf relocated to London where he continues to serve as the party’s leader in self-imposed exile. The party’s initial goal was to organize the ethnic Urdu-speaking group known as Muhajirs, but it later adopted a more inclusive mandate of returning power to the ‘people’ – i.e. the lower classes. How successful this has been is up for debate; many people view the MQM as a bunch of thugs who use violence, intimidation and bribery to achieve political and personal gains. Less questionable is the MQM’s very influential role in Pakistani politics, particularly in Karachi. Syed Mustafa Kamal is the current mayor of Karachi and an increasingly important member of this party. Since taking office in 2006, he has received international recognition and attention for many of the public works and infrastructure projects he has undertaken. In June, National Public Radio (NPR) ran a series focused on Karachi, during which Kamal was interviewed, [CHUP also covered this series, in this post].
Towards the end of last week, a rumor began circulating – FP did NOT name Kamal as the world’s second best mayor. I did some very basic research and it appeared that the recent flurry of praise and media coverage were not entirely merited. Karachi was mentioned in an FP piece entitled, “The 2008 Global Cities Index.” Mayor Kamal appeared in a “Mayor of the Moment” segment which was a smaller part of this larger piece, however, he was not recognized as the second best mayor in the world. Just to be absolutely sure, I called FP headquarters and they confirmed my suspicions. In fact, they received an overwhelming amount of inquiries regarding this matter, and recently posted the following link on their site, entitled “What FP didn’t say about the mayor of Karachi.”
While this “Mayor of the Moment” recognition deserves an accolade, the local media’s misrepresentation of FP’s story and the MQM’s ‘takeover’ of Karachi’s billboards detract from this proud moment. As Pakistan’s economy continues to plummet and violence is on the rise, particularly in Karachi, the ruling MQM has inevitably suffered a decline in popularity. Could this be a MQM hoax to gain popularity at a time when Karachi is falling apart or just a misunderstanding? By now, many people are well aware of the mistake, so why are the pictures still on the billboards? Why, just yesterday on front page of the Dawn, was there a quarter-page, color advertisement congratulating Kamal on his recent award? Shame on the major papers for not investigating this matter further and instead taking the information at face value from whatever source. Perhaps this is an exaggerated response to what might be an ‘honest mistake,’ but seeing these billboards of Altaf clasping Kamal to his bosom is getting a little old as other headlines continue to tell stories, daily, of violence, kidnappings and murders in their city. [Image from Karachi Metblogs]