Guest post by SAIM SAEED: Democracy in South Asia is its own animal, and has little resemblance with its counterparts in the United States and elsewhere. Gone are any kind of faultlines between liberals and conservatives, ideologies and the like; “Social Democrats” means little, and Greens, Communists and Freedom, even less.
A widely held view is that political parties in Pakistan (and India) are based on ethnic lines. And there is good reason to believe that view. The PML-N, run by Punjabis, controls northern Punjab. The PPP, run by Sindhis, controls Sindh and parts of Southern Punjab. The ANP, run by Pushtuns, controls the Pushtun-dominated Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province in the North-West, and represents a few Pashtun-heavy neighborhoods in Karachi. Smaller parties run similarly. The MQM, a party founded as a Muhajir – immigrant – party, runs Karachi, the city with the largest Muhajir constituency. The BNP, founded as a Baloch pro-independence party is the most popular party in Balochistan. At various points, parties have tried to fashion themselves nationally, reflecting their larger ambitions. PPP’s official rhetoric talks of a national narrative. The MQM, originally short for Muhajir Quami Movement – National Immigrant Movement – changed to become the Muttahida Quami Movement (without any change to its initials), Muttahida meaning United. These changes have been cosmetic, however, and each party’s constituency remains more or less the same.
This view, however, is incomplete.