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Informality and Political Violence in Karachi

Informality and Political Violence in Karachi

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Published by Usman Ahmad
This paper proposes an understanding of political violence in a major metropolis
through the lens of informality in urban planning and land use. Political conflict in
Karachi has been examined largely from the lens of ethnic identity. Here it is shown,
using census data, how urban planning was implicated in the evolution of the city’s
ethnic demography. Election results at the polling station level further confirm the
importance of territory in Karachi’s violent political divisions. The literature on
informal economic governance, and its insights on non-state contract enforcement
and dispute resolution, is used to interpret case studies of three unplanned neighbourhoods.
Various migrant cohorts had distinct experiences regarding informal
economic governance and the politics of regularisation. These differences gave rise
to two alternate modes of informal economic governance, which not only sustained
violent political divisions, but also denied coercive monopoly to formal institutions
of the state.
This paper proposes an understanding of political violence in a major metropolis
through the lens of informality in urban planning and land use. Political conflict in
Karachi has been examined largely from the lens of ethnic identity. Here it is shown,
using census data, how urban planning was implicated in the evolution of the city’s
ethnic demography. Election results at the polling station level further confirm the
importance of territory in Karachi’s violent political divisions. The literature on
informal economic governance, and its insights on non-state contract enforcement
and dispute resolution, is used to interpret case studies of three unplanned neighbourhoods.
Various migrant cohorts had distinct experiences regarding informal
economic governance and the politics of regularisation. These differences gave rise
to two alternate modes of informal economic governance, which not only sustained
violent political divisions, but also denied coercive monopoly to formal institutions
of the state.

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Published by: Usman Ahmad on Jan 04, 2014
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Urban Stud 
Haris Gazdar and Hussain Bux Mallah
Informality and Political Violence in Karachi
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at Sheffield Hallam University on June 23, 2013usj.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Informality and Political Violence inKarachi
Haris Gazdar and Hussain Bux Mallah
[Paper first received, May 2011; in final form, November 2012]
Abstract
This paper proposes an understanding of political violence in a major metropolisthrough the lens of informality in urban planning and land use. Political conflict inKarachi has been examined largely from the lens of ethnic identity. Here it is shown,using census data, how urban planning was implicated in the evolution of the city’sethnic demography. Election results at the polling station level further confirm theimportance of territory in Karachi’s violent political divisions. The literature oninformal economic governance, and its insights on non-state contract enforcementand dispute resolution, is used to interpret case studies of three unplanned neigh-bourhoods. Various migrant cohorts had distinct experiences regarding informaleconomic governance and the politics of regularisation. These differences gave riseto two alternate modes of informal economic governance, which not only sustainedviolent political divisions, but also denied coercive monopoly to formal institutionsof the state.
1. Introduction
This paper proposes an understanding of political violence, or violence implicatingpolitical organisations, in a major metro-polis through the lens of informality inurban planning and land use. Karachi pro-vides sustenance to its 15 million residentsthrough industry, trade, commerce, ser-vices and charity. It is also a violent city where organised criminal and politicalactions claimed over 1700 lives in 2011(CPLC, 2012). Nearly 500 of the murdervictims in 2011 were recognised activistsfrom political parties,
1
paradoxically in aperiod when the main alleged protagonistshave been in coalition governments.Karachi, which accounts for 8 per cent of the national population, was the site of 42per cent of all reported assassinations inPakistan between 1988 and 2010 (Shapiro
et al.
, 2012).
Haris Gazdar
 and
 Hussain Bux Mallah
 are in the Collective for Social Science Research, 173-IBlock-2, PECHS, Karachi 75400, Pakistan. Email: haris@researchcollective.org and hussain@researchcollective.org.
Special Issue Article:
 Cities, Conflict and State Fragility in the Developing World 
1–17, 2013
0042-0980 Print/1360-063X Online
2013 Urban Studies Journal LimitedDOI: 10.1177/0042098013487778
 at Sheffield Hallam University on June 23, 2013usj.sagepub.comDownloaded from 
 
Statistics do not fully convey many of thenuances of violence in Karachi. Humanrights groups routinely include assassina-tions, torture by non-state actors, kidnap-pings for ransom, vigilante reprisals,bombings and suicide attacks in their report-ing on Karachi (HRCP, 2010). Political par-ties operating in the city are accused of maintaining armed cadres who are trainedin the use of lethal weapons (Supreme Courtof Pakistan, 2011). Violence can flare uparound particular events such as publicmeetings, elections and the enforcement of general strikes.
2
Political violence is readily associatedwith ethnic conflict in Karachi, as the mainparties with influence in the city have iden-tifiable ethnic support bases. Links betweeninterparty rivalry, ethnic group identity andcrime are part of the standard narrative of Karachi’s politics (Rashid and Shaheed,1993; Haq, 1995; Waseem, 1996; Gayer,2003; Esser, 2004; Verkaaik, 2004; Khan,2007). By most accounts, the 1980s mark aturning point in city politics, when ethnicclashes attended the rise of the MuhajirQuami Movement (MQM) which claimedto represent the interests of Urdu-speakingpartition migrants from India and their des-cendants.
3
The MQM and other partiesconsolidated their respective support basesamong the city’s various ethnic groups andsuccessfully challenged the institutionalhegemony of state security forces over many parts of the city.The prevalence of informality, particu-larly with respect to urban planning andland use, is another well-established aspectof compromised state capacity in Karachi(Hasan, 1999). The city offers an opportu-nity for examining the relationship betweentwo conspicuous manifestations of stateincapacity—in the realms of security andurban planning respectively. This opportu-nity has not been taken up to any significantdegree with respect to Karachi, where theexamination of political violence has centredon ethnic conflict, while analyses of inform-ality in urban planning and land use havebeen focused on the welfare implications of irregular and unplanned housing for thepoor. Commentaries on violence which dorefer to informality tend to link unplannedneighbourhoods with crime through causalroutes of deprivation, lawlessness or both(see for example, Breman 2012).While acknowledging the significance of ethnicity, this paper argues that informality is an additional and insightful vantage-point on political divisions and their violentmanifestations in the city. The literature onprivate contract enforcement and disputeresolution, or informal economic govern-ance, provides a cogent framework forinterpreting the deployment of violence by non-state organisations (section 2)—in ourcase political parties with strong bases inparticular communities. This paper bringstogether empirical material from three setsof sources (population census, polling sta-tion returns and qualitative case studies) todescribe Karachi’s ethnic and spatial divi-sions and to examine the interactionbetween informality and political violence.In section 3, we propose a classification of the city’s population with respect to migra-tion waves as a way of drawing a closer con-nection between the city’s spatial growthand its ethnic demography. We use popula-tion census data for the first time to analysethe relative size, geographical distributionand migration histories of planned andunplanned neighbourhoods. In section 4,we use election results at the polling stationlevel, also for the first time, to describe ter-ritorial political division in the city by geo-graphy, ethnicity and planning status, andto identify contrasting patterns of monopo-listic control and relative openness acrosstypes of neighbourhood. In section 5, weuse primary qualitative fieldwork carriedout in communities across the city between
2 HARIS GAZDAR AND HUSSAIN BUX MALLAH
 at Sheffield Hallam University on June 23, 2013usj.sagepub.comDownloaded from 

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