The Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) re-entered Karachi’s political arena last year after the much-delayed local government elections. The party has strategically rebranded its image to resonate with the over sixty percent youth bulge and leverage social media tools. Their anthem and slogan “Hal sirf Jamaat-e-Islami” (the solution lies only with JI) sharply critique’s urban Sindh’s governance challenges and the mainstream political parties’ inability to address them.
The JI, primarily known as a religious party, has undergone a makeover. Recent visuals show JI’s Karachi chief Hafiz Naeemur Rehman in jeans and young women sans the burqa depicted as party supporters. The party, despite its opposition to transgender rights legislations, has even brought transgender councillors onboard on its reserved seats in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). However, Mian Zeeshan Ahmed of Times of Karachi (TOK) raises a cautionary flag. He says that even though the JI’s public image has shifted, its membership process remains rooted in religious principles, with new members referred to as “rafique”.
The JI is a significant participant in the 2024 general elections, particularly active in Karachi. Their manifesto focuses on environmental improvements. Notably, the party has two manifestos: one for the ongoing elections and another specifically tailored for Karachi known as “Manshoor-e-Karachi”. In this series, we delve into the latter.
The JI has stepped into the void left by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), which has gone underground due to a crackdown on party workers and leaders, and the weakened party structure of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). As a result, the JI has emerged as one of Karachi’s most popular political parties.
With the General Elections 2024 campaigning deadline a mere hours away, political fervour is reaching a crescendo. Rallies and processions are surging in intensity as all political parties, including the JI, energetically present their manifestos during local gatherings and street meetings. The goal: to set themselves apart in this electoral race.
JI’s Karachi manifesto calls for a census recount, aiming to accurately account for “all 3.5 crore people in the city” so that it allows for their true representation in parliament. Thus, they argue this will lead to the city’s infrastructure improvement through sufficient allocation of funds.
The JI’s commitment to a fresh census in Karachi that appears challenging to achieve, is accompanied by another crucial promise: establishing a Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) in Sindh province. According to the JI, financial empowerment of local governments up to the union committee level hinges on the implementation of the PFC (which includes the Octrai and the Zilla Tax). This demand is reflected in JI and MQM’s manifestos but not mentioned in the Pakistan Peoples Party manifesto.
The JI pledges to tackle the pressing issue of gas load-shedding in the city. Their commitment includes:
- Affordable rates: Lowering gas costs for households and industries
- Exploration: To seek new gas reservoirs in Sindh
One key agenda in JI’s 12-point Karachi manifesto pertains to environmental reforms. While their proposal to increase green spaces and establish botanical gardens seem hackneyed, it formally acknowledges the city’s vulnerability to climate change. However, the party’s commitment to lower the Air Quality Index (AQI) to under 100 demonstrates a progressive vision. Despite the challenge (winters often see AQI levels of around 180), this focus on air quality improvement is commendable. According to Yasir Hussain of the Climate Action Center, an AQI level below 50 is ideal which Karachi often achieves during the monsoon season.
The party pledges to address critical urban challenges in Karachi. Their manifesto includes:
- Karachi Circular Railway: JI vows to complete the long-overdue project.
- Buses: The party aims to run large buses on Lyari Expressway, easing traffic congestion. It proposes running a fleet of at least 5,000 big buses.
However, they do not mention if the buses will be run on electricity or diesel. Because if they are run on diesel then there will never be an improvement in the AQI of the city.
The party does appear to have a basic understanding of how more public buses would mean less private transport on the roads leading to reduced emissions and better traffic management.
JI’s proposal to convert the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system to the Light Rail System seems to be an ad hoc idea and perhaps ill-conceived idea since the BRT has flexibility, low average capital and operating cost per mile, and is easily implementable.
The party’s main manifesto includes a section on tourism promotion and environmental conservation. The JI says it commits to mainstream a culture of cleanliness and afforestation culture and to keep tourist sites free from pollution.
The JI’s manifesto highlights critical environmental concerns such as:
- The need for strict legislation and effective implementation to combat environmental degradation.
- Addressing environmental pollution issues in which special measures would be taken to manage toxic gasses and industrial waste from vehicles and industries.
- The manifesto emphasizes promoting electric vehicles for cleaner transportation.
- To launch large-scale afforestation campaigns, enhancing green cover.
In the 2018 elections, the JI, along with four other parties, contested from the platform of Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal (MMA). This coalition of parties did not have a separate manifesto. However, the JI, which was within the MMA, included in its manifesto an emphasis on public health, raising awareness about social responsibility in combating environmental pollution.
TLP & MWM’s green visions
Another significant religious political party in Karachi that is gaining ground is the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP). Their 2024 elections manifesto, covered widely in mainstream media, pledges to take necessary actions for eradicating environmental pollution. Key points in their manifesto include enforcing strict laws for polluting industries and institutions as well as promoting afforestation at the governmental level.
Meanwhile, the Majlis-e-Wahdatul Muslimeen (MWM), a religious political party, has unveiled a 14-page manifesto for 2024 elections. Key points include:
- Formulating an energy policy, addressing issues related to furnace oil and coal-based power plants. According to MWM, the policy aims to mitigate the adverse environmental effects.
- The construction of dams on rivers in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir which would generate 80,000 megawatts of electricity. But they acknowledge that as a result there would be potential negative consequences on the environment.
- MWM proposes designating Karachi to Thatta’s area as a special zone to generate electricity from wind, intending to introduce a project to harness wind energy.
- Tax exemptions for the introduction of new machinery for gardening and afforestation in Pakistan, promoting horticulture and forest cultivation in the country.
However, the MWM’s view on agriculture appears to be outdated when it comes to climate change impact except for introducing renewable-energy-based tubewells.
We sought insights from Samar Abbas, a human rights lawyer deeply involved in Afghan refugee repatriation cases and a key organiser of the Climate March 2023. His assessment of the MWM manifesto sheds light on their proposal to construct dams in Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir for electricity generation. While global trends are moving away from dam construction, the MWM’s inclusion of wind energy as an alternative is promising. However, their focus remains primarily on energy policy, with little attention to climate-related issues.
Subedited by Maleeha Hamid Siddiqui
The story is a collaborative effort between The Citizenry and The Times of Karachi, in partnership with the Climate Action Center.