Political parties have ideologies and constitutions. It is for elections that manifestos are drafted to present party positions on policies out of which election campaign content is created and candidates know what the party position is on various policies which they then use in their public speeches, press briefings and social media platforms.
Smaller parties tend to have a party manifesto given that they often do not have the resources to create new manifestos for each election. Thus, The Mohajir Qaumi Movement–Haqiqi (MQM-H) and the Awami Workers Party (AWP) with candidates standing from Sindh province have party manifestos unlike the Muttahida Qaumi Movement–Pakistan (MQM-P), which has a manifesto for every election and plays the role of strategic coalition partner in the federal government.
The Citizenry compares the climate justice visions of these parties and their plans to address the challenges of climate change in Sindh.
MQM-P’s manifesto for environmental transformation
For a party that has sat on both sides of the local, provincial and national assemblies and ruled Karachi, it is disappointing to see the lack of depth in the manifesto on the climate change realities that affect ordinary citizens. There is no specific mention of urban flooding, heatwaves or adaptations in education to address these climate-related challenges.
There is nothing on environmental laws or the environmental tribunal even though there is a mention of green building codes. While there is detailed talk about the rights for the River Indus, there are no demands for river protection laws which would have given legal cover to Rivers Lyari and Malir.
The manifesto states that the MQM-P wants agriculture to be managed through the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC). It also wants a green revolution with corporate farming. It proposes to allocate state land including lands in katcha areas to the landless cultivators and support them with credit and marketing. Interestingly, it has consistently mentioned corporate farming and marketing, and allocation for landless cultivators in its election manifesto since 2008. It is worth noting that in 2008 and 2013 the party before splitting up into several factions, was known as MQM.
According to Yasir Hussain of the Climate Action Centre (CAC), it appears that the party is supporting the SIFC and the recent initiative to hand over land in Sindh for corporate agriculture farming. He further says in a joint podcast by The Citizenry, CAC and Times of Karachi that he dislikes the concept of corporate farming and there should instead be cooperatives which export, not corporate money that does farming. Corporate farming often involves foreign parties denying the local communities an equitable share, sometimes even denying them access to the produce. “The MQM-P does not give more detail in its manifesto on how it (corporate marketing and allocation of land) is going to happen in practice. The MQM-P phrasing tries to balance peasant rights with corporate agendas which is a contradiction 99 percent of the time,” he further says.
In its manifesto, the MQM-P delves into the concept of “Earth Rights for the Indus”– a visionary approach to safeguarding the Indus River ecosystem. The proposal aims to elevate the river to a legal entity with inherent rights and responsibilities. Hussain of CAC, says this was about the right to life and cited examples of Bangladesh and Guatemala that had instituted personhood rights of the river. And the concept of Earth Rights is embedded within the Living Indus Initiative, a project supported by the Global Climate Fund and led by the Ministry of Climate Change. While the manifesto highlights the need for Earth Rights, it does not specify implementation methods, he says. The practical steps to achieve these rights remain unexplained.
He also says that one of the rights associated with the Indus River is the freedom from pollution. However, this right faces significant challenges. Pakistani cities, including Karachi, continue to discharge sewage into rivers and streams that flow into River Indus which then ultimately flows into the Arabian Sea.
Hussain emphasizes that including Earth Rights in the manifesto does not automatically translate to a commitment for execution. The critical question remains: How can MQM-P effectively protect the Indus River and uphold its rights amidst ongoing pollution and urban pressures?
Hussain offers a critical perspective on the concept of Earth Rights for the Indus. While the manifesto discusses this idea, he believes it primarily focuses on mangroves rather than addressing the needs of coastal communities. The region in question overlaps with the Delta Blue Carbon 1 and 2 projects, which connect to the broader Living Indus project. In this context, the lower Indus in the Sindh Delta takes precedence. Hussain endorses the concept of Earth Rights but raises valid concerns about its practical implementation. Key questions remain unanswered: Who will be actively involved and how will decision-making unfold?
The Citizenry raises concerns about the environmental and social impacts of the Karachi Comprehensive Coastal Development Zone (KCCDZ) plan. Specifically, the proposed development area includes Machhar Colony, a large slum settlement. However, this ambitious commercial project apparently necessitates cutting down mangroves and potentially displacing residents. The KCCDZ plan was unveiled during the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led federal government in September 2021. The KCCDZ initiative continued even after the ushering of the new PDM coalition government on April 10, 2022. Faisal Sabzwari, a senior leader of the MQM-P, was a maritime minister during the PDM tenure. He must have been aware of the KCCDZ project’s implications.
The manifesto also aims to improve primary health care by addressing environmental and public health issues, such as water and sanitation. This is a progressive approach that links the environment with health. However, this point has not changed, taken down verbatim from the previous manifestos dating back to 2013.
Its manifesto specifically mentions SEPA (Sindh Environmental Protection Agency) and PEPA (Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency) in ensuring a pollution-free environment. But the exact details remain unspecified. Surprisingly, it addresses disaster management by emphasising the need to revamp the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and strengthen the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA). The Citizenry has previously scrutinised the PDMA’s performance, particularly its expenditure record over a 16-year period.
Rapid urbanisation and industrialisation in Karachi has led to significant environmental degradation, says its manifesto. The city faces severe air and water pollution affecting the quality of life and posing health risks. Addressing these challenges by the MQM-P in its manifesto, the Citizenry thinks this is a progressive step towards a healthier and more sustainable future.
The MQM-P aims to address rapid degradation and deterioration of life in existing cities and urban centres by constructing 100 new cities. These cities will include clusters of satellite cities, many of which will feature specialised industrialised zones. While it is unclear what the terms degradation and deterioration of life means in the manifesto, we assume it means that the MQM-P recognises the decline of the quality of life due to added pressures of population growth, rural-to-urban migration and the governance challenges.
In terms of environmental conservation, the MQM-P has set an ambitious goal: achieving eight percent forest cover within five years without explaining how they arrived at the figure. But this target does align with international recommendations, as environmental bodies suggest maintaining 12 percent forest cover. Currently, the forest area in Pakistan is approximately four percent. According to the World Bank data, the forest area as a percentage of land area of Pakistan is 4.8 percent as of 2021, compared to 6.5 percent in 1990.
The urgency is evident when we consider data from the Global Forest Watch: “between 2001 to 2022, Pakistan lost 9.80 kilo hectares of tree cover, equivalent to a one percent decrease since 2000. This loss resulted in 3.62 million metric tonnes of CO₂e (carbon dioxide equivalent) emissions”. LINK
The “five years” time frame and the mention of neem and peepal trees in its manifesto suggests a recognition of the need for indigenous species. It can also be construed that the Mustafa Kamal-era’s conocarpus tree plantation, chosen for its fast-growing canopy, is detrimental to humans, flora and fauna and infrastructure. However, the manifesto does not outline plans to replace these non-indigenous trees or prevent their further plantation. This is also intriguing when we observe the cutting down of numerous trees for the BRT tracks and the flyovers.
In its electoral promises, the MQM-P commits to a comprehensive policy on mines and minerals within the first six months after the election. This policy aims to open the doors of unhindered investment in mining while establishing a framework of laws and rules. However, it’s worth noting that certain areas such as Karoonjhar hills, Kirthar National Park, and the Malir River have suffered illegal exploitation under the guise of this outdated idea of “unhindered investment potential”. The Citizenry would have preferred to see a stronger demand for their protection and strict monitoring.
In its manifesto, the MQM-P demonstrates a sense of Just Energy Transition, emphasising the shift from conventional to non-conventional forms of energies. Notably, they advocate for extensive coal utilisation to generate energy with “minimum climatic implications”. MQM-P’s policy measures for transitioning to electric vehicles include reducing import duties and registration fees, and providing incentives for local manufacturing. Their ambitious goal is to increase electric vehicle utilisation up to 30 percent by 2030. While this is a sign of adaptation to climate change, the 30 percent figure seems random.
Furthermore, MQM-P aims for 100 percent electrification in Karachi, achieved through either the grid or off-grade solar and wind power. However, a better approach would have been to reduce losses in Karachi Electric (KE) system by improving transmission lines and bill collection and reforming distribution companies like Hyderabad Electric Supply Company (HESCO) and Sukkur Electric Power Company (SEPCO) which are among the worst performing in the country.
The proposal to establish at least 10 solar parks in Karachi for affordable electricity raises concerns about land acquisition, potential displacement and forced resettlements.
Special Mention: During the 2018 elections, the PakSarZameen Party (PSP), which later merged into the MQM-P, presented a manifesto that contained an advanced agenda item. However, in the process of political merger, this crucial point seems to have vanished. The Citizenry is highlighting it to emphasise that valuable ideas should not be lost during political alliances.
PSP’s 2018 election manifesto: balancing culture & environment
- Pro-active Carbon Credit:
- The party will actively promote the concept of carbon credits.
- Wasteland transformation:
- Beyond protecting existing forests and wildlife reserves, the manifesto proposed utilising wastelands for social forestry.
- Ecological audits and pollution indexing:
- The party commits to conducting ecological audits for various projects.
- Additionally, pollution indexing of cities and townships will be carried out scientifically.
- Holistic education:
- The manifesto recognised the importance of the humanities, arts and ethics in education.
- These subjects will be integrated into the school curriculum and extended to secondary and post-secondary levels.
- Spiritual & historical site restoration:
- Using satellite mapping, the party aimed to restore spiritual and historical sites across Pakistan.
- To sustain these sites through domestic and international tourism.
MQM-Haqiqi’s generic manifesto
The MQM-Haqiqi (MQM-H), like other smaller parties, lacks an election-specific manifesto. Instead, it relies on a generic one accessible via its website. The Citizenry sought views from Mian Zeeshan Ahmed, journalist and co-founder of Times of Karachi (TOK), on several key points in the form of a Q and A.
Q: Do you think MQM-H is still a stakeholder within Karachi and Hyderabad given it does tend to participate in the local elections and is now contesting the upcoming General Elections? What is their campaigning presence on the ground?
A: MQM-H’s politics continues to revolve around its core Mohajir identity. Haqiqi is far more active in these elections than it has been in the previous local and by-elections. On the ground it has intensified its campaigning efforts particularly in Landhi, Shah Faisal, Nazimabad and Azizabad where it targets the Urdu-speaking population. MQM-H’s leader Afaq Ahmed seeks to reposition the party as a peace-loving political entity. Recent clashes between MQM-P and PPP in Karachi have prompted Ahmed to denounce violence and caution against returning to old confrontational ways. With Altaf Hussain’s absence Ahmed has stepped into the leadership vacuum. He has also called for Hussain’s return to Karachi.
Q: What does its generic and unchanged manifesto tell us about MQM-Hand its leader especially since environment and climate change are not mentioned in the manifesto?
A: What is interesting about the Haqiqi Manifesto is that the demand for a Mohajir province is a given but in our meetings with him we asked him why he was not making it anymore. To which he responded that now was not the time to be raising it. The MQM-H faces challenges such as limited financial resources, absence of a youth team and recent setting up of their social media accounts.
Q: Haqiqi’s politics centres on Urdu-speaking/Mohajir identity politics, but the lowest-income workers such as the labourers repairing KMC roads, construction workers, naan-makers, garbage pickers are all non-Urdu speaking and most affected by the heatwaves. Have you noticed any Haqiqi statements or stance on this? If not, what does it mean?
A: While covering Haqiqi, I haven’t seen climate change stances. Regarding heatwaves affecting the labour class (now primarily Seriaki, Pushto, Sindhi speakers), Afaq hasn’t addressed this. He did express concern about 2010 flood-related migration, advocating for resettlement. His focus remains localised, especially on electricity access disparities stating that KE tends to cut-off power easily in Urdu-speaking areas because KE doesn’t face any resistance there but KE doesn’t do the same in Kati Pahari or Benaras areas. He also talks about water access, mentioning closing down of water pipelines by Karachi Mayor, Murtaza Wahab (from the Urdu-speaking community) in Urdu-speaking localities. The party also lacks clear policy positions and succession planning is absent.
Environmental blindspots in AWP’s manifesto
The Awami Workers Party (AWP) manifesto lacks specific focus on critical environmental challenges. Notably absent are references to smog, heatwaves, and floods — urgent issues affecting Pakistan. Additionally, the manifesto does not address school terms and timings in the context of heatwaves, electricity loadshedding, and smog, which already impact education on an ad-hoc basis.
Furthermore, there is no mention of climate migrants, such as those from Jacobabad due to extreme heat and other regions affected by floods. The manifesto remains silent on environmental laws and the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). While the manifesto specifically mentions Sindh and the river delta, it falls short in providing concrete strategies to address its pressing environmental concerns.
The Citizenry analyses the key Green points in the AWP manifesto.
It calls for fair distribution of agricultural land and water provision for agriculture targeting the southern parts of the country, especially Sindh. It also says that concrete measures will be taken to halt the environmental degradation in the delta area. In Sindh, it is encroachment by housing societies that has been the cause of the degradation. In fact, AWP’s PS-17 candidate, Seengar Ali Noonari, has courageously fought against real estate land grabbing in Malir, even enduring a five-week disappearance. As a human rights activist and environmentalist, Noonari champions the preservation of green spaces and the Malir River basin from real estate encroachment.
The manifesto mentions ending the practice of confiscating land of small farmers in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through the Forestry Act.
When we at The Citizenry look at this demand from the context of carbon credits’ projects which are being carried out in the forests of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we wonder if there are likely to be any spillover effects for the mangrove forests carbon credits projects in Sindh where the AWP has a presence. In both provinces, there isn’t much transparency in such projects and we do not know how much land is voluntarily being handed over to the government and private parties.
Other noteworthy green points in AWP manifesto:
- Labour-intensive and ecologically-sensitive industrialisation will be promoted.
- Guarantees will be made for all development plans to be in harmony with local culture and the environment.
- The water and energy crises will be resolved on an emergency basis.
- Far-reaching programs will be drawn up and resources allocated for the protection and fair distribution of water to address the water crisis. Priority will be given for the provision of drinking water to all citizens.
- Steps will be taken to immediately control coal-based power plants and factories.
- The monopoly over mineral resources, especially by multinational companies, will be strictly regulated. In general, minerals will be used according to the needs of future generations.
- Subsidies will be immediately given for the production of renewable energy and a large portion of the budget will be allocated for this.
- Industrial regulations for the protection of the environment will be strengthened and implemented without discrimination.
- Programs for urbanisation will be made according to the needs and desires of the people.
- Mass social awareness campaigns will be initiated for the protection of the environment.
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.