The political landscape of Karachi has changed over the last two years; whether this change stands for better or for worse is yet to unveil. What is certain, however is the fact that MQM no longer enjoys the space to bring Karachi to a standstill – something that was the defining attribute of Muttahida’s power for the last two decades.
Ironically the bulk of the blame for this rapid downfall lies with MQM itself. The starting point perhaps was the 2013 elections where MQM, following the precedents of its previous electoral pursuits tried to intimidate the voters in Karachi to eliminate any serious competition. However, MQM was in for a rude awakening when voters belonging to NA-250 refused to bow down to coercion and stood for hours to cast their vote to the candidate of their choice. The use of force and intimidation was uncalled for as MQM would still have managed to secure most of its target electoral seats. The conquest of NA-250 was then more an issue of ego rather than realpolitik.
Altaf Hussain’s subsequent speech in reaction to the supporters of PTI protesting at Teen Talwar further served to weaken MQM’s political standing. In this widely televised address, Hussain threatened the protesters with violence. As if this wasn’t bad enough, speaking directly to the “establishment,” Hussain demanded that MQM’s “mandate” be accepted or “Karachi be detached from Pakistan.” Unfortunately the verbal diarrhea did not stop here and Altaf Hussain continued to hurl threats across the board from media persons to the Director General of Rangers. In September 2015, a 3 member bench of Lahore High Court issued a ban on broadcasting any speech by Altaf Hussain.
The last nail in the coffin was hammered in August this year, when during another speech Altaf Hussain chanted “Pakistan Murdabad.” Following his speech MQM workers ransacked a private television channel. While this persistent bullying could have flown by a couple of decades ago, MQM should have had the good sense to take stock of the new realities. In the aftermath of this speech, Rangers arrested and detained MQM parliamentary leader, Farooq Sattar. Soon after his release in a press conference Farooq Sattar disassociated from the statements by Altaf Hussain and pledged that the loyalties of MQM and his workers were embedded with Pakistan.
So, for now it seems that the party has again split into two factions: one being headed by Farooq Sattar here in Pakistan and one being led by the London secretariat. However, the political pundits have termed this split as a political gimmick to appease both the public and the establishment and believe that these factions will unite as soon as the dust settles down.
At this point it is important to examine MQM’s current political standing. Despite all the operations against the party and its workers, MQM – though not as strong as it used to be – still remains a formidable political force as the largest political party in Karachi. Attempts to empower other rival factions and parties have so far not yielded any tangible results. This was evident during the by-elections in NA-246 which fell vacant after the resignation of Sardar Nabeel Gabool. The by-elections attracted a lot of media hype owing to a public rally by Imran Khan in Karachi. However, MQM won the elections comfortably as its candidate bagged over 90 thousands votes. More recently, the results of local bodies echoed the public sentiments as MQM swept the polls and on 30th August 2016, the imprisoned Waseem Akthar took oath as the Mayor of Karachi.
While it may seem that the turmoil that has entangled MQM was inevitable, we also need to introspect upon the genuine grievances of the party and its workers.
Despite its electoral victory in the local bodies the transfer of power to elected representatives has been hampered. The workers of MQM are constantly being picked up and are being linked to the Indian spy agency RAW without provision of sufficient evidence. In October 2016, an Anti Terrorism Court in Karachi acquitted the three accused workers of MQM on charges of espionage and terrorism. These workers were picked by SSP Rao Anwar in April last year, who, later in a much publicized press conference alleged the presence of a MQM-RAW network while flashing a dossier. In the same realm SSP Rao Anwar also arrested Sindh Assembly’s leader of opposition Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hassan in September 2016 from his house without any arrest warrants and without the consent of the Speaker of Sindh Assembly. Although Hassan was released after a few hours and Rao Anwar was suspended by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, the damage was done. These instances add fuel to the aggrieved MQM supporters and the muhajir community at large. Surely, we cannot imagine a rouge police officer unlawfully arresting the leader of opposition in Khyber Pukhtunkhawa or Punjab. Thus, such events go on to only strengthen the grievances of MQM’s workers who believe that such treatment is meted out to them as they are not the “Sons of the soil.”
The political turmoil in Karachi can only be addressed if the elected representatives are given a free hand to perform their duties. Pushing MQM against the wall is not an option and such attempts will further alienate the muhajir community.
At the same time it is also true that MQM needs to disassociate itself from violence and anti-Pakistan rhetoric. The party needs to urgently restrategize and focus its energies to deliver to the citizens of Karachi through its local bodies’ functions.
The devolution of power is mutually beneficial for all involved. It will for once take pressure off from CM Murad Ali Shah who is being held accountable for open manholes, sewage and waste disposal – all of which come under municipality. Moreover, the devolution of power will compel MQM to move beyond agitation and be held responsible for the problems faced by the citizens of Karachi.