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Saner way out in Karachi

When state institutions were pandering to the murderous agenda of Altaf Hussain, a tiny group – including this writer – was pushing for restoration of sanity. At the time this voice remained a cry in the wilderness: its logic was drowned in the sea of collusion between Altaf’s thugs and the so-called operatives the state had deputed to protect, promote, nurture, and empower the MQM’s militancy. At the time no heed was paid to the long-term consequences of creating a monster that was to eventually mangle the very hand that had fed and fostered him.

Now many years, and thousands of dead bodies later, the same state has woken up to the reality that it had at the time ignored by ridiculing dissenting opinion. Now Altaf Hussain’s chapter in national politics is being closed. The man and his dwindling key aides are fighting for a lease of life that cannot be granted to them since they are already on a heavy overdraft. The state is telling them: ‘time is up’.

However, as the state (read the army, intelligence agencies coupled with the federal government) attempt to stitch self-inflicted wounds, there is need to reflect on what is the right way forward. Just like the years when Altaf was foisted upon and then rooted in urban Sindh’s politics and was allowed to hijack full-scale the Urdu speaking constituency, now, too, the policy of demonising all his associates is becoming blind to reason. The tendency is to tar everyone with the same brush and insist that those who stood with the MQM founder till the 22nd of August should all be shunted out of politics forever.

There is more than one reason to again raise the minority view that wholesale condemnation of MQM London’s former colleagues, who have disowned him, is poor politics which is likely to come and haunt the nation in most ugly forms years down the line. For the times that we are living in, this might not sound like the correct position, but it has weightage that cannot be ignored. There are sound reasons to allow Farooq Sattar and company to function like a normal political entity and not break down their structure to a point where they cease to exist.

The first reason grows out of pure common sense. The MQM Pakistan has numbers with it – in the local government, in provincial assembly, in both house of parliament. Chopping them at the knee and tossing their heads in the wilderness might look like perfect revenge, but the political killing will produce a vacuum that cannot be filled in the interim.

Public representatives – good, bad, ugly and those who stood with Altaf for many years – develop stature and presence. They dominate space. They represent sentiments. Their overnight replacement is not possible. It should not even be tried. Why go for a massacre when there is no one to clear out the carcasses left behind? More to the point, even if these public representatives are dragooned into accepting humiliation and agreeing to disappear from the frontlines, voter behaviour shaped over decades shall not change in a day. Mindsets mutate slowly, in years.

The political dynamics of Karachi, and partly Hyderabad and Mirpur Khas are such that there is no ready force available to simply go and step into the shoes of the MQM Pakistan’s present leadership. The PTI does not know whether it is coming or going. Sirajul Haq has made the Jamaat-e-Islami totally dysfunctional. The Pak Sarzameen Party is an overinflated tyre that cannot hold air pressure and gets flat every time it is rolled out. Mustafa Kamal is low on calibre and lower still on political acumen. He needs constant nannying. He wants power spoon-fed to him.

Also, the PSP’s great credentials are what? Exactly what the MQM Pakistan says it too has now – ie distancing itself from London, disowning a half mad man rambling himself to a political grave, and an attempt to start a new political beginning. There isn’t a political sin that the MQM Pakistan’s leaders are accused of and which PSP stalwarts are free of. From Pakistan bashing to defending killing sprees, both factions have a sordid past. In fact if it is public repentance that gets them clean chits then the MQM Pakistan has had to carry a much greater quantum of apologies and self-decrying than the PSP, whose leaders were sent to no purgatory for their association with and service to Altaf Hussain.

So if the PSP’s disowning of London is kosher enough for it be painted in the green and white of the Pakistani flag, what’s the problem with letting the MQM Altaf become the MQM Pakistan? If mere words and slogans are enough to be transformed from traitors to patriots, then both factions have equal credentials.

The second reason for letting the MQM Pakistan function relates to the point where the country stands. Terrorism inside the country is now clearly a transnational affair. There is an internal dimension alright, which we cannot ignore and must fight. But there is a Triple Alliance out there that is pushing this monster deeper in our midst. Delhi-Kabul-Washington have come together to ensure that Pakistan remains fragile and vulnerable to external pressure and manipulation. Each has its own agendas to achieve but Pakistan’s encirclement is a point of agreement. The country, therefore, needs fewer internal pressure points and not more.

For that to happen, Karachi needs to be stable at this critical juncture. It cannot be turned into a picture of political atrocity, which would feed the international propaganda that communities are being persecuted and their rights being violated. Demolished offices, jailed politicians, weeping women all might be cathartic for a nation that has been stunned for decades because of Karachi’s organised violence, but world-wide this is poor imagery – exactly the type that members of the Triple Alliance would want to see come out of Pakistan. Allowing the MQM Pakistan under the supervision of Farooq Sattar scuttles the possibility of Karachi being framed in world capitals as a city of the Urdu-speaking community’s sorrows that require international audience.

The third reason for letting the MQM Pakistan function and breathe easy relates to a slightly modified version of the age-old maxim, ‘Divide et Impera’ (Divide and Rule). More factions of the MQM are welcome not because that will allow someone else to rule, but because this would allow for a healthy competition among those who for years tried to outdo each other sucking up to Bhai, doing all sorts of poodle tricks for him.

Since no one party will have a total claim to representing the Urdu-speaking voter, they will have to get down to serious political work and public service to establish their credentials. Also monopolistic control of any constituency by a party or an individual is a dangerous proposition. Total power corrupts totally and, what’s more, goes straight to the head. The last thing this country needs is the removal of Atlaf Hussain and his substitution by his younger version.

Does this mean that the MQM Pakistan should have no questions to answer? Most certainly not. Farooq Sattar and company cannot ask for more space to operate politically without proving that they deserve to make this demand. Their cups of political sins are fairly full on account of staying quiet while madness spilled blood in the city they claim to represent. But they should not be the only ones being scanned for crimes that might have been committed: PSP leaders are in the same league. They too were the foot soldiers of Altaf Hussain and ran his empire in a most draconian fashion.

The state and government must not run MQM politics but they must enforce the law across the board. The criterion to judge who is loyal to the country is not the decibels at which Long Live Pakistan slogans can be mouthed: that is easy. Steam it for him and even Kalbhushan Yadev will say Pakistan Zindabad.

The real test of who has the right to operate politically in Pakistan has to be a crime-free past. Those whose hands are clear of the blood of the innocent and who did not jog with joy in Karachi’s killing fields are the ones who ought to get a second a chance. The rest deserve to hear the law speak.

Granting exemptions to one group and razing the other to the ground is senseless. It is a practice that can bear no result other than bloodshed and more mayhem. Squeezing the MQM Pakistan out of political existence at this time will be as unwise as it was mindless to let Altaf Hussain run amok for decades.

Email: syedtalathussain@gmail.com

Twitter: @TalatHussain12­


Syed Talat Hussain, "Saner way out in Karachi," The News. 2016-09-05.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political parties , Political sins , Politics-Pakistan , Leadership , Militancy , Terrorism , Politics , Altaf Hussain , Farooq Sattar , Karachi , London , MQM , PTI , PSP