The MQM Ref­er­en­dum

The peo­ple of Pak­istan have re­acted sharply to the covert U.S. op­er­a­tion in Ab­bot­tabad and there could not have been a bet­ter way to gauge their opin­ions than a ref­er­en­dum.

Southasia - - Region - By Ali K.Chishti

On Septem­ber 26, 2001 just fif­teen days af­ter the sui­ci­dal at­tacks on the Twin Tow­ers and Pen­tagon, a large pub­lic gather­ing was held in Karachi, Pak­istan, to demon­strate the city’s sol­i­dar­ity with the thou­sands of vic­tims in the United States and to of­fer sym­pa­thy and sup­port for the U.S.-led cam­paign against terrorism.

In the early days af­ter Septem­ber 11, when in­ter­na­tional tele­vi­sion net­works were quick to broad­cast any pub­lic ar­tic­u­la­tion of anti-Amer­i­can or pro-Tal­iban feel­ings, this huge gather­ing, re­port­edly five hun­dred thou­sand peo­ple large, was a rare sign of pub­lic sup­port for the United States, fol­lowed by speeches pro­claim­ing Karachi as a lib­eral-minded city with no place for jihadi groups. A res­o­lu­tion was is­sued stat­ing that the peo­ple of Pak­istan in gen­eral and of the south­ern prov­ince of Sindh in par­tic­u­lar, be­lieved in re­li­gious har­mony and con­demned any kind of re­li­gious ex­trem­ism.

Al­though this “rally against terrorism” failed to make head­lines in the in­ter­na­tional press, it was re­mark­able for two rea­sons. First, it was held in Li­aquatabad, an in­ner city neigh­bor­hood of Karachi which flaunts a rep­u­ta­tion for its hard boiled peo­ple. Se­condly, this was the first mod­er­ate Mus­lim assem­bly against the fa­nat­i­cal re­li­gious ex­trem­ists in the world.

Al­most over a decade af­ter 9/11 and with Osama Bin Laden, the world’s most sought-out ter­ror­ist killed, the MQM, which had emerged as one of the most vo­cal anti-jihadi and anti-Tal­iban par­ties due to its roots in the left­ist cam­paign and ri­valry with the Ja­maat-e-Is­lami, played an­other mas­ter stroke call­ing it ‘a pub­lic ref­er­en­dum.’ Altaf Hus­sain, the MQM’s leader, who has been one of the staunch­est crit­ics of Tal­iban­iza­tion and whose party opted to walk out in dis­gust against mak­ing a deal with the Tal­iban in Swat, de­fined the process of Tal­iban­iza­tion as “A dif­fer­ent sort of Tal­iban­iza­tion though, where the ju­ris­dic­tion of re­li­gion is ex­panded to ev­ery walk of life, from leg­is­la­tion to ed­u­ca­tion and from sports to per­sonal con­duct of pri­vate cit­i­zens, is not only pos­si­ble but is in steady progress in Pak­istan which is con­cern­ing for us. We are ready to stop this process and will never al­low this process to go-on at least in Sindh and Karachi, if not Pak­istan.”

MQM, post-OBL, did some­thing which no other po­lit­i­cal party did: they re­verted to the peo­ple and its con­stituents via a ref­er­en­dum which could be termed as ground-break­ing. A key coali­tion part­ner of the PPP-led gov­ern­ment, the MQM launched a na­tional “ref­er­en­dum” on May 17 over the covert U.S. op­er­a­tion against Osama Bin Laden, which the party says has vi­o­lated Pak­istan’s sovereignty.

“We want the voices of the peo­ple to be heard. They can take part in this na­tional ref­er­en­dum by fill­ing in the form by May 17.… the find­ings of which we will re­lease,” said Anees Qaimkhani, a se­nior mem­ber of the MQM cen­tral com­mit­tee, at a press con­fer­ence at the party head­quar­ters.

“Right now the sovereignty, lib­erty of Pak­istan is at stake and there is a gen­eral feel­ing of de­spon­dency and in­se­cu­rity among the peo­ple who want an­swers to what hap­pened and what should be our fu­ture line of ac­tion,” Qaimkhani said as he sought peo­ple’s views on the role of politi­cians, the mil­i­tary and the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

There is a need to have a na­tional con­sen­sus on this is­sue, he said, adding that the party had re­leased a form with 17 ques­tions seek­ing the opin­ion of the peo­ple on press­ing is­sues fac­ing the coun­try af­ter the Ab­bot­tabad op­er­a­tion.

The MQM de­spite be­ing a ma­jor player in the gov­ern­ment in Sindh and at the cen­tre has in re­cent times

taken an in­de­pen­dent stance on im­por­tant is­sues that dif­fer from those of the gov­ern­ment.

Many of the ques­tions put to the peo­ple in the ref­er­en­dum were ex- pected to irk the rul­ing PPP and the Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter.

“If the U.S. op­er­a­tion was a vi­o­la­tion of our sovereignty, was not the hid­ing of Osama Bin Laden in Pak­istan for more than five years with­out any due process of law also a vi­o­la­tion of our sovereignty?” asked one of the ques­tions in the ref­er­en­dum form.

Peo­ple were also asked to re­spond in “yes” or “no” to whether the armed forces and po­lice had made greater sac­ri­fices in the fight against terrorism or the re­li­gious par­ties? Be­sides, they were asked to spell out clearly if they wanted greater ac­tion against mil­i­tancy and ter­ror­ists.

An­other ques­tion per­tained to the drone at­tacks, ask­ing peo­ple to re­spond in “yes” or “no” whether they be­lieve these drone at­tacks were be­ing car­ried out with the per­mis­sion of the gov­ern­ment and in­tel­li­gence agen­cies and if they were nec­es­sary.

One more ques­tion in the ref­er­en­dum was whether Pak­istan should try to have friendly and good re­la­tions based on trust with neigh­bor­ing coun­tries such as In­dia, Afghanistan and China. Wasay Jaleel from MQM’s co-or­di­na­tion com­mit­tee con­firmed that, “more than 13 to fif­teen mil­lion peo­ple from all over the world, in­clud­ing Pak­istan, had par­tic­i­pated in the ref­er­en­dum and that re­sults were be­ing com­piled which would be re­leased soon. The writer is a Karachi-based in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist who writes on na­tional, po­lit­i­cal, so­cio-legal and counter-terrorism is­sues.

MQM’s base Karachi is a mod­er­ate city and takes a bold

stance against re­li­gious ex­trem­ism.

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