The MQM Fac­tor

The he MQM has a dual char­ac­ter as a po­lit­i­cal party. Gov­ern­ment af­ter gov­ern­ment has kept a blind eye to how it rules Karachi Karachi.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Shahzad Chaudhry

MQM is an enigma. It has al­ways been one. From its role as an im­por­tant ex­pres­sion for the mid­dle class, largely rep­re­sent­ing Karachi, to a role in na­tional pol­i­tics far larger than its ac­tual size, the MQM has of­ten time been the king-maker. Its re­stricted base though has been its ma­jor lim­i­ta­tion where, as a party, the MQM has had to com­pro­mise on prin­ci­ples of clean pol­i­tics and has pur­sued paths that have marred its po­lit­i­cal face when it has had to com­pete, of­ten in­tensely, to keep its power base pro­tected. Driven a by a sense of per­va­sive in­se­cu­rity ini­tially and later a habit that be­gan to trans­late into fi­nan­cial and ma­te­rial ex­ploita­tion of its ex­clu­sive hold over the city, MQM’s mil­i­tant ways have evolved and be­come an ac­com­pa­ni­ment of its po­lit­i­cal ex­is­tence.

The on­go­ing op­er­a­tion against crime and ter­ror in Karachi by fed­eral and pro­vin­cial law-en­force­ment agen­cies im­poses yet an­other dilemma on the MQM. When con­victed crim­i­nals, hid­ing from jus­tice, are found in a raid at its Head­quar­ters - from within its precincts - the sham of a purely po­lit­i­cal char­ac­ter of the party is torn down. And what emerges isn’t pretty, nay hor­ri­ble, shame­ful and ut­terly dis­gust­ing. MQM is hav­ing a dif­fi­culty ex­plain­ing the po­lit­i­cal, legal and moral as­pects of its du­al­ity as a po­lit­i­cal party.

Not that this wasn't known. The par­tially un­spo­ken part of MQM’s dual char­ac­ter as a party is the most widely-known se­cret. Gov­ern­ment af­ter gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary or civil­ian, has kept a blind eye to how MQM has ruled Karachi as its ex­clu­sive precinct. If it meant putting some good peo­ple down, so be it, but none was al­lowed to ques­tion or chal­lenge MQM’s ex­clu­sive hold over Karachi and its af­fairs, ex­cept spo­rad­i­cally. If it brings to mind the mafias that ran Chicago

or New York, you are not ter­ri­bly out on such com­par­isons. If Karachi ran, and peace­fully if ever, that was al­ways be­cause the MQM per­mit­ted it to. Of this, there should be lit­tle doubt. Karachi be­ing Karachi, the eco­nomic hub of the coun­try and home to a com­pos­ite mix of some 20 mil­lion peo­ple, it be­came any gov­ern­ment’s im­per­a­tive to keep the MQM on board. The price was, thus, al­ways a blind eye to MQM’s ways of do­ing things and its ex­clu­sive hold over the city. Till now, that is. On two sep­a­rate tracks there seems a closing of the loop around the MQM, forc­ing a ma­jor de­bate in the coun­try about its fu­ture as well as its rel­e­vance as a po­lit­i­cal force. The mur­der of Dr. Im­ran Fa­rooq, MQM’s nom­i­nal deputy leader af­ter MQM’s Chair­man Altaf Hus­sain, is a trail that seems to be now slowly mov­ing to con­clu­sion. And the signs of it as a hand­i­work from within the Party in­creas­ingly be­come a pos­si­bil­ity. If in­deed that is so, and if the MQM lead­er­ship in Lon­don is cul­pa­ble, se­ri­ous charges with dis­as­trous con­se­quences for the MQM will only be­come cer­tain. Yet an­other charge that the MQM, and its se­nior­most lead­er­ship, is al­ready grap­pling with in Lon­don, is of money laun­der­ing. Al­legedly, huge sums of money were dis­cov­ered at the res­i­dence of the MQM supremo, Altaf Hus­sain. Just this one charge, if proven, can put a ma­jor chink in MQM’s chain of com­mand.

Within Pak­istan, there is a grow­ing ac­knowl­edge­ment and vo­cal as­ser­tion that crime and mil­i­tancy had found shel­ter un­der the MQM. For the sake of the Party and some of its im­mensely ca­pa­ble lead­ers, it is also loudly hoped that such dis­cov­ery might just be an act of few in­di­vid­u­als and not a Party pol­icy. Though such dis­as­so­ci­a­tion will take some do­ing. Such ag­gre­ga­tion of ad­ver­sity is slowly cul­mi­nat­ing into a real test for the MQM and its lead­er­ship. The larger is­sues: will Altaf Hus­sain give up the Party’s lead­er­ship? Who will be the next leader? Will the new leader be able to keep the Party to­gether? Can the Party sur­vive scru­tiny of its crim­i­nal nexus? Can it shed mil­i­tancy as a pat­tern? Can the Party rein­vent it­self with strictly po­lit­i­cal cre­den­tials? It is un­der such shad­ows that other po­lit­i­cal par­ties of Pak­istan have be­gun to fish in Karachi’s trou­bled wa­ters.

It is in this back­ground that the elec­tion in NA-246 was held. The con­stituency is the head­quar­ters of the MQM, a seat that the MQM has held since the last 29 years since it joined for­mal elec­toral pol­i­tics. Fa­mously sit­u­ated around Nine Zero, MQM Chair­man’s res­i­dence, a loss of the seat from the home con­stituency would prac­ti­cally sound the death knell for MQM’s pol­i­tics given the in­tense in­ter­nal and ex­ter­nal scru­tiny that the Party is un­der. Com­bined with the legal and moral co­nun­drum that be­sieges MQM a po­lit­i­cal jolt of this kind would be the last thing that MQM can af­ford. Be­fore the MQM be­came the sole owner of this con­stituency, the Ja­maat e Is­lami had laid claim here for four terms. The JI has con­tin­ued to hold pock­ets of in­flu­ence even when the MQM has lit­er­ally over­whelmed the con­stituency. The PTI of Im­ran Khan is the ab­so­lutely new kid on the block.

While the MQM has a stran­gle­hold on the con­stituency with an ex­cep­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion to sus­tain such in­flu­ence, the JI is the next best or­ga­nized Party in this con­stituency, closely fol­low­ing the MQM and never giv­ing up. The PTI has no known or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­ture in this con­stituency for sure, and noth­ing much to talk about for Karachi ei­ther. The hype on a pos­si­ble victory by the PTI from this con­stituency thus came to naught on April 23 when the MQM won, again most hand­somely. The PTI was an em­bar­rass­ingly dis­tant sec­ond, while the JI fared even worse than the PTI – de­spite its fa­bled or­ga­ni­za­tion.

A sub-na­tion­al­ist sen­ti­ment in the MQM is still alive and may have been fur­ther in­ten­si­fied against a back­drop of the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion in Karachi; the MQM still of­fers the elec­torate with a po­lit­i­cal ide­ol­ogy that res­onates – in com­par­i­son the PTI has no such de­clared agenda; gov­er­nance is a func­tion, not an ide­ol­ogy. Thus the MQM re­mains rel­e­vant. The re­cent bail to its head, Altaf Hus­sain, in the money-laun­der­ing case in Lon­don may have proved for­tu­itous, stalling any rup­tures in the Party, were he to be con­victed.

The PTI needs a se­ri­ous re­think over its mes­sage. It must hold a clear po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy; with an agenda cen­ter­ing on mere hon­esty and gov­er­nance is means of cash­ing on the oth­ers’ fail­ures. Bank­ing en­tirely on Im­ran Khan’s charisma again is no strat­egy. Pol­i­tics is far deeper and must build na­tions. It should have deeply com­mit­ted cadres and a mes­sage that can con­vert oth­ers. With­out a clear mes­sage the free vote never turns over. In this case a po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy trumped a lack of one. The JI, how­ever, be­comes an­other case of some ret­ro­spec­tion. Clearly, the mes­sage based only on reli­gion too is not suf­fi­cient. The re­cent na­tional ex­pe­ri­ence with re­li­gious ide­olo­gies has been most dis­as­trous and far too fresh for most to re­in­force such re­course to re­li­gious ethos as a plank of pol­i­tics.

The PTI, with­out a grass­roots or­ga­ni­za­tion and a po­lit­i­cal phi­los­o­phy, is not the threat in Karachi that it was made to be in the hype lead­ing up to the re­cent elec­tions. The JI and per­haps the other re­li­gious play­ers of pol­i­tics in Karachi have suf­fered fur­ther re­gres­sion. The space that all thought in the back­drop of the on­go­ing op­er­a­tion is not there and were the MQM to clean it­self off the at­tached malef­i­cence, it can con­tinue to hold sway over Karachi’s pol­i­tics.

The MQM is a po­tent po­lit­i­cal force and that is how it must emerge from the chal­lenge. To that end though it must first ac­cept the pres­ence of crim­i­nals that lie in its fold and then pledge to ex­cise those from its ranks. The on­go­ing op­er­a­tions in Karachi and the sub­se­quent in­ves­ti­ga­tions will only throw up more ev­i­dence and re­in­force the neg­a­tives that now stick. It is up to the MQM to use this op­por­tu­nity to restyle it­self as a purely po­lit­i­cal force that must still have a rel­e­vance in rep­re­sent­ing the Ur­dus­peak­ing pop­u­la­tion of Pak­istan and a city of 20 mil­lion. It could even grow to en­gage the mid­dle-class na­tion­ally and be the game-changer that Pak­istani pol­i­tics ur­gently needs. Har­bor­ing thoughts of ex­ter­mi­nat­ing MQM are naive, main­stream­ing it is po­lit­i­cal wis­dom.

The writer is a re­tired Air Vice Mar­shal of the Pak­istan Air Force and served as its Deputy Chief of Staff.

Within Pak­istan, there is a grow­ing ac­knowl­edge­ment and vo­cal as­ser­tion that crime and mil­i­tancy had found shel­ter un­der the MQM.

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