MQM- PAT marriage of convenience
Asif Haroon Raja
The MQM averse to sitting on opposition benches has remained in power five times since 1985. Although the most dominant party in Karachi, its vote bank in Karachi never crossed the figure of 8 lacs but suddenly shot up to 25 lacs in 2008 elections. Consequently, its seats in Sindh and federal governments increased significantly. PPP-MQM alliance, although a marriage of convenience, has remained intact despite several jolts. On several occasions MQM decided to quit the coalition in Sindh but was wooed back by Zardari and Rahman Malik on promises of additional favors. The PPP couldn’t afford to lose the support of MQM since its loss would have made its hold over Sindh and federal governments untenable. While it neutralized MQM’s blackmailing at the centre by inducting PML-Q, but it couldn’t find an alternative of MQM in Sindh and hence kept getting blackmailed because of skeletons in its own cupboard.
Of late the MQM is under duress because of Scotland Yard tightening the noose around the assassins of Dr Imran Farooq in London and those behind the gory plan, the issue of unabated target killings and extortion in Karachi in which MQM hand is suspected, and now Altaf’s uncalled for confrontation with Supreme Court on account of delimitation of Karachi resulting in receipt of contempt of court notice. The MQM considers delimitation and updating of voters list a conspiracy to cut its political power in Karachi and is the only party opposing delimitation. While growing strength of ANP affiliated Pashtun settlers in Karachi was already causing heartburns to MQM, arrival of Taliban in Karachi has added to its security concerns. ANP claims that delimitation and correction of voters list under Army’s supervision will increase its seats in Sindh Assembly to ten.
These events have placed MQM in a tight corner and that too at a time when elections are close by. Not only Altaf’s stay in London is under threat, MQM’s power base in Karachi is likely to be cut to size. Moreover, MQM’s desire to capture few seats in Punjab in next elections has come under clouds because of its high-handed policies against settlers in Karachi. Under unsavory conditions, arrival of Dr Tahirul Qadri on the murky political scene has given an opportunity to MQM to reinvigorate its sliding fortunes and possibly gain a foothold in Punjab with the help of Qadri’s Pakistan Awami Tehrik (PAT). It has agreed to actively participate in Qadri’s long march. Alliance with PAT, which is being reorganized, will help MQM in exerting added pressure on PPP to shelve delimitation program. Altaf has declined President Zardari’s request to dissociate from Qadri and has convinced him to talk to Qadri. MQM will draw benefits from both sides till the very end and ultimately switch toward the side which promises more.
It is however to be seen how long this marriage of convenience will last. The two Supremos Qadri and Altaf have some similarities but also have dissimilarities. Both have dual nationalities and are averse to the recent law passed against dual nationality holders. Altaf and Qadri are unwilling to renounce their foreign citizenship. While Altaf’s stance is understandable due to threat to his life if he returns, but Qadri has so far no such fears. Both are self-exiled, Altaf since 1992 and Qadri since 2004. They are revolutionary in nature and preach revolution. Highly ambitious, they are fond of addressing their respective captive audiences in Pakistan from abroad via videos and telephone. They are highly emotional and derive pleasure in raising the sentiments of the people to the pitch of frenzy through rhetoric. Both believe in theatrics and drama, although Qadri displays greater sobriety and doesn’t resort to dancing and singing while addressing. The two are against feudalism and jagirdari system and want to change it but both have lived a lord’s life abroad. Both the parties have high-quality organizational abilities.
The differences between the two are pronounced. Qadri is a class orator and makes his audience spellbound with his knowledge-loaded oratory. He is a renowned scholar imbued with rich knowledge of Hadith, Islamic laws and other disciplines. He has no criminal case pending against him. So far, he has advocated peace and shunned violence. Altaf Hussain on the other hand is an average orator and has dozens of criminal cases pending against him. He believes in politics of violence as is evident from the existence of armed militant wing in MQM. It is said that those listening to his long and dreary speeches are herded to the venue under threat of life. Whatever the case, none can deny that while PAT is a non-entity, MQM is the most organized party, whose leaders are from middle and lower middle classes and it will sooner than later emerge as a national party.
The big question is whether the kind of interim setup desired by Qadri suit MQM, which has a history of intimidating its political opponents and media and manipulating election results using pressure tactics during polling? Will the MQM activists risk taking part in the long march and campout in Islamabad for unknown period under TTP’s threat and freezing cold? Or they are wishfully hoping to be prevented to takeoff or blocked midway? Can the MQM afford to buy the animosity of all stakeholders including religious parties and stake its political future with untested political maverick and fast fading PML-Q with no future? In my reckoning, MQM-PAT alliance is a marriage of convenience for short term political gains only and not a lasting alliance.
The Chief Election Commissioner (CEC) is facing criticism from PML-Q for failing to prevent alleged rigging in by-elections in Punjab, from MQM over delimitation issue and from general public over getting cold feet over delimitation. It is said that the MQM seem to have browbeaten CEC to make a u-turn on his commitment to carry out delimitation in Karachi. Criticism will intensify if tax defaulters and those failing to submit income tax returns are permitted to contest elections. Rumors are afloat that considering his past record, old age and temperamental behavior, he may resign at a crucial time.
Delimitation of constituencies and correction of voters list in Karachi ordered by Supreme Court is the biggest cause of concern for MQM. The Army persuaded by CEC also seems reluctant to carryout door to door checking of voters list in Karachi. Doomsayers have spread the message that it would result in MQM-Army confrontation. In case these two exercises are carried out before elections, and Dr Tahirul Qadri’s balloon keeps getting larger, the MQM may veer away from PPP to Qadri. Altaf’s latest statement that in next 72 hours he would fire a political drone attack is seen by many as MQM-PPP parting of ways. If so, it will provide a chance to Zardari to withdraw the contentious ordinance on local bodies and possibly restore his relations with nationalist parties as well as with PML-F.
Qadri has so far not spelt out his strategy how he intends to continue with his revolutionary long march of four millions in case he and prominent leaders of his Tehrik are arrested before 11 January; how the convoy will continue the journey to Islamabad in case all routes are blocked at chokepoints. He has however stated that in case an attempt is made to block his long march, 50% of marchers would besiege Lahore and the rest will head for Islamabad. He has not said anything how he intends to ward off TTP’s terror threat, or if tutored hooligans infiltrate and disrupt the convoy or the sit-in and his professed peaceful long march turns violent.
The writer is a freelance columnist. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org