Efforts to bring together various factions of the MQM had intensified recently
fter weeks-long negotiations, three factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a political party that had once ruled Karachi and Hyderabad cities, have finally agreed to work together, announcing their reunification in a much-anticipated press conference that was held on Thursday.
However, the way the efforts that had recently intensified to reunify the Mohajir-centred political groups have come about also raises several questions including the following:
a) what was the need for and urgency to bring MQM’s warring groups together;
b) how sustainable and effective can a unification at this juncture be; and
c) are external factors, such as concerns regarding the influence of the party founder, Altaf Hussain; or the need to challenge the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf in urban Sindh before the upcoming general elections, at work?
At its peak, the MQM was a political party that won every election in Karachi for nearly three decades. The factors behind its phenomenal electoral success included genuine support from the Mohajir community, neighbourhood-level party-cadre structure and the deployment of violence and fear.
However, in the 2018 general elections, the party suffered a humiliating defeat in Karachi with a majority in the city voting for the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and its leader Imran Khan, a politician the MQM had once warned against setting foot in Karachi.
The Rangers-led crackdown launched in 2013 – nominally against all violent groups, including Taliban militants, criminal syndicates and armed cadres of political parties – weakened the MQM. In the face of a fierce crackdown, the party underwent an internal power shift. It is generally agreed, however, that it was the party’s founder’s August 22, 2016, speech that sealed the party’s fate. Hussain had been addressing press conferences and workers’ meetings, even election rallies, from London via telephone for several years. Now, this had to stop.
Since then the party’s loyal Mohajir vote bank has been split into various groups.
After dissociating itself from Hussain, who continues to counsel his supporters to boycott the election process, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) has faced financial and administrative challenges. Adding insult to injury, the rise of the Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan (TLP) in the lower-income Mohajir neighbourhoods of the city further split the MQM’s support base in the 2018 general polls.
For the first time in 30 years, the residents of Karachi resoundingly rejected the MQM. In the 2013 general elections, the PTI had managed to poll around 800,000 ‘non-traditional’ votes but still lost because of the MQM’s organisational efficiency. In 2018, the MQM-P lacked the crucial resource.
“Organisational weakness, internal squabbles, lack of funds, a surge in non-traditional, young voters and rise of the TLP have all contributed to the dismal performance of the MQM-P in the 2018 general polls and the recent round of by-elections,” says Munir Ahmed Shah, a political analyst in Karachi.
Since Governor Kamran Tessori, still seen by many MQM veterans as an outsider, assumed office in October, the Governor’s House has been hosting meetings with the agenda to expedite the merger of various MQM factions. He has met, separately and together, MQM-P convenor Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Pak Sarzameen Party supremo Mustafa Kamal, MQM Restoration Committee’s head Dr Farooq Sattar and Afaq Ahmed, the head of Mohajir Qaumi Movement, popularly known as Haqiqi – a title it no longer uses formally.
It seems that Tessori has had considerable success. Except for MQM-Haqiqi, and of course, Altaf Hussain-led MQM (better known as MQM-London), the party factions have agreed to come together on a single platform and described the merger as “the need of the hour”.
“On the one hand, the Pakistan Peoples Party, which has ruled the province for the past 15 years, wants to grab Karachi’s administration by exploiting [the weakness of] MQM’s factions. On the other hand, the PTI, which won most of the seats in Karachi but did not deliver anything in its four-year term, is eyeing the city,” Kamal said on Geo’s Naya Pakistan show on January 9.
Mustafa Azizabadi, an MQM-London leader, has said that the people of Karachi and Hyderabad will not endorse a merger based on an “minus-Altaf” formula.
The PTI, and a section of analysts, see the efforts to relaunch a united MQM as having been orchestrated by the establishment. “Karachi was once the city of lights. Then the establishment decided that it should have a party of its own,” tweeted PTI’s senior vice president Chaudhry Fawad Hussain. The PTI has also asked President Arif Alvi to take cognisance of Tessori’s ‘brazen’ political activities.
Most analysts say the MQM lacks the ability to attract Karachi’s youth, who are seen inclined towards the PTI. “The new youth do not know Altaf Hussain. They are not aware of the MQM ideology on the basis of which the party managed to rule Sindh’s urban centres throughout the ’80s and the ‘90s,” says Hamid Ansari, a veteran political activist in the Landhi area. “The times have changed and the MQM should change accordingly. It should bring forth new party programme and leadership.”
During the reunification meetings, Dr Sattar floated the idea of ‘rebranding’ the MQM and giving at least 50 percent of the leadership positions to workers under 35 years of age.
Ahead of the next general elections, the MQM will face some major challenges. To sustain the merger and succeed it must come up with satisfactory answers to the following questions:
a) what will be the main political slogan for the party to mobilise the people and woo new voters; and
b) how will it respond to questions regarding the party’s performance when its members held the governorship and federal ministries as part of coalition governments with the PTI and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz, and the mayorship of Karachi?
The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher. He covers security, politics and rights. He can be reached at zeea.rehmangmail.com. He tweets at zalmayzia