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January 7, 2013

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The options MQM has for its political drone attack

DUBAI: As intense speculation has gripped the political scene after the dramatic announcement by MQM chief Altaf Hussain that he would make a political drone strike in 72 hours, analysts have started looking at the options that he has to create a situation or make a decision that could be a game changer.
Many MQM leaders in Pakistan have suddenly stopped responding to media queries about the bombshell announcement of their leader and the head of the MQM legal team which will appear in the Supreme Court on Monday, Barrister Farogh Naseem, told the media only Altaf Hussain knew about his plan and no one else could speak about it.
But analysts said the MQM chief has just a few limited options and given his active and resolute participation in the long march of Dr Qadri, these options can be further reduced to two or three at the most.
“Whatever drone attack he is planning, it has to match with the declared goals and objectives of the long march, as anything which militates against or creates doubts about the Jan 14 march would be counter productive,” a seasoned analyst said.
Three options have already been aired in the media, which include the sudden return of Mr Hussain to Pakistan, pulling the MQM out of the PPP-led coalition and the assemblies and a surprise appearance in the Supreme Court, which has summoned him in a contempt of court case.
Of these options, breaking away from the PPP could be a welcome step for Dr Qadri but it would not have any substantive impact on the goals of the long march except that Altaf Bhai would be spared of the media and political criticism that is being hurled at him after his decision to join Dr Qadri.
Likewise, pulling out of the assemblies will only have a marginal impact and when I asked Dr Qadri about this possibility soon after the MQM had announced its support, the Allama brushed the prospect aside saying it was no longer relevant as the assemblies were already ending their terms in a few weeks.
His

appearance in the Supreme Court may ease his problems in the specific case of contempt but it will otherwise have a big impact on Karachi politics and MQM workers would be energised for the elections.
His leaving UK at this particular time may raise some questions as Scotland Yard is carrying out an investigation into Dr Imran Farooq murder and he has also been asked to cooperate but linking his departure with that case would not be fair until and unless the Scotland Yard speaks about the case.
Yet even if he does not leave UK and does not come to Karachi, the election prospects of MQM would not be affected in any negative way as his party has won these elections without his presence many times.But MQM’s media person, Wasay Jalil, shot down speculation about these prospects saying Altaf Bhai was not coming back to Pakistan.
“Whenever he will come back the same will be decided and announced much in advance. When he will return he will be given a great welcome but that time has not come yet. Altaf Bhai will never come on such a short notice.”
About speculation that MQM might leave the coalition, Wasay Jalil said this would also not happen. “MQM will not leave the government now as it is almost the end of the tenure and there is no such possibility.”
But about the political drone attack, he said none of the members of the Rabita Committee had any idea as to what announcement Altaf Bhai is going to make. But he clarified that Altaf Bhai’s statement will be of political nature and it has nothing to do with leaving the coalition or Altaf Bhai’s return to Pakistan.
So with these three options shot down, there are only two possible options that can have a big impact on the national scene which can further the goals of Dr Qadri and his massive campaign to first force a change in the electoral system before elections are held.
Dr Tahirul Qadri told me on Sunday night he again had a detailed talk with Altaf Bhai and the only thing he said about the “drone attack was that it would silence the critics who were throwing mud and stones at him (Dr Qadri).”
Analysts said one of the options that can be exercised by the MQM chief is an announcement of a boycott of the forthcoming polls by MQM until the system of elections is materially changed. This could create a huge problem for the PPP and other parties, though many voices will be heard saying it would not matter.
On the contrary it would, as Karachi would not be properly represented in the next assembly if elections were held without MQM. And in a divided house, the solid MQM bloc plays a pivotal role in the formation of coalition governments.
The MQM has a history of boycotting the polls and when in 1993 and 1997 they had abstained, the results in Karachi were lopsided and the commercial capital of the country could not stabilise for normal business and political activity.
But the decision would go a long way to support the demand of Dr Qadri to change the electoral system before the next elections are held. It would match the political walk with the loud talk.
The second option Mr Hussain can have is to demand a referendum on the system of elections before polls are held and this could be ordered either by President Zardari or the Prime Minister.
It should be remembered that just in the last couple of months Mr Altaf Hussain had announced a referendum on whether Pakistanis wanted the Pakistan of Quaid-e-Azam or the Pakistan of the Taliban. That referendum was to be held first on November 8, 2012 but was put off till November 16 and then indefinitely. A petition had also been filed in the Sindh High Court.
Viewed in the context of the demand by Dr Qadri and supported strongly by MQM, the demand for a referendum would fit with the objectives of the long march and if the marchers can force the establishment and the political parties to agree and give a date, a constitutional and a pleasant end to the long march could be achieved.
Whether other political parties would agree and what would be the question set in the referendum is too early to be discussed but it can become a game changer in many ways.
(Ahmad Noorani contributed to this report from Islamabad)

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