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Islamabad

February 9, 2018

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Search for an alternative to MQM

Mohajir politics is once again at a crossroads as within four years the party which they had voted for almost 30 years has practically ‘collapsed’ and that too at a time when hardly four months are left in general elections.

Whatever happened within the MQM-P, only reflects failure of its leadership, which has deepened the crisis of politics of urban Sindh. Who can fill this ‘huge political vacuum’, in Pakistan’s biggest city?

There has always been a space for the mainstream parties in urban Sindh, particularly for the PPP and the PML-N and in post-2013 for the PTI. Jamaat-i-Islami too had the opportunity but none of them really tried to fill the vacuum. Alternate to Karachi cannot come merely by attacking the MQM, but, giving an alternate by understanding Karachi’s political dynamics.

In the present circumstances, the MQM-London, is now considered within the establishment as a ‘close transaction’, come what may. Few years ago, former federal interior minister Ch Nisar told this scribe that the decision has been taken at the highest level that due to its alleged anti-Pakistan activities it would not be allowed ‘space’ in Karachi politics.

Accidental birth of the MQM-P, after August 22, 2016 following the MQM founder’s objectionable speech and anti-Pakistan slogans, gave a ray of hope to the MQM supporters but, the developments of the last few months and particularly in the last few days dashed hope for its supporters.

Pak Sarzameen Party comprising ex-MQM leaders led by former mayor Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani see it as window of opportunity and they believe they are the best option available for urban Sindh in particular.

They want to give a new name to ‘Karachi politics’. The real test for them and also for disgruntled MQM workers is 2018 election. In all possibility Karachi and urban Sindh may see more than one party sharing National and provincial assembly seats. MQM-P had caused yet another self-inflicted injury and Dr Farooq Sattar badly misread and mishandled the situation.

Mohajirs since independence always looked for political alternate one after another division in their mother party ie Pakistan Muslim League. They first looked towards Liaquat Ali Khan and then Ms Fatima Jinnah. In the first ever general elections of one-man-one vote, they switched over to religious parties, Jamaat-i-Islam and JUP, while they also expected something good from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, as Karachi played an important role in anti-Ayub movement, more because late Ayub Khan defeated Fatima Jinnah in presidential elections.

Till 70s, Mohajirs had not emerged as political identity. It was JUP and JI in particular which for the first time played ‘Mohajir card’, during Urdu language riots over Sindhi language bill and quota system. The strong agitation against Bhutto in 1977 PNA movement was more against Bhutto’s policies towards urban Sindh rather than for any other reason.

It was this aspect which drew Gen Zia’s attention to use ‘Mohajir card’ to check both the PPP in interior Sindh and also an alternate to Jamaat-i-Islami in urban Sindh. But, even Zia never thought nor those who had laid the foundation of All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organisation, APMSO in 1978, that they would get such an unprecedented support from Mohajirs.

Gen Zia only used JI, till Bhutto’s hanging and till the 8th Amendment in the Constitution. He dumped the JI, and 1984 banned student unions, the first step followed by non-party based elections in 1985, which was the first major setback for the JI and the JUP in urban Sindh. Non-JI and JUP candidates won. It was the first turning point in the politics of urban Sindh. The MQM had not emerged as a political party till then but APMSO was making inroads on the campuses.

Writing was on the wall for religious parties when the party called the MQM was born in 1986, with its very first public meeting at Nishtar Park. Even then the MQM leaders were not sure they would also gather electoral support, but, the way they swept 1987, local bodies it clearly showed that they were here for a much longer period than any other party.

While the JI too represented people from middle class, the MQM emerged as party of the middle class. Young students became councillors and mayors. It got unprecedented support in its first general elections in 1988. It swept polls in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur.

But, what was the disturbing factor for other political parties was the rise in violence between 1984 and 1988, some allegedly ‘well-engineered’ like Aligarh and Qasba Colony and Hyderabad massacres, which polarised ethnic politics in Sindh.

After the MQM got unprecedented support, the problem within the party also started when it decided to ‘control’ the areas by force through its sectors and units. There was no need for the MQM, as their voters were intact. On the contrary, the Urdu-speaking and Mohajir elite started protesting with the MQM leadership not to use muscle tactic.

The MQM clash with the media in the 90s further damaged the party and its leadership as its image in the country and abroad further tarnished. Yet, majority in Karachi and Hyderabad still backed the party during elections but, for no reason it allegedly tried to double the ‘vote’ in a bid to give impression that it is gaining popularity.

However, the handling of the MQM, since 1992, also raised serious questions about ‘political engineering’. Therefore, when in 1992, MQM (Haqiqi) was launched people did not accept and even those who were critical of the MQM and Altaf Hussain, did not accept the rival faction.

It gave a new lease of life to the MQM and despite 1992 operation MQM’s electoral support remains intact. Hundreds of MQM and MQM-H workers had been killed in target killings which also include some of its key leaders like its chairman, Azeem Ahmad Tariq.

Unfortunately, the MQM did not learn any lesson either from 1992 operation or 1994-96 operation. They got the best opportunity to reform itself and transform itself as a true middle class party when they formally became an ally of former president Pervez Musharraf and struck a deal with him in 2002.

It was not only the best period for the MQM, but, also for its founder to return and learn from past mistakes. Even Musharraf and his establishment instead of reforming the MQM, not only allowed but backed its alleged militant faction. May 12, 2007 took the MQM back to the 90s.

In 2008 and 2013, the MQM again got a chance to regroup and re-assess itself. The PPP government also mishandled its ally particularly its home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza. This time he used Lyari gang against the MQM and many people were killed. Mohajirs once again voted for the MQM in 2013 as a reaction to the PPP policy in handling Karachi situation.

Thus in the last 30 years the alternate to the MQM more or less were engineered and badly mishandled. Altaf Hussain caused serious ‘self-inflicted’ injury to the party when after election victory in 2013, he allowed his party workers to manhandle its own leaders.

It was the beginning of an end, not only to his politics but that of the MQM, too. He also misjudged 2013 elections, Karachi operation and the MQM-London chapter did not pay any heed to its own leaders from Dr Ishratul Ibad, Dr Farooq Sattar and to Mustafa Kamal. The party founder continued with his hard-hitting speeches against military establishment.

Therefore, for the first time there will be surprises in the elections in urban Sindh. Whether it will change the political dynamics of Karachi, and too for any healthy politics, I still have my doubts and there are multiple reasons. For the MQM and Mohajirs, there is lot to learn from their past politics, if they really want to reform themselves. The writer is the senior columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang. Twitter: @MazharAbbasGeo

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