Sunday July 21, 2024

A standing ovation

The residents of Pakistan’s largest city deserve a standing ovation from the rest of the nation. Des

By Ahmed Quraishi
May 24, 2013
The residents of Pakistan’s largest city deserve a standing ovation from the rest of the nation. Despite three decades of violent and divisive politics forced on them by a failed political system, they came out overwhelmingly in this year’s general election to show they want change, and that they see their destiny with a nation united in its national identity as opposed to a future with political parties bent on promoting regionalism, provincialism and language-based politics.
This is a city where an entire generation has grown up abandoned by the state and thinking it is normal to judge other citizens based on what Pakistani language they speak and what province they reside in. And yet it is Karachi where nearly five thousand of its residents rose above those fake divisions, gathered in a stadium under heavy rain to sing the national anthem and set a world record.
This is a city that lived for five years, between 2008 and 2013, under the reign of three political parties, the PPP, ANP and MQM – parties that have armed wings. This culture of political violence encouraged other criminal gangs, and created an environment conducive for the operation of terrorists from the outside, from the Afghan border and from a neighbouring country that has been sending saboteurs to Pakistan since 1950. And in spite of all this, it is the spirit of Pakistanis in the nation’s largest city that the Karachi Stock Exchange remains one of the most profitable equity markets in the world.
The PPP and the ANP have suffered a crushing defeat, but the MQM is apparently not taking the dent to its popularity in Karachi lightly. The Pakistani government needs to take notice of two disturbing developments in this regard. One is the statement by MQM’s London-based chief Altaf Hussain, retracted later, where he appeared to raise the idea of breaking the city away from the country, coupled with analogies by some of his party members to the 1971 Indian invasion that resulted in breaking up East Pakistan. And two, the statement of British deputy prime minister Nick Clegg where he seemed to suggest that statements against Pakistani sovereignty from British soil constitute freedom of speech under his country’s laws.
The assassination of a senior educationist and PTI vice president Zahra Shahid Hussain is too disturbing to be dismissed as an everyday robbery coming as it did immediately after the threats made by the MQM chief in London on the eve of re-voting in NA-250.
Pakistan desperately needs to ban politics that produce hate based on language, province, and sect. A clear mechanism is required to withdraw the licence of a political party if it indulges in those three forms of divisive and hateful politics. The media should also be restrained from providing a platform to violent politics based on hate. A law in this regard will help our media withstand pressure and coercion from political parties or groups that practice such politics.
The second point to consider here is the role of Britain in promoting extremism inside Pakistan. The statement of Mr Clegg, the deputy British prime minister, on Mr Altaf Hussain’s right to threaten Pakistani citizens from his safe abode in London, is unacceptable and worthy of a proper Pakistani official response.
Let’s remember this: no country in the world allows any political party to control the nation’s largest city, business and financial hub, under any excuse. The US government came down hard on protesters who wanted to disturb the financial district of New York City. In August 2011, British Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a landmark speech where he dismissed human rights laws and unleashed a firm state action on the streets of London in the midst of deadly riots.
The first duty of Pakistan’s government is to guarantee the safety and lives of our citizens in Karachi. Any sign that we have abandoned our citizens will have a dangerous impact on whatever trust our citizens might still have in the viability of the Pakistani state and institutions.