MQM in need of metamorphosis
Once again the MQM is in the midst of a storm. Political pundits are having a good time, at the prime-time, guessing whether this most controversial political party will come through the storm or it would be considerably weakened.
Logically, references are being made to the unsuccessful bid by the establishment to bury MQM in the summer of 1992. But a number of factors have changed since that attempt 24 years ago: The splinter group launched recently is led by Mustafa Kamal, a softer face of the MQM, compared with the attempt in 1992 when the protégées were two militant leaders– Afaq Ahmed and Amir Khan; Fear of MQM has evaporated as it has been de-fanged to a considerable extent by the ongoing operations in Sindh; Altaf Hussain’s ill-health has loosened his grip over the party; 24/7 television now plays an important role in perception building; and MQM’s weak defense against the allegation that it was funded by RAW is also going against it.
But the allegation that MQM’s London Secretariat was getting funds from India and its militants were trained there is proved in the court most of the party cadre is not convinced. The charges regarding funding from India are part of the money laundering case in the UK courts. The chances that the British will go ahead with it are very slim. Britain is not likely to upset its friend India by proving that they have been finding a party in Pakistan. India is using influence on 10 Downing Street to keep its name out of MQM’s money laundering case.
Back in Pakistan people who have memory of the political history are aware of the fact that whosoever disagrees with the establishment’s narrative has been branded as an Indian agent. Probability of Indian intelligence buying support in Pakistan’s disgruntled political and militant elements is as strong as our intelligence supporting the similar elements across the border, or as Israel spending on lobbying in the US.
Establishments have a history of divide and rule. The British tactfully supported communal politics in India to weaken the movement against the colonial rule. Gen. Ayub Khan divided Pakistan Muslim League in 1962 to get the support for his dictatorial rule. His administration also divided the people of Sindh into Mohajirs and Sindhis in the 60s. Gen. Zia tried to create a parallel Pakistan People’s Party to counter Bhutto. Following the strong movement for the restoration of democracy in Sindh, Zia’s government supported the newly formed Mohajir Qaumi Movement under Altaf Hussain. Gen Musharraf carved out PML-Q and People’s Party Patriots with the support of Punjab Rangers. History has shown that all these attempts of political engineering by the establishment gave short-term tactical advantage to them but at the end of the day was proved counter-productive.
MQM is a well-organised cult around Altaf Hussain. Cultism followers see the demigod from the distance and are devoted to the personality. Those who are around him and manage the cult usually see through the demagogue but continue to serve because of their own vested interest. Such cults split into many factions once the demigod has gone.
The problem with the MQM is in the basic political formulation of the party. It is based on the perceived injustices to the immigrants from India after partition of the subcontinent. The definition of Mohajir coined by its leaders when it was formed was: the people who migrated from India and no part of their province was included in Pakistan. This excluded the bulk of immigrants who migrated from East Punjab to West Punjab. Most of the migrants from provinces other than West Punjab were Urdu-speaking settled in three cities of Sindh. The first decade after partition they enjoyed to be the part of the ruling elite. After the first martial law, gradually their influence started declining and their position as junior partners of Punjabi ruling classes was taken over by the Pashtuns. Still their share in the government and private sector jobs was many times more than their ratio in the population of Pakistan.
After the breakup of the One Unit curse in 1972 the natives of Sindh got power in Karachi for the first time. They were shunted out of their priced city, Karachi, soon after the birth of Pakistan, as the city was declared a federal capital and the provincial government was moved out. Thus the Urdu-speaking who were 7.5% of the country’s population started resenting the decline of their power and the rise of Sindhi ruling and middle classes. This conflict has been ongoing and the tussle for control over cities has made Karachi a hotbed.
MQM has successfully garnered the support of the Urdu-speaking who are bitter about some real and some perceived injustices. By fighting it out for control over urban Sindh they have fought against all the major ethnicities residing in the province. This has isolated it and has made it a target by all. In 1988 they made an alliance with PPP but within a few months MQM fell out asking for a much bigger share than what was realistically possible. It then joined Nawaz Sharif’s PML government in 1990, but left it in 1992, lack of prudence resulted in a major operation by the establishment. It has failed to be a reliable and consistent ally of any elected government. The only time it had a long partnership was with the military government of Gen. Musharraf.
In a most probable scenario MQM will survive the present tempest, but much bruised. It is high time MQM should purge itself from the militants and accept the reality that Karachi is a multi-ethnic city with around 45% Urdu speaking. So the power has to be shared democratically. And should declare themselves as ‘Sindhis by option’, instead of pitching themselves against the local population.
The writer is a freelance journalist and author. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org