The Political Void in Karachi Must Be Filled

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Pakistani media personnel gather outside the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party after it was sealed by paramilitary rangers following a raid in Karachi on late August 22, 2016.  Activists of a key Pakistani political party clashed with police and ransacked a private television station in the southern port city of Karachi on August 22, leaving at least one man dead and seven others injured. The violence erupted soon after the powerful exiled leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Altaf Hussain, gave a telephone address to his supporters in which he castigated the media for not giving due coverage of his workers. / AFP PHOTO / RIZWAN TABASSUM
Pakistani media personnel gather outside the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party after it was sealed by paramilitary rangers following a raid in Karachi on August 22, 2016. AFP / RIZWAN TABASSUM

The litmus test for those claiming to lead the Mohajirs of Karachi, and fill the void left by the dismemberment of the once all-too-powerful-and-muscular MQM, would be how best they can win the trust of the people of Karachi. It’s about time the people of Karachi experimented with something new and put their trust in men with untainted credentials, like those of PTI

KARAMATULLAH K GHORI | Caravan Daily

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he people of Karachi, especially those who groomed it into Pakistan’s premier metropolis, have been eminently unlucky as far as their political leadership is concerned.

Karachi had shone itself as an anti-establishment city with the emergence of non-democratic forces on Pakistan’s horizon.

The city sided with Fatima Jinnah in the 1965 presidential election and paid a price in blood for opposing the then strongman, FM Ayub Khan. But the sacrifice only stiffened the resolve of its denizens to remain in the vanguard of struggle against dictatorial regimes.

The city’s anti-establishment credentials were sullied and dragged in dirt when, under General ZiaulHaq, the middle-of-the-road Jamaat-e-Islami, leaning to the right, decided to become the military dictator’s B-Team, thus suborning the trust the Karachiwalas had reposed in eminently honorable men like Professors Ghafoor and MehmoodAzamFarooqi.

The setback looked like being temporary when ZiaulHaq took the initiative to baptize, under his patronage, the birth of MQM—the first all-Mohajir party of Karachi, initially, and eventually of Sindh. It was heartening that MQM had the youths of Karachi at its helm. Still more promising was the pristine middle-class provenance of its leadership; that they were educated was the icing on the cake.

However, little did the Karachiwalas realize that Zia had taken them for a ride, for he’d chalked up a different agenda for his youthful wards; they were to serve his establishment plan against PPP’s rising popularity in the wake of ZAB’s hanging.

What followed is history so well known to those who have followed the ebb and tide of MQM, whose absentee supremo, AltafHussain, unswervingly lived up to Zia’s expectations of siding with the government in power, unconcerned with the complexion of that government. MQM was allied to every government-in-power in Sindh, and also at the center, since Altaf fled to exile in 1991. Its pro-establishment track record was a huge disappointment to those Karachiwals who may have pinned hopes on it delinking politics in Pakistan from the apron-strings of the feudals—the traditional power-barons in Pakistan.

It’s no surprise to pundits that MQM’s unraveling has come at the hands of its supremo, Altaf Hussain, whose August 22 diatribe against Pakistan was the last nail in MQM’s coffin as a party representative of Sindh’s largely Mohajir middle-class.

Not surprisingly, again, is what has been spawned from Altaf’s inebriated bravado. MQM has been truncated and splintered into several groups. To the layman it’s bewildering that the once tightly run and overly disciplined outfit that MQM was has now been divided and atomized.

Altaf, in a hopeless, last-ditch, attempt to salvage his name and reputation is still hanging on to MQM-London. However, this is like keeping one’s saddle on a dead horse. For all intents and purposesAltaf is history.

The scene of action, after August 22, has shifted to Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh. But Karachi is the epicenter and, for want of a better description, battle-ground.

As of now there are at least three contenders to partake of the spoils: MQM-Pakistan, headed by Farooq Sattar; Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by a maverick Mustafa Kamal, who’d earned his laurels as Karachi’s pro-active Mayor; and MQM-Haqiqi, which retains its lien on the birth-name of MQM, as it was initially known, The MohajirQaumi Movement. Afaq Ahmed, leading the original party, insists he’s the rightful claimant to the inheritance and legacy of what was intended to be a party representing the educated, urban middle class of Karachi and ancillary urban parts of Sindh.

Winning back the trust that the Karachiwals once had in Altaf and his minions wouldn’t be easy for the likes of Farooq Sattar, a loyal and unabashed acolyte of Altaf, even in the initial aftermath of the August 22 fiasco. There are questions aplenty, even now that he has supposedly broken all his former links with Altaf, about the cleanliness of his credentials. Some still take his protestations of being his own man with a big pinch of salt; they think—and one can’t blame them for doubting his profile—that he’s still a closet Altaf loyalist and whatever show of independence from ‘the leader’ he has been putting on is only noorakushti.

It’s a tough call for any pundit, no matter how seasoned or savvy, to guess how the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle that MQM’s future could be likened to are going to fall, any time soon. That it may take some time is understandable. The unraveling may have been quick but picking up the pieces of a shattered façade would take some doing. It’s going to be harder when there are more than one claimant to the spoils.

The litmus test for those claiming to lead the Mohajirs of Karachi, and fill the void left by the dismemberment of the once all-too-powerful-and-muscular MQM, would be how best they can win the trust of the people of Karachi.

Trust, at the moment, has a premium, because those who’d looked up to Altaf’s MQM have been rudely disappointed, to say the very least. They have, literally, been jolted by the abuse of their faith in the party that was supposed to be their standard bearer.

Winning back the trust that the Karachiwals once had in Altaf and his minions wouldn’t be easy for the likes of Farooq Sattar, a loyal and unabashed acolyte of Altaf, even in the initial aftermath of the August 22 fiasco. There are questions aplenty, even now that he has supposedly broken all his former links with Altaf, about the cleanliness of his credentials. Some still take his protestations of being his own man with a big pinch of salt; they think—and one can’t blame them for doubting his profile—that he’s still a closet Altaf loyalist and whatever show of independence from ‘the leader’ he has been putting on is only noorakushti.

Mustafa Kamal, in comparison with Sattar, may be better off, but just. He broke up with Altaf long before the hermit ‘Solomon-in-London’ brought down the temple upon himself in a fit of intoxication. Kamal’s reputation of a go-getter should stand him in good stead with those looking for a man of action and not just of words. Insiders had said long time ago that Kamal had been sidelined by Altaf because he didn’t want to be overshadowed by his former acolyte.

But Kamal, too, carries the stigma of having served Altaf loyally and obediently. On top of his past alignment with Altaf, Kamal now has a tough job rubbishing the allegation that he’s as much a front-man doing the biddings of our intelligence agencies as was Altaf in the formative years of MQM.

Afaq Hussain doesn’t have the long shadow of Altaf cast over him. But he, too, has the stamp on him of being an invention of our intelligence puppeteers. As such, he, too, has as tough a call as Sattar and Kamal to promote himself as his own man.

MQM Chief Altaf Hussain
MQM’s deposed chief Altaf Hussain

For a layman of Karachi the waters are being muddied, for him, by the incessant war of words going on among these contenders for the mantle of his leadership. The poor man is being baffled and harried by the claims and counter-claims hurled, with impunity, by these pretenders to the crown that once belonged, solely, to the now-disgraced Altaf.

The mess will take time to be sorted out. The people of Karachi have the intelligence to sift chaff from the grain. But they deserve to be given a level playing field to do that. And a level playing field would become possible if only Pakistan’s notoriously meddlesome ‘establishment’ would stop being the guardian-angels that they, mistakenly, think they are.

But while the born-again former acolytes of Altaf fight it out among themselves to win the trust of a befuddled Karachi denizen, there’s another option for those who would genuinely want to have a leadership that doesn’t carry the stigma, past or present, of Altaf’s MQM.

Imran Khan’s PTI has some honorable men, hailing from Karachi, who can be tested out for the mantle of leading the people of Karachi. None of them has the kind of baggage from a sordid past that may regularly haunt Sattar, Kamal or Afaq, or any other former minion of Altaf, for that matter. Those of Imran’s men with roots in Karachi are mostly clean and above-board. They are a trust-worthy lot.

It’s about time the people of Karachi experimented with something new and put their trust in men with untainted credentials, like those of PTI.

The people of Karachi, its mohajir component, in particular, have another call on them: they must checkmate Zardari’s PPP, stepping into the void left by MQM and Altaf. The recent PPP carnival, organized ostensibly to commemorate BB’s triumphant, but tragic, return to Karachi, in 2007, was Zardari’s initial gambit to step into the breach caused by MQM’s ignominious fall. But letting a rogue like Zardari fill the void would be a proverbial rehash of the old dictum. Out of the frying-pan, and into the fire.

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