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Time of transition

MQM emerged on the political horizon of Pakistan in 1985 like a whiff of fresh air. This was a totally different political outfit that brought a revolution of sorts to the urban Sindh politics. It introduced many new faces who vowed to represent the middle class as they themselves belonged to that segment of society. This party was highly organised and disciplined. One thought the hour of departure from old feudal dominated politics had arrived. MQM had a progressive manifesto and promised to empower the educated middle class with its roots grown deep into the streets of Karachi and Hyderabad. But there was one problem; the word of its founding leader Altaf Hussain was final and nobody could challenge it.

They say power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Altaf Hussain started behaving like a tyrant who brooked no defiance. His party started developing a militant wing that would extort contributions for the party and silence anybody who would dare to resist. MQM, when in government, always looked for ministries that could afford maximum jobs for its cadres. Its muscle power tactics earned the ire of peaceful business community. Two operations were launched against militants hiding behind this party, one in 1992 and the other in 1996. During the first operation, Altaf Hussain fled to London and has lived there ever since.

This party has had a love-hate relationship with the military establishment. Since the best way to keep party cadres happy was to be part of federal and provincial governments, MQM usually chose this as its first option. This allowed the party to oblige its faithful workers by dishing out jobs to them and protecting them from police if they were on the wrong side of law. The party entered various coalition governments in Karachi and Islamabad with the Peoples Party as well as the Muslim League. Whenever its demands were not met, it would walk out of the government. Both major parties invariably tried to appease it to keep their governments stable. However, it was during Pervez Musharraf’s period that MQM really behaved like a spoilt brat. Its cadres are widely believed to have masterminded the mayhem of May 2007 in order to keep chief justice Ifthikar Chaudhry out of Karachi city.

So the MQM came to be known as a party of political somersaults with deep links to crime syndicates. During the Musharraf era, it also settled scores with the police officers who were believed to have hounded its cadres during previous operations. Media houses that dared to speak against the party or its supreme leader had to pay a price. Holding a demonstration or bringing Karachi’s commercial life to a halt,at a short notice was no big deal. The 2013 elections again saw that the urban Sindh mandate was still with MQM but Imran Khan’s PTI also got many votes there. More importantly, this party was no longer part of the federal and provincial governments. Rangers led security combing of Karachi as part of the National Action Plan and increased its problems tremendously. It could not afford to criticise the operation because Karachi law and order had visibly improved.

Today the MQM is in transition. It no longer has the power to bring Karachi to a halt. Its constitution is being amended to delete Altaf Hussain’s veto power. When Altaf asked his followers to raise slogans against Pakistan and its institutions last week many did not do so. Many MQM workers have left the party or gone into political retirement like Dr Aamer Liaqat. Others like Mustafa Kamal have established a parallel party and curse Altaf for the misery of the party cadres. Party offices, illegally constructed, are being pulled down.

Farooq Sattar, who now heads the party in Pakistan, is a seasoned politician with a balanced head on his shoulders. He has to walk a tight rope of distancing himself and the new MQM from Altaf Hussain and preserving the vote bank. His job is not enviable right now. It is a good omen that neither the federal nor the provincial governments have any plan to have MQM banned. The political wing of this party should have full liberty while the criminal elements must be purged after due process.