The MQM has the ability to go back on its words and take a 180 degree turn at any time. It would therefore be unwise to make a categorical claim that the party has finally bid farewell to the PPP. During the last three and a half years, it has threatened to resign from the cabinet and its ministers have actually tendered their resignations only to take them back so many times that it is hard to predict the party would sit out a year and a half on the uncomfortable opposition benches. What worries MQM is that, this, time it is no more in a position to dictate terms to the PPP. It is now for the PPP to decide whether it wants to keep its erstwhile partner in the government or not. The terms for rejoining the cabinet will be dictated by the PPP rather than the MQM.
The MQM has no compunction in the choice of allies as long as it is assured a good share in power. Democrats are fine. So are the protégés of the establishment. Military rulers too are equally welcome. The party joined the coalition formed by Benazir in Sindh in 1988 with great fanfare amid slogans of Sindhi Mohajir Bhai Bhai. Soon, it sensed that the PPP was going to be ousted by the establishment. The MQM promptly withdrew support from the Bhutto government. The party then made a perfectly safe landing into Mian Nawaz Sharif’s camp which was then resounding with the slogans of Jag Punjabi Jag. As Ch Nisar Ali was to put it later, the MQM was handed down to Nawaz Sharif’s PML by Gen Mirza Aslam Beg. What is more, despite its penchant for secularism, the party fought the 1990 election in alliance with the PML which was a part of the Islami Jamhouri Ittehad(IJI). MQM was given a free hand under PPP’s nemesis Jam Sadiq Ali. The Machiavellian Sindhi leader fully exploited his new ally’s militant tendencies in his war against the PPP.
The ethnic outfit’s relations with Nawaz Sharif and the army soured by 1992. The military subsequently launched Operation Cleanup to weed out the MQM. Raids were conducted on party offices and torture camps. The military released photos showing that the MQM was a terrorist organisation. A little before the launch of the military operation, Altaf Hussain got an inkling of what lay ahead and secretly left the country. A number of important MQM leaders including Ishratul Ibad also got asylum in Britain.
The MQM’s militant cadre subsequently went underground from where they launched terrorist attacks on their rivals. These included MQM(Haqiqi) and PPP activists. The killings in Karachi were brought to an end by PPP’s interior minister Naseerullah Babar who ruthlessly targeted the terrorists one by one.
Come 2002 elections and the MQM which had been till then fulminating against the army decided to join the PML(Q)-led coalition hammered together by Pervez Musharraf’s NAB and security agencies.
The MQM faces hard choices now. Realising that with the PML(Q) in the ruling coalition, the ground realities have changed; it can return to the fold but without condition and be contented with whatever is doled out to it. What worries it, however, are the PPP’s plans for the next elections. A dispatch in the WikiLeaks reveals Zardari’s scorn about the MQM’s claims of being the sole representative of the urban Sindh. The PPP could cut the MQM to its size simply by re-delineating the constituencies in Karachi thus doing away with the gerrymandering introduced to give MQM a big mandate.
The PPP has lost votes in the interior of Sindh for continuing to yield ground to the MQM. The explanation that it was being done to bring peace to Karachi is widely seen as untenable. This has provided Mian Nawaz Sharif an opportunity to make inroads in what the PPP considers its exclusive fief. Last month, the PML(N) leader was accorded an unusually warm welcome in Hyderabad by the parties fighting for Sindhi rights. As the general elections draw near, the PPP leadership will have to take measures to woo back the alienated sections of the Sindhi population. For this, Zardari needs to undo the much-resented bifurcation of districts like Hyderabad under Musharraf. Again, he will have to ensure that there is no discrimination against Sindhis in Karachi. Similarly, he has to take into account the views of the party leaders about the constitution of the local bodies which are opposed to those of the MQM.
Despite their reputation for being more tenacious than many animals, cats may not always land the right way up. This explains why your average cat jumping from the garden fence will occasionally come home limping, bruised or fractured because of a badly timed fall. Was the latest resignation from the ministries an act of the sort?
The writer is a former academic and a political analyst.