Pakistan’s political parties and leaders do not have much time to seek solutions of Pakistan’s socio-economic and internal security problems because they are very busy in trading charges and counter-charges with one another.
The latest addition to polemics is the MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s long and rambling press conference that was shown live on TV for about 3½ hours. This was a rare favour to him by the media. No other leader can get such a long time on live television, that too free of commercials.
Since August 28, the Pakistani media have been in the grip of long and winding polemics of charges and counter-charges. Though mutual recrimination is not something new in Pakistan, never in the past a leader made such a long address in an adamant tone. The present series of charges and counter-charges began with Zulfiqar Mirza’s hard-hitting charge-sheet against the MQM on August 28. The MQM rejoinder was given by Raza Haroon and Mustafa Kamal in two separate press conferences, rejecting the charges and accusing Mirza of highly irresponsible statements. On September 9, Altaf Hussain decided to enter into the fray.
Altaf Hussain returned to the political style of the early 1990s when the MQM projected itself as an ethnic party for the protection and advancement of the rights and interests of Sindh’s Urdu-speaking population. Later, the MQM changed its strategy by projecting itself as the champion of all people with middle and lower middle class background. It replaced the word “Mohajir” with “Muttahida” in its name.
In 2010-2011, as the MQM leadership found itself under strong pressure from other political parties and ethnic groups, it decided to return to the old narrative of exploitation of the Mohajir and that it would not let anyone deny their rights and interests. This strategy is designed to block the efforts of other political parties to make inroads into its votebank in urban Sindh in general and Karachi in particular.
The return to the old theme of exploitation and killings of Mohajirs is going to adversely affect its efforts to establish itself in the Punjab. The politically active circles in the Punjab have reacted negatively to Altaf Hussain’s unnecessarily long press conference. On the other hand, Zulfiqar Mirza’s critique of the MQM was noted with interest and most have welcomed it.
Altaf Hussain rejected the claim by others that the MQM was responsible for the killings on May 12, 2007, when Chief Justice of Pakistan (then under suspension) and the leaders of the Lawyers’ movement could not leave the Karachi airport for the city to address the lawyers. He accused the ANP, the MQM (Haqiqi) and the Jamaat-i-Islami of violence and killings on May 12. This narrative is going to be questioned by most analysts. It is well known that one of the MQM ministers in the Sindh cabinet admitted on May 12 that he had ordered the blocking of road out of the Karachi airport by parking huge size container-trucks.
Altaf Hussain targeted the ANP with the sharpest criticism, accusing it of obtaining funds from the US for electioneering. The Jamaat-e-Islami and the PML(N) were also criticised. These three parties have rejected these charges. Altaf Hussain was soft on the PPP and admitted that his party was exploring the option of joining the PPP-led federal and Sindh governments.
He failed to make a convincing case of an international conspiracy to break-up Pakistan by displaying newspaper and magazine articles in the press conference. Most of these articles especially by Selig Harrison and Robert Kaplan were known to academicians. It is not possible to break-up a country by only publishing articles.
He offered cooperation to the military for coping with the so-called external threats to Pakistan. Since November-December 2010, the MQM leadership encouraged the top brass of the army two-three times to play overt political role.
The political parties hold the key to resolving Pakistan’s internal problems and controlling terrorism. The future of democracy also depends on their performance. However, some of them hope that the Supreme Court would rebuke the federal government in such a manner that the latter would find it difficult to stay in power. Others want the army to knock the PPP out of power; install some new government or assume power directly. Still others think that the Supreme Court can instruct the Army Chief to implement its orders against the federal government.
The military top-brass may feel heartened that a section of the political and civil elite looks up to them for instituting political change. However, the military’s track record shows that its top brass do not dance on somebody’s tunes. They make professional and political decisions on the basis of their own calculations.
The army top brass have expressed concern about Karachi’s violent situation in t two Corps Commanders’ meetings in August and September 2011. The army chief sought a report on the situation in Karachi from the Director-General Rangers (Sindh) and Karachi Corps Commander. While the army is building pressure on the federal and Sindh governments, the Supreme Court has also increased pressure on the federal and Sindh governments by initiating its suo motu proceedings in Karachi on the troubled situation.
There is no guarantee that military intervention will resolve Karachi’s problems. The direct assumption of power will expose the army to sharp criticism and divert its attention from its current efforts for countering terrorism. There will be a negative reaction to direct assumption of power by the military.
Rather the military can force the civilian government to follow its advice on controlling civic violence, make changes in the cabinet and insist on assigning some cabinet positions to professionals.
The political leaders wishing the military to change the current political status-quo need to understand that any expansion of military’s role will restrict the options of all political leaders, including those who look towards the military or the Supreme Court for changing the federal government. The political leaders should stick to constitutionalism and democracy and cooperate with each other for addressing Pakistan’s socio-political, economic and internal security problems. They should suspend their war of words and devote attention to helping the flood-affected people of Sindh. They must rise above their narrow partisan interests.
The writer is an independent political and defence analyst.