Fiery politics

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Karachi matters

 

 

He made grating mouth noises as he drawled incoherently about the evil Rangers and their allegedly nefarious agenda-driven operation against his party. Exempting no one, he blamed the army, the ISPR, the various political parties, the MI and the cohort of other intelligence agencies — essentially everyone – for that one thing which his own party – MQM –currently stands accused of: terrorism.

And as painful an admission as this is, Altaf Hussain was partially right. Why, after all, single out the MQM? This is a country where the establishment has long nourished parasites that eat us from within, where every major political party has a militant wing, where intelligence agencies frequently collude with messianic creeps to fight invisible enemies, where the hard-right religious parties have covert – and on occasion, overt — ties and sympathies with al Qaeda and their like, and where the murderers of our minorities – Shi’a, Hindu, Ahmadi and Christian – roam free. Now the generals, after decades of a steamy sultry romance with all manner of militants — the LeTs and TTPs et al — have decided to take the war to militancy by attacking MQM headquarters in Karachi? If the establishment is, in principle, opposed to militancy, then why promote it for its own gains all these years? Welcome to Pakistan: the gulag of common sense and ordinary logic.

Some see echoes of the 1992 operation in the current Karachi situation. Those who remember will know that MQM gained greater legitimacy and strength in its aftermath. But Raheel Sharif is not Asif Nawaz. And the Nawaz Sharif of today seems a reformed version of his previous self – or so one would hope

This is not to say the most venerable and ever exalted Altaf Bhai, the God father of the Muhajir community, is not a man of outmoded sensibilities. He misses, or perhaps chooses to ignore, the bold-print writing on the wall: that the times are changing. The current military establishment under COA Raheel Sharif has made no bones about its resolve to snuff out terrorism in all its lethal incarnations. Zarb-e-Azb is not an operatic Bollywood act; it is a hard, unfolding reality. This army chief has combined Musharraf’s valour with Kayani’s wit, and he means business. So while Altaf Bhai, somewhat justifiably, calls out on the apparent hypocrisy of the rangers’ operation in Karachi, he should not forget that those who have green-lighted this operation are perhaps men of fresh resolve and humbled motives.

But it’s not just the MQM Quaid who seems to have been taken by surprise by the army action. A senile, runaway mind which has flown the coop may well be a factor here, but these are genuinely discombobulating times. What really changed the wind’s direction in GHQ is hard to guess. And say what you want, even Sharif is becoming rapidly distinguishable from the man he once was. His hard stance — albeit under the cover of an all-party session — on the Yemen issue, his co-operation with the army on Zarb-e-Azb and more recently the Karachi operation, and his recent success with China on the foreign investment front – a 46 billion dollar investment promised by China’s president on his recent trip – is positive stuff for a man whose political trail bears plenty the stain marks of past indiscretions.

But regardless of motives and Altaf’s melodic lamentations, the fact is the rangers operation in Karachi was long overdue. For as far back as memory goes, one sees in Karachi a city long reduced to a puppet show, in the hands of a malevolent puppeteer. A massive port city – the country’s most populous – and a hub of trade and finance, finds itself dancing to the whims of a semi-deranged man. And while MQM has much to its credit, its grass-root online casino appeal, its liberal/secular bent, and its support for women/minorities among other things, it has yet to fully divest itself from the cultish thuggish legacy of brand Altaf, in all its attendant degradations. And as stockpiles of weapons along with legions of convicted killers and hitmen have surfaced in the aftermath of the ground-zero operation, with ringing confessions of apprehended party members emerging regularly, one thing has become quite clear: MQM has blood on its hands and our military’s involvement in cleansing Karachi had now become a necessity.

Consider: for the first time in history, we had a by-election in the MQM operational base which was carried under exceedingly tight scrutiny and supervision – with rangers deployed at polling booths

Some see echoes of the 1992 operation in the current Karachi situation. Those who remember will know that MQM gained greater legitimacy and strength in its aftermath. But Raheel Sharif is not Asif Nawaz. And the Nawaz Sharif of today seems a reformed version of his previous self – or so one would hope. Most importantly, the consciousness of the Pakistani people has changed. A new generation is emerging that wants a clean break from the old ways.

And while this may be a sad day for PTI, having predictably lost NA 246 to MQM, it still bodes well for us as a country, if only, for once, we take the larger view of things. Consider: for the first time in history, we had a by-election in the MQM operational base which was carried under exceedingly tight scrutiny and supervision – with rangers deployed at polling booths. With such developments, we seem to be that much closer to the day when we have elections that are free and fair. Credit goes to Khan for his dharna efforts that have rendered possible what hitherto looked a fantasy. Furthermore, other developments such as the confessions of men like Saulat Mirza –who implicated MQM leaders in the Baldia factory burning – together with the stepping down of party members like Nabil Gabol – who claimed NA 246 was rigged – has put tremendous pressure on MQM. It is one thing to be castigated by others, but to be outed and abandoned by your own has got to hurt. And MQM is visibly hurt. For a change, the party has finally had to engage in election campaigning in its strongest constituency because there was tangible competition (from PTI and JI) from outside. This means the overarching one-party monolithic MQM reality of Karachi is not permanent, with parties like PTI emerging to stake their claim in the political pie. And although MQM has won with a massive margin in the NA 246 by-election – an indication that even if rigged, the 2013 elections weren’t radically off base – the fact that Khan’s been able to secure a large number of votes in MQM’s neck of the wood is suggestive of changing times ahead.

So kudos to Raheel Sharif for taking action when words alone are just no longer enough. Congratulations to MQM for what appears to be a fair victory and better luck to PTI in the future.

And let’s not forget, the ultimate victor in the NA 246 by-election is Pakistan.