The MQM has a penchant for keeping itself politically alive and in the news by raising one controversy after another every so often. But its ruckus this time really takes the cake. The irony will not be lost on anyone familiar with the MQM’s history that the originator of the criminal activity called bhatta-khori (extortion) in Karachi has suddenly woken up to the plight of traders and businessmen agitating against the constant demands made on them by protection money racketeers. To raise high the banner of their troubled trader brethren, the MQM misbehaved in the Sindh Assembly on Friday by constant shouting and slogan mongering, tearing up the order of the day and bringing the proceedings of the Assembly to a grinding halt. Eventually, the inevitable prorogation had to be resorted to. Admittedly, there is a point of view critical of the PPP for not allowing the agitating MQM members to speak in the house, a move that would have defused the situation and given the PPP members an opportunity to in turn argue against the MQM’s assertion (hinted at) that the PPP government was providing support and protection to the extortionists. No one from the MQM felt the need to identify who these ‘extortionists’ are. But the issue needs to be dilated upon in the context of the MQM’s long held desire to dominate Karachi completely in all aspects of the city’s life and affairs.
The MQM’s furore over extortionism reflects the fact that elements ‘other’ than the original extortionists have got into the act. The MQM of course would like to point the finger of accusation first and foremost at its bête noir, the ANP, with which, despite being part of the same ruling coalition, it has been at daggers drawn for a considerable time. Second, the MQM would like to ‘kill two birds with one stone’ by implicating the PPP as the godfather of the ‘unwanted’ extortionists who have muscled into traditional MQM turf. There can be little doubt that criminal elements must have seen the ‘benefits’ of extortion and gone into business on their own. The breakdown of the MQM’s ‘monopoly’ over the politics of Karachi with the rise of a significant Pashtun community owing allegiance to the ANP rankles with 90 (the MQM headquarters). On the other hand, the ‘new’ extortionists are probably affecting the profitability of the original extortionists. This can, drolly, be described as a business dispute.
The MQM after the Sindh Assembly fracas threatened first a boycott of the president’s annual address to parliament, then thundered that it would disrupt the president’s address. All this froth, however, disappeared with President Asif Ali Zardari’s intervention. The president spoke to Altaf Hussain in London and despatched his MQM trouble-shooter Rehman Malik to Karachi to smooth the ruffled feathers of the MQM. The move seems to have borne fruit, as witnessed by the MQM’s not only being in attendance at the president’s address, but also refraining from joining the slogan mongering and eventual walkout by the opposition led by the PML-N. However, Saturday saw an almost province-wide strike by the bazaar throughout Sindh.
The PPP’s approach to its troublesome coalition ally is informed by the traditional wisdom: keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Like a spoilt child in the habit of throwing tantrums every now and then over the most trivial and irrelevant matters, the MQM has to be puch-puched every now and then to help it recover its balance and continue as though nothing had happened. That underlines just how serious are the MQM’s complaints and the issues from which these emanate. The only problem is, the MQM has now to grow up and realise that the days of exclusivist hegemony in Karachi and other cities of Sindh may be drawing to a close. It is in the interests of the party and its followers to wake up to the reality that Sindh is the common home of diverse ethnic groups. The MQM must therefore stop dreaming of exclusive hegemony in the province and learn to live in peace and harmony with all its fellow Sindhis.