Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Daily Times Editorial Feb 12, 2015

Altaf’s retreat After the bitter and abusive war of words between Imran Khan and Altaf Hussain and their respective party followers the past few days, better sense has prevailed, at least partially. Altaf Hussain has shown contrition and apologised to the PTI women workers he had used unacceptable language against in a speech the other day, including PTI information secretary Shireen Mazari. But whereas Altaf Hussain has realised he had made a mistake and apologised unreservedly for it, an apology that Shireen Mazari accepted wholeheartedly, the same it seems cannot be said for Imran Khan. Unrelenting, the PTI leader has continued his verbal assault and diatribe against Altaf Hussain, calling him a jackal, insane, biggest terrorist, etc. He has charged Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif with the responsibility of eliminating the MQM’s militant wing in Karachi and advised the government to take up cases against Altaf Hussain in the UK (Imran himself having failed in an earlier attempt in this direction). And all this even after Altaf Hussain had contradicted one of his party’s leaders who, while speaking in the rally the MQM took out in Karachi in support of their leader and against Imran Khan, had said Imran would not be allowed to enter Karachi, nor would his party be allowed to hold public meetings in the city. Altaf Hussain, on the other hand, reversing himself from his earlier guttersnipe comments on the PTI women workers, sounded statesmanlike when he said that Imran Khan was a citizen of Pakistan and would be welcomed whenever he set foot in Karachi. Both parties, in the aftermath of the bruising exchange, have written to diplomats against each other. Shireen Mazari, echoing Imran’s call to the British government to take note of Altaf Hussain’s incendiary speeches instigating violence in Pakistan from the safety of London and take action against him, wrote to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad along similar lines. MQM leader Babar Ghauri in the meantime has written to the US Ambassador in Islamabad to take note of Imran’s support to the Taliban and his past personal life that is the content of a court case against him in the US. The MQM has also moved a resolution in the Sindh Assembly in protest against Imran Khan’s abusive language against Altaf Hussain. So the situation it appears is that the MQM chief has retreated, the MQM’s ‘diplomatic ‘ letters and Sindh Assembly resolution notwithstanding. However, even this has not proved sufficient to get Imran Khan to stand down. His unrelenting abusive barrage against Altaf Hussain continues, guaranteeing that tensions between his party workers and those of the MQM in Karachi will rise further. Admitting that in the past he had refrained from speaking against Altaf Hussain for fear the PTI’s workers in Karachi may come to harm, Imran Khan now seems to have thrown caution to the winds, citing the threats Shireen Mazari has been receiving. The entire episode and bruising encounter, not to mention the language used by both sides, is enough to make any civilised sane citizen hang their head in shame. Between them, the PTI and the MQM have hit new lows in the national political discourse in Pakistan. Being political rivals is one thing, but abandoning parliamentary language, not to mention civilised norms in the public space is deplorable beyond description. The ‘original sin’ was bad enough. What makes things worse is the continuing abusive language being employed by Imran Khan against Altaf Hussain. The latter erred grievously in denigrating the PTI women workers no doubt, but at least he had the grace to apologise when he realised his mistake. Not so Imran Khan, who by now has established his reputation of a wild and woolly speaker who seldom delivers considered, sober and balanced statements, whether on a container or on television. The boorishness and immaturity to which the MQM and PTI have dragged politics runs the risk of permanently damaging the political class’ ability to conduct debate and even differences in an acceptable manner. To avoid such an outcome and try to limit the damage already inflicted on the polity, both sides should ‘cease fire’, lick their respective wounds to healing, and spare the people of Pakistan any more of their utter foolishness.

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