Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Daily Times Editorial March 19, 2015

MQM in the dock A case has been registered against MQM chief Altaf Hussain under Section 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Pakistan Penal Code and Section 7 of the Anti-Terrorism Act for ‘threatening’ Rangers’ personnel who had raided the party’s headquarters Nine Zero in Karachi last week. According to the Rangers Colonel Tahir Mahmood’s complaint, Altaf Hussain in a television interview on the evening of the raid used threatening language against the personnel of the Rangers who conducted the raid. The police says it will now investigate the complaint. This is rich. What will they ‘investigate’? The language is a matter of record in the television interview. End of ‘investigation’. Of course the matter does not end there. Altaf Hussain has been getting away with inappropriate remarks and language against his real or perceived opponents for years now. In this practice, he has been aided and abetted by particularly the electronic media, which in its mad race for ratings, is by now clearly in breach of media ethics. PEMRA, the electronic media regulator, has been in a Rip Van Winkle repose all these years. Now, it has suddenly woken up and advised all television channels to avoid defamatory and objectionable remarks broadcast live, particularly against the judiciary and armed forces. PEMRA’s ‘advice’ to the electronic media is to install time delay mechanisms to retain control over material broadcast live. In addition, three television channels that broadcast interviews of Altaf Hussain have been issued show cause notices for violating the law and rules. Let us see whether PEMRA seriously follows up on all this ‘advice’ or goes back to its normal slumber again. Of interest in the case against Altaf Hussain is the issue of the accused being abroad. The legal course open to the government is not clear, especially since Altaf Hussain has acquired British nationality. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar is reported to have handed over an English translation of Altaf Hussain’s remarks to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad. This suggests the government plans to ask the British government (again) to take action against Altaf Hussain there. How far this will take the government remains to be seen. In the meantime, the Coordination Committee of the MQM is reportedly examining the case with a view to mounting a legal challenge. They claim the case is a “negation of the facts”. An equally intriguing development is the response of the PPP, and particularly its co-Chairperson and former president Asif Ali Zardari. In a parliamentary meeting of the PPP at Bilawal House, Karachi on Tuesday, March 17, Asif Zardari announced his intention to remain steadfast in support of the MQM in its hour of trial, as necessary loyalty and payback for the MQM’s support to the PPP generally, and lately in the Senate elections. When Asif Zardari threw the proposal of inviting the MQM back into the Sindh government open to comment by his parliamentarians, however, what followed was a deathly silence. Only when Nadir Magsi was asked directly by Asif Zardari what his view of the matter was did what is probably the general sentiment in the PPP ranks spring forth. Nadir Magsi said personally he was not enamoured of the MQM but if there was an understanding with the MQM prior to the Senate elections, that must be honoured. Apparently not satisfied with this and a few other responses, Asif Zardari threw the question to the PPP supporters gathered there, but they too ‘responded’ with a non-response. To cover up the embarrassment, Asif Zardari laughingly characterised this as a ‘yes’! It is clear from this episode that Asif Zardari and his pointman Rehman Malik’s stance on keeping the MQM close does not find popular acceptance in the ranks of the PPP. Whether the MQM decides to accept the offer or not, the PPP government in Sindh should carefully consider the implications of sticking its neck out for the MQM when it is in the dock. Standing by an under attack MQM may seem principled and heroic, but it could risk unravelling the Sindh government itself. Although the rumours regarding Governor’s rule in Sindh have been categorically refuted by the PPP, if things spiral out of control in Karachi, all bets are off.

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