Saturday, August 27, 2016

Business Recorder editorial Aug 27, 2016

MQM at turning point The extraordinary developments surrounding the MQM since its founder-leader Altaf Hussain’s diatribe on August 22 have left the party facing a turning point. Altaf Hussain’s speech was incendiary, anti-state, and incentivised violence and rioting against the media for not carrying his speeches. What followed was mayhem. That proved a speech too far for the governments in the Centre and in Sindh as well as the security establishment. While cases and arrests of those responsible for the riot on August 22 continue, the authorities have taken the decision to demolish or seal around 200 offices of the party in Karachi and conduct similar actions throughout Sindh. The justification being presented for these actions is that these offices were encroachments on state land. This is disputed by the MQM, which argues that not all these offices were encroachments and no notices were issued, as would be the normal legal procedure. To some this may appear too fine a point or quibbling after what transpired on August 22, but that could arguably be construed as a knee-jerk response or taking advantage of the MQM’s present difficulties to impose a fait accompli while the going is good. No one can dispute that the MQM’s rise to power owed not a little to its strong arm, criminal and even terrorist actions in Karachi over the years, which produced a climate of fear that the party rode to dominance. But this is only one side of the picture. The MQM still enjoys massive political support amongst the Urdu-speaking people of Karachi and throughout Sindh. It was to save the party and its constituent community that Dr Farooq Sattar took the unprecedented step of distancing MQM Pakistan from Altaf Hussain and the London Committee perceived to control the militant wing of the party. Sattar distanced himself from Altaf Hussain’s anti-state diatribe and the militant past of the MQM, stopping just short of a denouncement for tactical reasons. Now speculations are rife whether this represents a permanent or (as so many times in the past) temporary sidelining of Altaf Hussain, pending his perceived need for medical professional help and treatment. How long the mercurial leader would continue to eat humble pie and not reassert himself remains in the realm of conjecture. In the meantime, Farooq Sattar is poised on the horns of a dilemma. If he appears still loyal unreservedly to Altaf Hussain, he and his party may not be spared the unwelcome attention of the authorities. His attempt is to reposition the MQM as a law abiding mainstream party. This is an enterprise, despite its risks and potential pitfalls, which should not be dismissed lightly. For it to succeed, which appears to be in the interests of the MQM as well as the country, he needs to be cut some slack. Also, from the point of view of the state, the temptation to steamroll over the MQM in the favourable climate for it at this conjuncture notwithstanding, there is a need to proceed cautiously, circumspectly, and within the four corners of the law and constitution. Only thus can the state retain the moral high ground and help persuade the MQM’s considerable vote bank that their best option is going with Farooq Sattar and company and dumping Altaf Hussain and his London cohorts. Even if some or all of the MQM offices being demolished or sealed were illegitimate encroachments, surely this is not a fact that has suddenly come to the attention of the authorities. Most of these offices are decades old and were allowed to exist because military dictators backed the MQM and civilian governments chose expedient mollycoddling of the party to keep it from reverting to its worst avatar. Revenge should not appear as the motive for actions against the MQM, but rather the belated and long overdue re-establishing the writ of the state and the rule of law. The latter in particular will not be helped by actions deemed arbitrary. Ironically, while the demolition/sealing of MQM offices and the arrests of those suspected of being involved in the violence of August 22 continue, the federal and Sindh governments are playing ping-pong with who is responsible for these actions against the party. If legitimate, lawful actions against MQM were the order of the day, perhaps these governments would feel less hesitant, if not confident, of acknowledging their ownership. Legitimate actions would also help isolate Altaf Hussain and the London Committee further, establish the credentials of Farooq Sattar and MQM Pakistan, and help wean the Urdu-speaking community away from the men of violence and into the arms of a reinvented, acceptable MQM.

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