Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain has made several statements that contradict his party’s earlier stance on the preservation of the democratic system, once calling for a military intervention and now asking the MQM’s National Assembly (NA) and provincial Assembly members to hand in their resignations to the party’s deputy convener. A faux-resignation if you will. Altaf Hussain’s one week deadline to parliament after which he says he will order his party members to resign is clearly a gambit to see how events move from this point. The MQM holds 24 seats in the National Assembly and 51 in the Sindh Assembly and has a viable stake in the system. It has also been on the ground in Islamabad providing food and water on a ‘humanitarian’ basis to the protestors. This contradiction is unsurprising. As usual the party is playing both sides of the divide, seeing where the greatest advantage lies. It has in the past worked with military and civilian regimes as long as they cut it in for a slice of the pie, but has historically been left out in the cold by PML-N regimes, which see little advantage in bargaining with a party that holds a monopoly in Karachi but is not a national force. Further, it was Nawaz Sharif’s government that in 1992 launched the army operation that forced Altaf Hussain to leave the country. This gambit then should be seen as another attempt to try and wring some concessions from the army or the government in order to strengthen the MQM’s position. One of those might be negotiating a return for Altaf Hussain from London as he told his party workers yesterday.
At a time when old animosities are being put aside in the interests of parliamentary supremacy, whether this attitude is productive is raising doubt within the party too. Altaf Hussain was reportedly disappointed by the reaction of his party’s parliamentary leadership to the announcement and lambasted them for not paying attention to their constituencies. Like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) parliamentarians it is likely that MQM lawmakers see little reason to submit their resignations at a time when the stability of the country and the parliamentary system has been severely shaken. It points to another problem within the party that Altaf Hussain, sitting in London, may not have a clear sense of the on-ground realities making his party members nervous, or the difficulties they face at a constituency level because of the country’s instability. It is hard after all to represent people in parliament when parliament is under siege. Senator Mushahid Hussain made a speech to the joint session of parliament yesterday urging the NA Speaker to refuse to accept the resignations of PTI members of the house. It appears that in the interests of parliamentary solidarity the government is still trying to work the PTI back into the fold and separate it from Tahirul Qadri. In that same interest it must begin to reconcile the MQM.
On a principled level the MQM does have one objection that is hard to brush aside and that it has stood by since the beginning of the political crisis. Following the incident in Model Town on June 16 that ended with the deaths of 14 people, the MQM first sent a representative to the multi-party conference called by Tahirul Qadri, one of the very few parliamentary parties to do so, and later released strong statements against the government’s conduct. It also vigorously opposed extending the Protection of Pakistan Ordinance. This stance is based on the party’s experiences with the police and security agencies. Even today, with an operation underway in Karachi, the MQM raised objections to what it terms harassment of its workers. However, after negotiating the MQM into the Sindh government earlier this year, the operation has begun making gains. By moving ahead on the Model Town inquiry the government can prove that it is willing to come down hard on its supporters who break the law too, increasing the MQM’s stake in the rule of law. Clearly time is of the essence: surviving this challenge was just the beginning of parliament’s struggle to begin solving people’s problems and asserting its power. *