MQM Bluster

Spearhead Opinion – 20.09.2016

By ShahBano Khan
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research

mqmWith the embers not fully extinguished, the forest may yet be afir. MQM has managed to land itself in another political botch, not only raising questions on its legitimacy of survival but also shedding light on Sindh’s current political, legal, and civil alignment. Following the ‘minus-one’ formula, MQM workers have been busy bridging the gap between the perception marred by the London leadership and a thriving image of a new party with its informed local leadership. Though under constant scrutiny and aggressive pressure, the break within MQM has unveiled facets of the party, previously believed to be mere hearsay. The ostracized party’s alleged connection with street terror, kidnapping, target killing, and money laundering have been plenty, although it is only now that concerted efforts are being made to investigate them in order to root them out of Karachi’s sociopolitical fabric once and for all. In light of the ongoing Karachi operation, the option has become imperative.

In a strange and sudden development, a prominent MQM party member and also leader of the Sindh Assembly opposition, Khwaja Izhar ul Hasan’s house was raided by the police early last week. In a bid to catch two suspected terrorists involved in the May 12 incident, the police conducted a tip-off based launch operation to round them up. It was later identified that the suspects were found from the MQM leader’s house in Sohrab Goath, who was out meeting the Sindh Chief Minister that very moment. Hours after raiding and searching his residence he was handcuffed taken into custody by SSP Malir Rao Anwar, although was later released on a personal bond. Izahr ul Hasan has previously been detained by the Rangers in connection with sedition charges following Altaf Hussain’s anti-Pakistan diatribe. In an equally baffling move, the Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah suspended the Staion House Officer (SHO) who conducted the operation to appease a mass outcry, not only from MQM’s side, but PPP, PSZ, PML-N, and PTI also strongly condemned it, taking contrasting positions on it. Speaking to the media, the MQM leader alleged that not only did the police raiding party harass the women of his household while conducting the search, they also refused to show any warrant connected to the arrest. The suspended officer has since been actively vocal on the media, calling Izahr ul Hasan a ‘criminal’ and the ‘chief of target killers’.

The incident has opened three frontiers of contention: the bearing of MQM itself, the role of legal procedures, and the commitment of our law enforcing authorities in the midst of an urban operation set up to eradicate not only terror related threats but to also infuse political, economic, and social stability in Pakistan’s industrial hub.

Law Enforcing Axis

At a time when law enforcing authorities like the Rangers and the Police, in concurrence with intelligence agencies, are in the midst of an important urban operation- it has become increasingly clear that Karachi’s law and order situation is deeply tied to to its ethnic affiliated political set up. Multiple groups and individuals have vested interests along with strong connections within the establishment, making it continuously difficult to investigate cases without flaring up into political crisis. Recent events point to this strange deadlock between the makers of law and the executors of law. While the Sindh Chief Minister suspended the police officer involved in raiding Izhar ul Hasan’s residence, it raises serious questions on the ‘chain of command’ that had enabled this decision. An executive order can very well take care of the decision, yet on an institutional level the move reflects a lack of sound judgment in the due process of law. If law enforcing agencies are not given their legitimate jurisdiction and vote of trust, how will they ever round up criminal elements? And if they can’t investigate political workers, then does that just make them an obsolete and ineffective force? Are political workers above the law? Even when they hide convicted target killers? It is essential for the morale of police officers, rangers, anti terror squads, and even political workers to be free of such concerns in order for them to fulfill their duty and responsibility. Because ofttimes, people in these positions of power manipulate and exploit the law against common citizens. Hence, at the same time it is important to infuse the national psyche with constitutional confidence in the makers and executors of law, while also holding them accountable for the authority vested in them.

Due Process of Law

While Pakistan is a fairly new democracy, with a long road ahead of it in terms of constitutional development and electoral reforms- the respect accorded to the rule of law is at best arbitrary, capricious, and in some cases dogmatic. Although clearly defined frameworks exist, what becomes baffling are the multiple ways those sets of laws are either manipulated or bypassed altogether. Political parties have street support and a mass voter base, hence it is often easier for them to muster public support. While public institutions, on the other hand, have somewhat defined procedural standards and protocols that need to be followed. The recent arrest sheds light on this strange dichotomy: while Izhar ul Hasan dredged up a huge outcry from different sections of the political brass on the basis of political victimization, the suspended officer, who was clearly following a defined chain of command, was instead targeted and isolated. One should wonder on whose authority was the raid initiated? Karachi is less volatile than what it used to be, a result of coordinated intelligence based combing operations that have enabled and activated a space of swift due process. While it is sad that a prominent party leader was harassed and taken into custody, one should also carefully follow the allegations leveled against him; intimidation becomes the surest way to divert attention. On the other hand, it has become easy for police officers and government servants to be displaced or removed from their job on  whimsical political will. Provided they are employed by the state and remain answerable to it, the state is supposed to be impartial, neutral, and objective. But when the state is used as a launching pad for political alliances and civic appeasement, the purpose of any kind of authority becomes null and void.

Political Mileage

MQM’s special brand of politics- reactionary to the point of being theatrical- is not only outdated but is nearing its end. Street politics in Pakistan has taken a different turn altogether, with a large, thriving, and an effective middle-class stepping into the bloc. Recent series of events has unveiled not only a break within MQM’s leadership structure, but has also exposed a far darker side to the way the party has been operating in the city for many years, thereby weakening some of its assertive and strong grass root networks. Recent anti-Pakistan sentiments narrated by Altaf Hussain and other senior party members had the party cornered into long overdue submission; yet the new debacle has instead given MQM ‘fresh life’. Using this incident as political mileage, the party is yet again playing the ‘victimization’ card, and at the same time undermining the authority of law enforcing institutions. Provided MQM has mass electoral support, and many of its prominent members are part of the National Assembly and the provincial Assembly- this new found confidence can be detrimental to the ‘new image’ that the party is trying to carve out for itself. In addition, months-long effort to achieve a break in Karachi’s network of terror are being deflected in this newly created drama. Everyone seems to miss the two convicted target killers’ connection with the senior party member- instead the focus has shifted to the audacity of police officers to enter a political worker’s residence.

Furthermore, other political parties, with their own vested interests in maintaining unlikely alliances, have taken their own respective positions on the issue at hand. While PPP and PML-N are fully committed to maintaining the dignity of representatives- PTI has taken a somewhat difference stance. However, it is clear that each political party is focusing less on empowering state institutions and more on furthering their respective agendas.

A narrative of sympathy is effective in swaying public opinion, and political parties in Pakistan know how to muster support from their camps. The law, on the other hand, becomes a vehicle for them to initiate advantageous policies and disregard laws detrimental to their survival. Now more than ever, it has become essential to empower state institutions that do not need a nod of approval from the political establishment before implementing clearly defined edicts. This ‘social contract’ has to necessarily be followed by those in power, and those without it. Without which the state of the union cannot exist. Pakistan does not have to be in perpetual turmoil nor should it have to endure a permanent electioneering environment.