Political Nostrums

Spearhead Opinion – 16.07.2015

By Moiz Agha
Research Analyst, Spearhead Research


The Matuhidda Qaumi Movement (MQM) is one of the, if not the most popular political party in urban Sindh. The party has had the longest serving provincial governor in the entire history of the country. The party continues to win elections by landslides in its strongholds in the province. Ever since its meteoric rise to power, the centre has nearly always found itself bound to form a coalition government, willingly or unwillingly, with the MQM in the provincial assembly. While a deeply felt anathema against the party is widespread outside of Sindh, there is no denying of the fact that this party is a political reality, deeply entrenched in the masses of the urban population of Sindh, in particular amongst the ‘Urdu speaking’ community. While many desire the complete extirpation of the party which allegedly employ politics of violence, through sheer brute force, history teaches us that such resilient political forces do not capitulate before the presence of force alone. Neither history nor the process of rule of law advocates such means.

The Army has had a love-hate relationship with the MQM. It was the Army during Zia ul Haq’s tenure who purportedly first gave birth to this enfant terrible, and now it seems resolute to atone for its past sins by undertaking the current Rangers operation in Karachi. The ongoing operation is not a novel undertaking. A very similar situation had arisen during the tenure of Asif Nawaz as Chief of Army Staff (COAS). A similar operation, which was given the appellation of ‘Operation Cleanup,’ was launched by GHQ backed Rangers back in 1992. The period marked one of the bloodiest in Karachi’s history. It was then that the notion of Jinnahpur was starting to circulate. The operation continued during the service of Waheed Kakar as COAS. However the intensity of the operation dwindled away with the change of government, as the PML-N came to power. General Asif Nawaz as corps commander had proposed the operation in 1989, but the then COAS General Aslam Beg had spurned the idea. General Aslam was ethnically ‘Urdu speaking.’ The operation could only be launched when Asif Nawaz took over as army chief. The MQM was again in the good graces of the military when General Musharraf was in power. Musharaf too ethnically belongs to the ‘Urdu speaking’ community. A new army chief has now taken over, and the stance of the military has again flip-flopped with regards to the MQM. The Army now seems more determined than ever to deal with the nefarious activities the MQM is allegedly involved in. Public sentiment has begun to see the current army chief as a messiah, a saviour of the downtrodden population of Karachi. But the big question which no one seems to ask is what happens after General Raheel Sharif completes his term? Will we experience another volte face if someone who has empathy for the MQM or is ethnically related becomes the next army chief? Herein lies the flaw in the current means of cleansing the political stables. It is only the legal institutions not the military or any other institution, which are responsible for arbitrating the culpability of any individual or political party.

The aforementioned argument does not in any way plead the innocence of the MQM. Indeed, there is a plethora of anecdotal evidence which implicates the party of being involved in the most heinous of crimes. Notwithstanding such circumstances, should the fate of the MQM hinge on the fleeting whims and interests of the ruling elite in the military or even the civil government? Or should there be a powerful legal set up which through due process of law condemns all those who trespass legal boundaries in such a manner that no one could impugn against the validity of such adjudications and point out that justice is being compromised. The current operation panders to short term goals. If anyone desires to purge the city of Karachi in the long term from all sorts of allegedly terror sponsoring political parties then only two courses can lead to the realization of such goals. Either someone can politically wrench its opponents out of power by dint of the ballot box, or he or she can take the arduous course of defeating and convicting their opponents in the court of law. At present our courts are poorly equipped lacking the paraphernalia to take on the stalwarts in the political realm who are allegedly embroiled in criminal activities. The ongoing Rangers operation might quell criminal activities for the time being, but the operation for patent reasons cannot be launched for an indefinite period of time. The only panacea for such ills lies in the empowerment of the legal institutions; all other means will prove to be specious nostrums.