Democracy in the dock

It seems that Pakistani politicians have a profound love for theatrics. Zulfiqar Mirza’s explosive press conference on August 28 made headlines but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) responded to Dr Mirza’s hard-hitting allegations with restraint, which was quite a departure from the MQM’s usual method of rebuttal. MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari responded to Dr Mirza’s press conference on August 30. That was not the end of it. On Tuesday night, MQM leader Mustafa Kamal held another press conference and appeared on a private television channel later to deny all allegations levelled at the MQM by Dr Mirza. “The negative and biased thinking and acts of accusing the MQM and Quaid-i-Tehreek Altaf Hussain of indulging in anti-Pakistan activities should be stopped forthwith in the interest of the country and its people,” said Mr Kamal. He was of the opinion that Dr Mirza’s views were not part of the Pakistan People’s Party’s (PPP’s) official policy, something the PPP has also said in its defence. Mr Kamal came down hard on the media and human rights organisations for fanning anti-MQM sentiment. The MQM also criticised President Supreme Court Bar Association (SCBA) Asma Jahangir for her statement: “The MQM is the inventor of extortion while other parties followed it.” Ms Jahangir did not just single out the MQM, she also blamed other parties like the MQM-Haqiqi, the PPP and the Awami National Party (ANP) for the violence in Karachi. The MQM has a monopoly of power for the longest time in Karachi; to the extent it still wields considerable power in urban Sindh, particularly in Karachi. But now other political players are trying to garner support in order to rout the MQM. This has led to turf wars, which in turn leads to target killings and general unrest in the city.

The MQM’s response to the allegations was far from satisfactory. The Supreme Court (SC) should evaluate the evidence and decide once and for all whether these are mere rumours or there is any weight in what Dr Mirza said. The PPP, for its part, needs to conduct an operation across the board despite the fact that it might end up annoying its former and incumbent coalition partners, the ANP and the MQM. By carrying out an operation in Lyari, the PPP has already irritated its own constituency but it should not shirk its responsibility of restoring peace in the metropolis.

In all this war of words between politicians, what is being missed is an important factor. All this will benefit undemocratic forces waiting in the wings to discredit the politicians. Director-General (DG) Rangers Major-General Mohammad Ejaz Chaudhry informed the SC that the situation in Karachi was worse than that of Waziristan and a military solution was only temporary. For lasting peace, a political solution was needed. The DG Rangers is right in asking for a political solution because in Waziristan, there is one enemy: the jihadist Taliban. In Karachi, there are many shades of militants who belong to different ethnicities. When the economic and financial hub of the country descends into chaos and anarchy, politicians as a class run the risk of being rendered irrelevant in the march of history in a direction we are all too familiar with. Instead of providing a chance to the army to intervene in Karachi, all democratic forces must come together and reach a consensus on how to control the situation. Our politicians must not forget that the army would not just stop at Karachi; it might want a bigger share of the pie if things get out of hand.

(my editorial in Daily Times)

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