THE MQM has once again quit the federal and Sindh governments for reasons that do not appear to warrant such a drastic decision. The issue, we are told, is the postponement of polls for two Karachi-based constituencies of the Azad Jammu Kashmir assembly. Using harsh language and calling this a stab in the Muttahida's back, Altaf Hussain asked the party on Monday to part company with its coalition partners in Islamabad and Karachi. MQM Deputy Convenor Farooq Sattar was no less vitriolic, accusing the PPP government of taking “dictatorial and unconstitutional steps” against its coalition partner.
None of this rhetoric reveals the actual reasoning behind Monday's decision, which is highly unlikely to have been a knee-jerk reaction to the AJK election issue alone. The PPP will have little reason to panic; the PML-Q has added to its strength at the centre and in Sindh it enjoys a simple majority. Former Sindh Interior Minister Zulfiqar Mirza — anathema to the MQM — has been removed, and there is no sign that he is being brought back in his former role or as chief minister of Sindh. And even if the MQM believes the country is heading toward a snap election, it is not clear how the break with the PPP will improve its electoral chances. Since the 1988 elections, the MQM has proved it has a safe constituency in Sindh. At the national level, a grand alliance with the PML-N, the Jamaat-i-Islami or Tehreek-i-Insaf is highly unlikely given the MQM's uneasy relationships with these parties.
While the thought process behind the decision remains unclear, what is certain is that the fate of urban Sindh depends on an MQM-PPP coalition. Unlike the situation in other provinces, where shifting loyalties do not translate into violence, Sindh's political upheavals tend to have a direct bearing on law and order, especially in Karachi. From this point of view, the MQM has a particular responsibility toward its constituents and must ensure that its politics do not add to the volatility of this tinderbox. While the PPP may have comfortable parliamentary majorities, it too is fully aware that it needs the MQM's cooperation in order to function in the province. That is likely why, as on previous occasions, the party is trying to persuade its angry partner to return to the fold. On more than one occasion in the past, high-profile PPP personalities have dashed to London to remove misunderstandings. For the sake of peace and security in Sindh, one hopes they are able to mend ties once again.