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Need for restraint: Altaf Hussain’s speech

July 01, 2013

IT was, in the end, the briefest of resignations, and very much in keeping with previous such episodes. But there was also something new about Altaf Hussain’s early morning speech and quick change of heart yesterday. For the first time, the MQM supremo acknowledged that the London police consider him a suspect in the Imran Farooq murder investigation. Mr Hussain also confirmed that British authorities recently raided his home in London and confiscated unspecified material. While railing against an international conspiracy against his person, Mr Hussain pledged to cooperate with British authorities — and defend himself in a trial, if he is eventually charged in relation to Mr Farooq’s murder in September 2010. This is a good sign: the MQM boss, while denying any involvement, has indicated his willingness to respect the judicial process. The protracted telephonic back-and-forth between Mr Hussain and MQM activists and supporters also had an important essence: the workers’ demand that Mr Hussain take back his resignation reflected just how much he is still the core of the party and how unforeseeable and unmanageable an exit by the MQM boss is.

Beyond that, however, there are many uncertainties and fears, particularly for Karachi. A basic reality needs to be kept in mind here: the investigation that has riled Mr Hussain and outraged the party is being conducted by British authorities and is a nearly three-year-old process. The thoroughness of that painstaking process is matched by its fairness: no one has yet been charged, not even Mr Hussain yet, many days after his home was extensively searched and evidence presumably gathered. So to decry that process as a witch-hunt or a political vendetta of some kind is to stoke an extreme partisanship that in the context of Karachi in particular can have potentially very dangerous repercussions. The emotionalism that was on display yesterday when the media was subjected to yet another verbal lashing by the MQM exemplifies the problem: little good ever comes when the heart starts trumping the head.

Difficult as it may be to maintain equanimity and poise in the face of an unprecedented test for the MQM leadership, there is the unhappy reality of Karachi — Hyderabad and other pockets of Sindh too — to consider. Violence, that can start on a mere rumour, has brought a once vibrant city to its knees, triggering uncomfortable reminders of the horrors of the late ’80s and early ’90s. Karachi needs a political hand and it is very much in the MQM leadership’s control to ensure that legal troubles for its chief in London do not spill over into unrest on the streets of Karachi.