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MQM Chief Altaf Hussain.— File Photo

KARACHI: In what is being described as a major shift in policy towards the outlawed Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain has appealed to its leaders to lay down arms and enter mainstream politics.

“You cannot make friends by using force... make them yours with the power of peace and love,” he said in his speech from London to a big gathering held on Saturday at the Lal Qila ground to kick off the MQM’s election campaign.

The MQM has fielded 671 candidates — 221 for the National Assembly and 450 for the four provincial assemblies.

Mr Hussain used the occasion to convey to the Taliban that his party would have no objection if they stopped killing innocent people and instead joined mainstream politics.

He, however, did not name the Taliban when he said the MQM, the PPP and the ANP were being targeted and conspiracies were being hatched to stop these ‘enlightened and liberal’ parties from taking part in the general elections.

He said that while the three parties were being targeted, the other parties were being allowed to run their election campaigns. “The Chief Election Commissioner, the Supreme Court and the caretaker government should take notice of this discrimination and injustice.”

He said the MQM was not being allowed to run its election campaign freely because scores of its workers had been killed but not a single killer had been arrested so far.

Mr Hussain urged the authorities to accept the mandate of the MQM and stop conspiring against it. “The MQM is not an ethnic party and it is contesting elections from all over the country.”

He said he accepted all political and religious parties and believed that all of them had a right to participate in the elections.

He said he would revoke the membership of his party’s workers if they were found to be involved in tearing off a single banner of any other party.

The MQM leader urged the people of Lyari to exercise their right to vote in favour of his party’s candidates in order to show that 99 per cent of the Lyari people did not believe in violence.

Giving details of the MQM candidates, Mr Hussain said his party had fielded 22 women for as many general seats of the national and provincial assemblies.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, he said, the MQM had fielded 21 candidates for NA seats and 45 for PA seats.

In Balochistan, seven candidates had been fielded for NA seats and 21 for PA seats.

In Punjab, the MQM was contesting elections for 132 NA seats and 256 PA seats.

In Sindh, the party had fielded candidates for all 61 NA and 128 PA seats.

Interestingly, the MQM did not field its prominent former MNAs Wasim Akhtar and Haider Abbas Rizvi from any NA or PA constituency.