AS far as Pakistani media is concerned, the discourse about the MQM has changed significantly over the past few years. Today, both print and electronic media outlets seem to be pushing the envelope — as far as local standards are concerned — by carrying stories related to allegations of political violence and strong-arm tactics that have long swirled around the Muttahida. Perhaps even a few short years ago, such discussions would not have been possible. A lot of this has to do with changing global media trends; now, it is perfectly normal for international media outlets to pick up issues related to local politics and discuss them threadbare, as the British media has done with allegations linking Altaf Hussain with money laundering and incitement to violence. However, the party’s response has not evolved with the times; the allegations have been dismissed by the MQM machinery as “baseless” and “fake propaganda”. Instead of addressing the issues squarely in a more measured tone, such reactions come across as evasive. The Muttahida, and all other political parties in Pakistan, must realise that today, everything is under the microscope and instead of simply brushing accusations under the carpet, these must be addressed.
The media focus on the MQM has also sparked a debate on what shape Karachi’s political situation will take should Altaf Hussain no longer remain the party leader. The Muttahida is highly centralised with Mr Hussain calling the shots, and senior leaders have rejected a ‘minus Altaf’ formula. However, it would be legitimate to ask if an empowered second-tier leadership would be ready to steer the party — and the city of Karachi — out of choppy waters should the need arise. There is too much at stake to simply let the chips fall where they may — the MQM needs to meaningfully plan ahead lest crisis suddenly engulf its top leadership.