DAWN - Features; May 27, 2007

27 May 2007

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Muttahida’s swinging pendulum

By Maheen A. Rashdi


METRO VOICE

KARACHI: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement seems to have messed up in a big way this time. If the issue wasn’t so grim, the incoherent statements made by its “leaders” would have made a comic story. Post May 12, there has been a constant trickle of discordant statements issued from Karachi and London, each setting off a fresh controversy. A better example of the expression –- “shooting yourself in the foot” -– will be difficult to find.

The reaction to the May 12 bloodbath in Karachi has perhaps taken the establishment by surprise, if not by shock. This time Karachiites have shown more than just resilience and that was an eventuality not taken into consideration when the May 12 ‘event’ was being planned. As public outcry reverberated from Karachi to Khyber -- and subsequently found its way to the United Kingdom – inconsiderate political leaders started to expose themselves to odium and ridicule as they spun a paradoxical web of betrayal under the relentless glare of the media.

To recap, just days after the Karachi killings, Sindh Home Secretary Brigadier (Retd) Ghulam Mohammed Mohtaram and the Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Home Affairs Waseem Akhtar categorically declared that they had given right orders for May 12 to all the law enforcement agencies in Karachi.

As government functionaries responsible for law and order, both the ‘honourable’ gents declared on record that if the ‘measures’ they had taken had not been in place that day, “thousands would have died”. By the word “measures” it was further explained that it was these representatives of the MQM in the government who had decided to block the city and disarm the police and Rangers.

But, soon after these statements were splashed far and wide came the startling question from MQM chief Mr Altaf Hussain in his open letter addressed to “Patriotic Pakistanis” from London: “Where were the police and Rangers on May 12 during the bloodbath?”

With public outcry gaining momentum rather than dying down, the same contradiction continued at successive press conferences, where blame and accusation shifted back and forth from law enforcement agencies to “other” elements involved in the mayhem.

It is obvious that the ruling coalition was not prepared for the current reaction of Karachiites and the support from Punjab and the NWFP when it was planning the May 12 display of power play.

The latest disagreement within the party has exposed an even more serious lack of coordination as the MQM coordination committee has disowned the statement issued by its allied organisation, the Mohajir Rabita Council, which issued a press release on May 22 that included a list of journalists described as “chauvinistic”, among other insults.

With Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad doing his utmost to calm down opposition members -- as is obvious from his meetings with ANP chief Asfandyar Wali Khan, Naib Amir of the Jamaat-i-Islami Ghafoor Ahmed and Sindh Pakistan People’s Party president Syed Qaim Ali Shah -- the Council’s statement again belies all good intentions (if any) of the MQM leaders in government who are trying to salvage their position at this crucial pre-election juncture. And then, there is the ‘three option’ statement given by the Muttahida coordination committee after a ‘marathon session’ of meetings held in London.

The options are: the MQM members in the federal ministries might resign; the MQM members in both the federal and provincial ministries might resign; and the MQM members in the assemblies might join the opposition.

Political analysts can’t wait to see which way the party’s pendulum will eventually swing. But then there is the ever-present hand of the party’s guardian angel in the form of the president who has continually been asking the coalition partners to support the MQM. You can’t clap with one hand, after all.

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