IT may be the definition of madness, but it can also have dangerous and destabilising effects on politics.

Doing something over and over again and expecting a different result seems to be the only discernible strategy of the military establishment when it comes to the politics of Karachi.

Saturday’s local government election in the provincial capital has yet again demonstrated a simple, electoral truth.

The more the security establishment targets the MQM, the more the average voter in Karachi recoils, and the further ahead the MQM pulls of all its political rivals in the city.

That was true in April when the MQM trounced the PTI in the NA-246 by-election — a constituency that is home to the MQM headquarters — despite all manner of hurdles created for the party.

The Karachi voter had spoken: the MQM vote bank is not based merely on violence and intimidation.

On Saturday, the party once again won a comfortable majority, virtually crushing the PTI-JI combined challenge and leaving the PPP in a distant second place. And once again unsavoury and unnecessary tactics against the MQM were deployed, with the FIA finding it necessary to register an FIR against the MQM chief, Altaf Hussain, and sundry other party members.

The intended signal to the voter was as clear as it was unpalatable – don’t vote for the MQM, a party that murders its own. The Karachi voter roundly rejected that deplorable signal.

Yet, will lessons be learned? They should be, but it is not clear if there is a willingness to reassess strategy.

Clearly, there is a great deal of support, including among MQM supporters, for the parts of the Karachi operation that is targeting militants and criminals.

Where matters become murky is the political arena. Is there some attempt to re-engineer the politics of Karachi and Sindh itself through selective, politically motivated interventions?

There is too much circumstantial evidence to dismiss the possibility. Where there is a nexus between crime and politics, that nexus should be attacked. But surely all politics is not and must not be treated as criminal.

Much as the establishment has erred, there is a great deal of blame that must be shared by the MQM too.

The party’s leadership appears to have been reduced to self-pity and anger, while the voters’ repeated embrace of the party seems only to give more reason to the MQM leadership to wallow in their perceived victimhood.

Having an MQM mayor of Karachi could be an opportunity for a reset. While crime and violence dominate the headlines, the city is plagued by a depressing array of problems.

Basic public services are either wholly absent or, at best, shabbily catered for. The mayoralty and the new local government system may not be ideal, but there is an opportunity, and the MQM should try and put the needs of the public ahead of its own troubles with the state.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2015

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