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Some lessons from local elections

Updated December 12, 2015


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

In the aftermath of the local elections in Karachi, while there is a lesson for each major player in Sindh, the victorious MQM should be grateful to the Rangers for the crackdown the paramilitary force has led against lawlessness in the metropolis for several reasons.

That this gratitude should be on account of the obvious, we all know: reinforcing of the MQM’s image as a hunted and hounded entity primarily targeted for representing the aspirations of the oppressed Mohajir population of the city.

That the party was running armed cadres or as some would argue that armed cadres were running the party would not be a dubious statement. So the effective paramilitary-led efforts to curb rampant crime, particularly where political patronage made it worse, in the city are worthy of being acknowledged as such.

The watered-down powers of the local bodies, which the Sindh PPP wants diluted further, will be a major test for the MQM.

Frankly, even some committed MQM voters privately acknowledge the improvement in the state of security in Karachi in recent months, though at the same time they say their party activists unjustly have been mostly and disproportionately at the receiving end.

This belief, fed by carefully calibrated party social media and electoral campaign, was then one of the factors for delivering such a huge win to it. It would be foolhardy to say that no excesses have been committed in the operation or that custodial deaths have not been recorded.

There is evidence of both. This is totally unacceptable. But it is also clear that any attempt by the affected individuals or their families to secure justice will amount to nought, given the current environment. Thus, it was natural for some of this pent-up frustration, grief and anger to also count at the ballot box.

At the same time, it shall not be out of place to mention the large number of Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) militants who have reportedly been killed or arrested since the start of the operation. This one category will outnumber any other by dozens, possibly hundreds, if newspaper records are correct.

Whereas in the last general election electoral activities by the MQM, PPP and ANP were severely curtailed due to TTP’s rampant terrorism targeting these parties, the just-ended local elections were fought in a much less hostile environment. It wasn’t business as usually totally but statistics would suggest that life was much easier for those earlier in the TTP cross hairs.

Coupled with this improved security environment and riding the sympathy wave after some of the Ran­gers PR efforts to demonise the party seemed to have backfired contributed to the MQM’s huge win, as it proceeded to contemptuously brush aside what was seen as a serious challenge by the PTI-JI joint ticket.

The extent of the PTI’s loss would have been greater perhaps if it had become public knowledge that at least two of its known faces were seen regularly at a DHA Karachi address associated with the mother-of-all agencies. Whether they were receiving merely inspiration or something more concrete we are never likely to know.

In the long run, the factor the MQM should be most pleased with, and grateful for, was that even when its militant cadres that opponents have attributed many of its past successes to were more or less neutralised it managed a win no less significant than earlier.

How this realisation comes into play, and if at all it does, will determine the future course of the party. If it takes heart from this factor and dedicates itself to a conscious endeavour to represent its support base and fight for its rights in an entirely democratic manner it will become a model to be replicated elsewhere in the country, given that its support base is mainly middle and lower middle class.

If it weighs its options and reaches the sad conclusion that strong-arm tactics deliver it a heartier political dividend then it could remain caught in a perpetual spiral of terrorism, of blood and gore and oppression. Yes, oppression as the MQM will see it as the state seems to have lost its appetite to use to its advantage or even condone the ethnic party’s violence.

The watered-down powers of the local bodies, which the Sindh PPP wants diluted further, will be a major test for the MQM. It will do well to remember that if it struggles peacefully for an empowered local government it is likely to have wider support for its cause as it would have otherwise.

At the same time, PPP ought to know that a peaceful, happy Karachi radiates good vibes to the rest of the province and a restive provincial capital has often in the past spelt disaster not as great for anybody else as for the Sindh government that it leads.

Finally, for those fighting to restore law and order to the metropolis: please do your mandated task sincerely and your dedication will bear fruit. Frankly, it already is. It is best if those you target, arrest, interrogate and charge with criminal conduct, even terrorism, are convicted in a court of law. That would be a triumph of the rule of law and the greatest gift to the citizens of Karachi.

If you choose to waste your efforts in ill-advised psy-warfare then you must understand the consequences if your leaks to the media backfire. One such leak to a TV channel suggested that Dr Asim Husain, the PPP leader currently in detention, had links with Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda? Yes.

The campaign against the corrupt (so far mainly in Sindh) may be justified as the province and the party in power are reputedly the worst offenders in this area. However, to suggest a PPP leader’s link with Al Qaeda is really stretching the argument. Seriously, and it does your legitimate efforts and sacrifices no justice, and brings you no credit.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2015