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Sindh’s theatre of the absurd

Updated November 11, 2017

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There was no honeymoon period. The marriage of inconvenience between the MQM-P and the PSP is off to the rockiest of starts, with duelling news conferences, U-turns galore and biting uncertainty.

Another round of political engineering appears to have been unleashed by shadowy forces and it could have dangerously unpredictable consequences for a volatile city like Karachi. Indeed, the whole of Sindh may have to brace itself for a new round of political instability if rumours of the purpose behind the MQM-P and PSP ‘merger’ are to be believed.

Difficult as it may be to discern a coherent plan in what is clearly a reluctant merger, there is speculation that ahead of next year’s general election an array of political forces in Sindh may be clubbed together to present a united challenge to the otherwise seemingly unbeatable PPP at the provincial level.

Engineering a challenge to the PPP’s political dominance in Sindh is something that has been attempted before and it appears that old habits die hard, with no lessons learnt. Unhappily, the squabbling MQM-P and PSP appear heedless to the possibility that they are increasing the space for anti-democratic forces in the province.

If a merger was desirable or an electoral inevitability, a better path would have been for internal restructuring in the two parties before a publicly declared set of meetings to discuss a common platform.

Both the MQM-P and PSP continue to have unacceptable militant elements within their ranks and it is imperative that they shed all such elements ahead of the next election. The propensity for violence in certain sections of both parties is well known and internal reform is necessary.

Instead, by attempting a merger in murky circumstances and then quickly falling out, the MQM-P and PSP have created further excuses for political engineering by anti-democratic forces. There is no scenario in which interference in the democratic process by anti-democratic forces can work to the long-term benefit of political parties or the people of Sindh.

While the PPP’s governance record is poor and the MQM has been wracked by internal strife in recent years, political stability has been elusive in Sindh in part because the Karachi operation morphed into a political project from a security-focused beginning.

The incorporation of militant wings in political parties was an issue that had to be addressed by the state. But the quest to return peace and stability to the city should never have been allowed to turn into a question of who has a legitimate right to govern Sindh.

Indeed, the descent of Karachi into violence in recent years could be traced to an artificially lopsided balance of power in the province under the Musharraf regime.

There is no panacea to the problems of Sindh and the powers that be ought to recognise that they are creating new problems with their misguided approach to the politics of the province.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2017