Many pieces of the jigsaw

Updated 11 Nov 2017


Whether the melodrama witnessed in Karachi politics towards the end of this week was being played out to the script of a larger plot is not clear. Neither was it apparent if it would end up being a mere comedy, farce or, more ominously, a tragedy.

First, on Wednesday there came the announcement at the Karachi Press Club that the Farooq Sattar-led MQM-P and former mayor Mustafa Kamal’s PSP were coming together in order to contest the next elections as one.

The news conference jointly addressed by the two leaders followed a long meeting reportedly at an agency ‘safe house’ in DHA which Farooq Sattar had been told to attend, despite his earlier reservations, to meet Kamal and thrash out issues.

There is no point in repeating the contents of that widely reported news conference but whatever the spoken word, the body language of the two leaders told a different story. Farooq Sattar was subdued and not keen to speak long in stark contrast to the norm, while Mustafa Kamal was visibly triumphant.

The PSP leader — whose party has not made any major inroads into the MQM-P and has been the butt of jokes on social media and termed a laundry where all who enter have their past sins washed given the entry of some unsavoury characters — seems to have overplayed his hand in lashing out at the MQM.

Let’s look at why this shotgun marriage was fast becoming inevitable.

Whether this overconfidence was due to his powerful backers or again a well-scripted part of shock-and-awe tactics was not easy to tell but the reaction of the MQM-P rank and file and most leaders to Kamal’s apparent arrogance was predictable.

Whatever pressures on the MQM-P, it has been seen as perhaps the most viable force in urban Sindh’s politics after the fall from grace of its former leader Altaf Hussain. That, by Thursday morning, Farooq Sattar was beginning to appear isolated in his stance was clear to all. So much so that by the evening, his hand had been forced and at a late night news conference he first announced his dissociation from politics “heartbroken and disenchanted”, as he said he was, because friend and foe alike had attacked him, while disregarding “my over 35 years of unflinching support to the cause”.

And half an hour after making public his decision and walking out, he followed in the footsteps of the disgraced and disowned MQM leader Altaf Hussain by reappearing to announce the withdrawal of his resignation from the party, saying that his ageing mother had ordered him to do so after the MQM-P leadership had appealed to her to intervene.

At the tail-end of his news conference, almost as an afterthought, he also said casually, a bit too casually perhaps given that a major portion of the first part of his address had been devoted to lashing out at Mustafa Kamal, that his party’s electoral alliance with the PSP would remain intact.

It was this last bit that gave an impression as if the whole drama had been staged in order to first deliver the shocking news that MQM-P and PSP were coming together whether as an alliance or as one entity to not only gauge the supporters’ reaction but also allow them to let off steam and then via the resignation move to force them to reconcile to the new reality.

You could also argue that perhaps this would amount to reading too much into the episode and all it represented was yet another set of twists and turns in urban Sindh’s sordid politics. But would you also argue that the country’s potent security establishment that has invested so much in affairs here could idly stand by and confront failure?

Let’s look at why this shotgun marriage was fast becoming inevitable from the perspective of its authors. Among all the faction leaders that emerged after Altaf Hussain’s self-destructive speech in August last year, Mustafa Kamal has been seen as the most trusted by the establishment.

His public posture, his language against the MQM’s former leader as also his stated desire to ‘bury’ the name MQM and all it represents in terms of Altaf and his legacy is widely seen as mirroring the security establishment’s views.

In contrast, where MQM-P has avowedly distanced itself from Altaf Hussain after his speech and declared that those views were unacceptable and therefore, it was ‘severing’ its ties with the London leadership, the faction’s leaders have not condemned the former leader with the vigour and enthusiasm Kamal has demonstrated in doing so.

But the urgency in hammering this so-called alliance (called by one party) or merger as the other believes also seemed necessitated by the approaches the supposedly wily political manipulator, PPP leader Asif Zardari was making to MQM-P legislators.

With the PPP’s seemingly impregnable support in rural Sindh, had the party succeeded in winning over solid MQM-P candidates for the next election, its chances in marginal constituencies would have received a boost. This may not have fitted in with the scenario being engineered for the 2018 elections.

A hint of the likely game plan can also be found in the re-emergence of the religious alliance the MMA which had disintegrated by the time the 2008 polls happened, after its success in KP in 2002.

The PML-N was said to have been one beneficiary of that disintegration and the Imran Khan-led PTI the other as the right-wing religious vote would not have drifted towards the PPP or ANP for that matter. With all these groupings now coming together to consolidate the votes of relatively smaller political entities, isn’t it likely that no party will be able to form a government on its own let alone command a two-thirds majority?

Politics is long said to be the art of the impossible. Allow me to stick my neck out and extend that argument to political analysis too. This is win-win for me as if I am wrong and what I say is a mere figment of my imagination, Pakistan will be spared another tragic and divisive spell of political uncertainty.

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, November 11th, 2017