EVEN by the standards of Pakistani politics, the call by Pervez Musharraf for the MQM to “shun the politics of ethnicity” is rich.

One might resort to words of a single syllable to explain to the former military dictator that it was his own regime that brought the MQM in from the cold and stood by as it rearmed itself throughout the period of his rule. No doubt there are people in the country with short memories, but many of those who lived through the events of May 12, 2007 can hardly forget the image of Musharraf brashly celebrating his triumph at the end of that sad day, claiming it a victory for his regime that the ousted chief justice of the Supreme Court was prevented from leaving Karachi airport through a widespread exercise of violence that left nearly 50 dead and scores injured, the metropolis paralysed and memories of the 1980s revived.

Perhaps someone should ask him what exactly he was celebrating at that moment.

Read: Musharraf can’t help it

The politics of ethnicity by definition has a narrow appeal. Certainly, nationalist/ethnic parties can have legitimate demands, and forming a political party is one way of giving these demands a higher profile. But such parties are usually, at best, little more than pressure groups and they tend not to become controversial if they do not practise a negative politics.

The MQM, however, is different because of its use of violence, tactics that its very party infrastructure was designed to facilitate.

In the mid 2000s, it made a brief, abortive attempt to grow out of the confines of ethnic politics when it tried to establish a presence in Punjab and rename itself the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. However, it was Musharraf who dragged it back into the quagmire of a violent, ethnically articulated politics when he struck a deal with it for the 2002 elections. The best way to keep ethnicity or any other form of particularist politics out of the democratic space is to leave it up to the voters to decide their leadership.

Musharraf has been making a name for himself lately with shoot-from-the-hip statements that have little or no thought behind them. But he should spare the citizens of Karachi his lectures on how to conduct their affairs or who to vote for, because in this city at least, memories are not that short.

Published in Dawn, January 9th, 2018

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