MQM politics — here we go again

Updated 04 Aug 2018

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ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan presides over a meeting between PTI leaders and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan delegation at Banigala on Friday.
ISLAMABAD: Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chairman Imran Khan presides over a meeting between PTI leaders and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan delegation at Banigala on Friday.

THIRTY years ago, the then Altaf Hussain-led Muhajir Qaumi Movement had signed an agreement with the Pakistan Peoples Party to forge a coalition with Benazir Bhutto’s party, which lacked a simple majority in the National Assembly.

The country was returning to democratic rule after the death of military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq in a plane crash on Aug 17, 1988, and both the PPP and MQM had just passed their first electoral test in the general election, held in November.

Read: MQM confirms support to PTI in exchange for federal package for Karachi

While the PPP’s local leadership was not willing to enter into an agreement with the MQM, Benazir Bhutto needed the party’s support to get her elected as prime minister and with this in mind, she did not hesitate to pay a visit to Mr Hussain at his Azizabad residence, better known as Nine Zero.

But the coalition proved short-lived as after a mere 11 months the MQM, at the behest of the establishment, parted ways with the PPP in Oct 1989 after blaming it for not fulfilling “promises”. It decided to support the opposition’s no-trust move against Ms Bhutto, which was eventually defeated by her.

Thirty years later, a new MQM — the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan which claims to have dissociated itself from Mr Hussain —has made a similar agreement with the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf , which also lacks a simple majority in the National Assembly after the July 25 general election. Its six MNAs will support Imran Khan’s party at the centre.

Like the PPP in 1988, the local leadership of the PTI too was not in favour of having any deal with the MQM-P, but since Imran Khan needed their six votes he first made an offer through his pointman Jahangir Tareen and then personally met an MQM-P delegation in Islamabad. Unlike Ms Bhutto, the PTI chief chose to not visit MQM-P’s headquarters despite the wishes of his foes-turn-allies, but assured them that he would keep his promises.

Scepticism prevails over the deal’s future as people are not sure whether it too will prove to be as short-lived as the 1988 arrangement or survive the NA’s five-year term.

“It could be short-lived if the PTI doesn’t reciprocate the gesture,” remarked a senior MQM-P leader when asked what he really thought about the new relationship.

While there is no dearth of people in the two parties who firmly believe that both the PTI and MQM-P are natural allies and the coalition will make a positive impact on Sindh’s urban areas, naysayers regard it as a marriage of convenience that took place at the behest of the establishment.

According to them, the PTI would have never made the MQM-P its ally had it got a simple majority in the 272-strong house. Likewise, the MQM-P did not want to support the PTI since there were strong voices within its ranks which wanted to go along with the opposition.

A cursory look at the memorandum of understanding signed between MQM-P’s Faisal Sabzwari and PTI’s Sindh chief Arif Alvi suggests that the former did not gain anything significant.

Ms Bhutto had given the MQM three ministries in Sindh in 1988; then in 1990 Nawaz Sharif had not only given a lion’s share to the MQM in the province, but also two federal ministries.

In 1997, Mr Sharif again gave the MQM a significant share both at the Centre and in Sindh.

And when retired Gen Pervez Musharraf held elections in 2002, he gave the Muttahida the governorship of Sindh as well as federal and provincial ministries. Even in 2008, Asif Ali Zardari not only retained MQM’s Ishratul Ebad as Sindh governor but also gave the party ministries at the Centre and in the province.

Although an MQM-P leader claimed that an “immediate relief package for urban Sindh” was the main demand of the party, insiders say the deal was made possible by the establishment.

Soon after the election results, the powers that be first asked the MQM-P — which has been facing an operation for the past many years and criminal cases have been registered against almost its entire leadership — not to attend the multi-party conference convened by Maulana Fazlur Rehman earlier this week.

The party was also told to not make a song and dance about the loss of NA seats in Karachi to the PTI. So it directed its protest at the Election Commission of Pakistan. Finally, it was asked to support Mr Khan’s party.

Asked whether the MQM-P faced pressure from the establishment to support the PTI, the senior leader cautiously commented that “the numbers in the National Assembly have limited our options”.

Another MQM-P leader said Mr Hussain and the Muttahida faced the wrath of the establishment after the party founder decided, against all advice from the powers that be, to support PPP’s Raza Rabbani for the election of the Senate chairman in Feb 2015.

“The Baldia factory JIT report, the raid on Nine Zero, the video statement from death-row inmate Saulat Mirza all came one after the other following that decision. We don’t want any confrontation [with the establishment] and so we decided against making a coalition with the PPP,” he said.

The MQM broke up with the PPP in 1989 on the instructions of the establishment . Clearly, the fate of this new relationship lies in the hands of the establishment and not the two parties. Let’s see how long it lasts.

Published in Dawn, August 4th, 2018