THROUGHOUT its political history, the MQM has had a chequered record of both joining and leaving governments, in the centre as well as in Sindh. Once upon a time, these decisions would be announced in dramatic fashion, with the party’s founder and now ex-supremo Altaf Hussain holding forth as the cameras rolled, letting the nation know who the party was ditching or propping up. Those times may be gone, but some habits die hard. The Muttahida’s current chief Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui told the media on Sunday that he was quitting his post as federal IT and telecom minister, though adding that the MQM was not leaving the PTI-led coalition. The decision was taken due to apparently broken promises by the PTI, with Mr Siddiqui saying the federal government had done little for Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh — the Muttahida’s traditional constituency. The centre was quick to act, with the prime minister himself reportedly saying that the MQM’s reservations would be looked into, as a number of PTI cabinet members added that they would not let their Sindh-based ally go. On Monday, Planning Minister Asad Umar was in Bahadurabad, Karachi, where the MQM has temporarily set up shop after its Nine Zero headquarters were sealed by the establishment, to woo Khalid Maqbool. Though the meeting seemed to be cordial, there were no immediate sign that the Muttahida convener would take back his resignation from the cabinet.
Ever since emerging as an electoral force in the 1980s, the MQM has made itself useful to governments and, at the same time, relished its role as kingmaker despite its status as a middle-tier Sindh-based party. The MQM has indeed had a transactional relationship with its political partners, often ending the alliance if it felt it was not getting a good enough deal. As far as the coalition with the PTI is concerned, this again seems to have been a transactional arrangement, as there is very little linking the two parties ideologically. In fact, at one time the respective leaderships used toxic phraseology to describe each other. But in politics friends and enemies change quite swiftly, and the next few days (or hours?) will show whether the MQM follows up by going further and leaving the coalition. Regardless, it would gain either way, whether it is offered more ‘incentives’ by the PTI, or if takes up the PPP’s offer to join the Sindh government.
Published in Dawn, January 14th, 2020