KARACHI: Serious efforts are underway to persuade different factions of the once unified Muttahida Qaumi Movement to agree on a minimum common agenda after the results of the recent cantonment boards election made clear that the party’s traditional Urdu speaking voters stayed aloof due to a constant war of words between rival leaders.
Background interviews and on-the-record conversations with several stakeholders suggest that the establishment — which had made a failed attempt to broker a deal between Pak Sarzameen Party and MQM-Pakistan around four years ago — is not behind the renewed efforts and it’s just a result of introspection.
Also, the efforts are not aimed at merging one party into another, but to initiate a dialogue that would likely to give a much-needed confidence and hope to the Urdu-speaking community that currently feels isolated and vulnerable.
Ex-governor Ebad is playing role from Dubai to bridge differences
There are roadblocks though as certain leaders enjoying senior positions in their respective parties do not want to give up their powers, but they have been told that if the situation persists, no party — the MQM-Pakistan, the PSP and Dr Farooq Sattar led PIB group — would stand a chance in the upcoming local government elections and 2023 general elections.
Cantonment polls setback and self-destruction
If the number of votes is anything to go by, the current leaderships of the MQM-P and the PSP have failed to make an impression on the Mohajir electorate during the cantonment boards’ polls as their collective votes were not more than the votes of Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and Pakistan Peoples Party.
It is learnt that during the last month’s cantonment boards’ election many workers of the MQM-P sensed their defeat and urged their leadership to take steps for unity otherwise they would stand no chance in any election.
Sources said there were a number of people not only in the MQM and the PSP, but those sitting on the sidelines too who wanted unity or at least that the leaders sit on a table to initiate a process that may lead to unification.
“We respect everyone... be it Mustafa [Kamal] bhai, Khalid [Maqbool Siddiqui] bhai or Farooq [Sattar] bhai. We don’t want to undermine their position, but we want all of them to keep aside their differences and sit together just for the sake of people of Karachi, especially Mohajirs,” said former MQM coordination committee member Waseem Aftab.
No member of the MQM-P and the PSP was willing to speak on the matter on the record.
While almost everyone recognises the importance of the Altaf Hussain factor in urban politics and that he still commands public support in Karachi and Hyderabad, there’s a consensus that his “Sindhudesh politics” are self-destructive in nature as it alienates even his own supporters from him.
The governor’s return?
Currently, Karachi is abuzz with rumours that former Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ebad is planning a comeback to unite a divided MQM and that powerful quarters wanted to see him in an administrative role from a platform other than of MQM, etc. Dr Ebad lives in Dubai ever since he resigned as the governor in November 2016 after serving for nearly 14 years as an MQM nominee.
Dr Ebad is one of the few senior leaders of the MQM who commands respect in almost all factions as well as the people of Karachi and Hyderabad. He had led the MQM as the London-based convener of its coordination committee before becoming the governor of Sindh in December 2002.
Many believe that the former governor can play a constructive role in an effort to strengthen a beleaguered MQM and revive hope among masses.
Mr Aftab, who was also a former senior vice chairman of the PSP and currently part of a likeminded group, said Dr Ebad, Dr Sattar and Dr Siddiqui should work together for the solution of problems being faced by residents of urban Sindh.
“The situation of Karachi demands that we all should forget our differences and be united and Dr Ishratul Ebad must play his role. He was the one who had brought people from all walks of life on one platform on the specific agenda of development [when he was governor],” he said on behalf of his group that also comprises former health minister Dr Sagheer Ahmed.
Dawn approached Dr Ebad and asked about the rumours and whether he was planning to return to take part in politics. He expressed sorrow over the state of political and administrative affairs of Karachi and said that his thinking was public-oriented and not “party oriented”.
“I am in touch with so many people and there’s a growing frustration especially after the results of the cantonment boards’ elections,” he said, adding: “But I am neither a competitor of those running the affairs of the MQM, nor I want to replace them.”
He is more concerned over constant mudslinging by rival factions against each other that he believes creating a political vacuum and space for potential anti-state elements. He admitted that the people wanted to see them united.
“Merging one party into another is not the only solution,” he said, adding that the division of MQM into MQM-P, PSP, Dr Sattar’s and Haqiqi factions was now a reality.
However, he said the leadership of all these factions should sit together to first decide not to trade allegations against each other and stop using uncivilised language. “This will eventually end the impression among the masses that all these groups are fighting with each other for the lust of power,” he said.
He said that all the parties could continue their separate activities but in the second phase a convergence on major issues of Karachi would be necessary. “Such an equation is doable and I can also play my part in it,” he said, maintaining that for this he could return to Karachi.
While Dr Ebad did not take credit of his direct or indirect efforts, it seems he successfully persuaded some of the rival party leaders to avoid washing their dirty linen in public as disgruntled Dr Sattar recently extended an olive branch to the MQM-P leadership despite having serious reservations over their controversial intraparty elections in which, according to sources, a senior leader got just 17 votes and another got less than two dozen votes.
However, naysayers say Dr Ebad will never return to Karachi and all he wanted to prove him relevant in the Karachi politics while sitting in the comforts of his overseas residence.
They say Dr Ebad can do political wheeling and dealing but he lacked abilities to run the organisational setup.
“Despite having just seven seats in the National Assembly, the MQM-P is an important part of coalition government and doing well politically. But its organisational set up is shrinking with every passing day. Even PSP has more workers and street power than the current MQM,” said a senior party leader, requesting anonymity.
He said a personality like that of PSP president and former MQM deputy convener Anis Kaim Khani was also needed to make the organisation a potent force.
Many believe reconciliation between different leaders and their factions is possible but there are thin chances of unification in the near future.
It is not clear whether the efforts to have rival leaders agreed to sit at a table would materialise or not, but one thing they are sure of that no MQM faction can get electoral success if the prevailing circumstances persist.
Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2021