THE Muttahida Qaumi Movement is aware of the flak it has been taking after its meetings with opposition parties, particularly the Pakistan Peoples Party, and an apparent indecision on the no-trust move.
It is also aware of how its own workers and supporters feel about its alliance with the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf at the Centre.
Nonetheless, the MQM-Pakistan has a tough decision on its hands. Background conversations with senior leaders and workers suggest that the party is considering abstaining from the National Assembly sitting on the no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Imran Khan rather than coming out in support of the opposition or the government.
But those who are in favour of abstaining from the no-trust vote would like Muttahida to quit the PTI-led coalition if Imran Khan survives the move, stay in touch with the opposition and focus on the next elections.
This is all new stuff for a party which claims to have liberated itself from the clutches of the London-based leadership six years ago, but does not seem to find the strength to break the unseen shackles put around its neck by a powerful establishment.
Altaf Hussain, the party supremo, used to take all the decisions until that fateful day on Aug 22, 2016, when those who matter found his incendiary speech one too many.
But Mr Hussain would never take responsibility for unpopular decisions and routinely made the coordination committee a scapegoat.
In the post-2016 era, Mr Hussain’s role was assumed by the establishment. It started giving orders to the MQM leadership about do’s and don’ts disguised as ‘advice’ or ‘suggestions’ that quite often came through phone calls. The party had no choice but to follow these advices and own the decisions taken by invisible actors sitting far from the party’s Karachi headquarters.
The Nov 8, 2017 press conference jointly addressed by MQM-P and Pak Sarzameen Party leadership at the Karachi Press Club to announce their merger was a classic example. The forced marriage didn’t last for 24 hours though.
However, the MQM-P is not naive. To its voters, it has cleverly painted itself as a victim that has no choice but to merely carry out the will of the establishment. It has made it clear to the electorate that the decision to join the PTI-led coalition had been thrust upon it and by the same token, it has had to stay in the ruling coalition out of compulsion.
But things began to take a turn with the change of command at a key institution. While it is still on a tight leash vis-à-vis organisational affairs, the powers-that-be have communicated to the MQM-P that it is free to go its own way on the no-trust move.
But this is just limited freedom as the party was not even allowed to tweet a congratulatory message to its founder when he was acquitted in a case by a British court last month or to condole the death of his sister.
So, it’s tough to take a decision and own it in front of the voter.
Since the filing of the no-confidence resolution, the MQM-P has been getting renewed attention from both the ruling and opposition parties. Prime Minister Imran Khan visited its headquarters earlier this month for the first time since coming to power.
Maulana Fazlur Rehman was not far behind.
But the constituents found Muttahida’s dalliance with the PPP leadership hard to swallow. Reports that MQM was trying to stitch together a working relationship with PPP in Sindh drew murmurs of betrayal from the former’s die-hard supporters.
Rivals like the Pak Sarzameen Party, Jamaat-i-Islami and MQM-Haqiqi saw it as a godsend and heaped scorn on MQM-P with undisguised glee.
The MQM-P was vilified for “selling its mandate for a few ministries” and eating its own words that the PPP-led Sindh government was “corrupt, racist and biased” and the source of injustice to the province’s urban areas.
Although PPP leaders have been declaring their party had accepted all demands of the MQM-P, the latter is not impressed.
It recently came up with two posers for Maulana Fazlur Rehman: (1) how could he become the PPP’s guarantor after Asif Ali Zardari “deceived the PDM over the issue of resignations” and (2) it got Yousuf Raza Gilani elected leader of the opposition in Senate through government votes.
The Bahadurabad-based party now finds itself in a quandary. It believes that it is damned if it sides with Peoples Party and damned if it declares its unequivocal support for the PTI. Hence it feels that the least of all evils for it would be to stay on the sidelines.
Many MQM leaders think that the prime minister had gained Karachiites’ sympathy after all opposition parties, especially the PPP, joined hands to oust him. If Imran Khan turns out to be the loser at the end of the day, the MQM voters would feel let down because there’s no love lost between them and Mr Zardari and they are no ardent fan of Shehbaz Sharif either.
All options are on the table and MQM-P has to pick one all by itself. And all indications suggest it will keep the window open for talks with PPP and abstain from voting on the no-confidence move.
A senior MQM leader summed up the party’s predicament: “It’s a catch-22 situation for us. I think staying neutral in the no-confidence motion will be our best bet.”
According to him, PPP and MQM had set up a committee to explore prospects for cooperation. “It appears that the general election is just round the corner. We should leave the treasury benches and prepare for elections.
“I am sure whichever party wins, it will need us.”
Published in Dawn, March 26th, 2022