ANALYSIS: How long will MQM-PPP ‘marriage of convenience’ last?

Published April 2, 2022
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari address a press conference in Islamabad after MQM-P convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui announced his party's decision to join the opposition. — Photo: PPP Media Cell/Twitter/File
PPP leader Bilawal Bhutto Zardari address a press conference in Islamabad after MQM-P convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui announced his party's decision to join the opposition. — Photo: PPP Media Cell/Twitter/File

THE fresh announcement of a political partnership between Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) that — if it lasts, may lead to a power-sharing arrangement in Sindh between the two parties — is being greeted more with doubt than certainty.

Apart from a strong reaction from the rival forces that matter in the politics of Karachi, such as the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI), Jamaat-i-Islami (JI) and Pak-Sarzaeen Party (PSP), the buzz of such sentiments is also being audible in conversations with ordinary people.

Most reservations are based mostly on the violent history of the relationship between both parties, in particular between 2008 and 2013, when Karachi witnessed one of the bloodiest phases of its history with violence on ethnic, sectarian and political grounds becoming the norm.

A few stats can depict just how scary those days were for Karachi. Police figures suggest that more than 7,000 people were killed in the city between 2008 and 2012, so it came as no surprise when a contemporary ranking put Karachi as the world’s sixth most dangerous city.

With a history of bad blood between both parties, observers are greeting their fresh accord with scepticism

In view of this bad blood, the fresh thaw in their relations is raising more questions in the minds of citizens and political players, alike, than there are answers.

The most recent reflection of the ties between the two parties came only a couple of months ago when MQM-P leaders were livid over the treatment meted out to its workers — including legislators, women and children — who were baton-charged, teargassed and detained by the police when they tried to march to CM House to protest against the local government law.

So, will the new “Charter of Rights” between MQM-P and PPP stand the test of time, and are their political rivals’ objections merely political or is there some substance to their concerns? Background conversations with people who matter in both parties suggest a degree of reticence and uncertainty about the lasting ability of this deal, within their own ranks as well.

Read: In the MQM-PPP marriage, only the rishta aunty wins

Convincing your own party

“Obviously, there would be challenges,” a senior PPP leader says when asked about the future of the “Charter of Rights.” In politics, he believes, the past only gives lessons and if any of the two parties continue live in their “past experiences”, they could not have found a way to move forward.

In the same breath, however, he claims that PPP has agreed to “give more”, simply for the sake of bringing all political forces together in the national mainstream.

Agreeing that “not every cadre of the PPP would agree with the leadership” to give the MQM so much space, he said it would be a real challenge for the party to convince all internal dissenting voices.

“And one should remember that this is just a beginning. Why do we always need to be so speculative? Things can lead to better results and differences; breakups in politics are part of the baggage that parties always carry, for different reasons. Sometimes they lose and sometimes they achieve. So with all due care and caution, we will move forward with positive mindset,” another PPP leader says.

When it was pointed out that the burden for the implementation of the fresh accord between the two sides would fall more on the PPP, which had finally agreed to accommodate MQM-P’s years-old demands, he preferred to stay silent.

But when asked for his opinion on the impression that emerged following the finalisation of the draft “Charter of Rights” that the MQM-P would hardly lose anything in terms of political credibility if the accord fails to achieve the desired results, he responded simply with: “let’s see”.

Potential spoilers

On the other side, the MQM-P leadership is full of praise for PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari and his father Asif Zardari, and believe that they truly want a lasting partnership to bridge the gap between rural and urban populations of Sindh.

The former president reportedly told the MQM-P that he wanted to give them as much space as they wanted, since those who had replaced the party in the 2018 general election were not tolerable.

That being said, the MQM-P has been scarred by the PPP provincial leadership in the past.

According to them, it was no secret that lower-level figures would tacitly give certain nationalist leaders the signal to launch a propaganda campaign against the PPP as soon as it entered into an agreement with the MQM.

“This propaganda has already begun... this time its not just limited to the rural parts of Sindh, but has also permeated the urban areas. We know it will only intensify further in the days to come,” says an MQM-P leader.

He is not wrong: only on Thursday, Sindhi nationalist leader Qadir Magsi termed the accord between PML-N, PPP and MQM an “attack on the integrity of Sindh”. In addition, PML-F MNA Saira Bano slammed the PPP and vowed that her party would never allow the division of Sindh on any pretext.

And the MQM-PPP pact has equally hurt urban players like JI and PSP — both parties had earlier signed agreements of their own with the PPP.

MQM-P leaders say things may become clearer in the coming weeks when talks get underway between the two parties to form a new local government law in compliance with the Supreme Court’s February 1 verdict and to allay their grievances over delimitation of local government constituencies.

“I cannot predict how long this alliance will last... I believe our alliance with PPP will last longer than its alliance with the PML-N,” the senior leader says, adding both the PML-N and PPP had fundamental disagreements over the 18th Amendment and, if Shehbaz Sharif became prime minister, he would find it hard, like Imran Khan, to run an effective a federal government.

‘Marriage of convenience’

Former MQM convener and US-based chairman of Voice of Karachi Nadeem Nusrat says that given the history of PPP’s failed alliances with the MQM since 1988, there’s no room for optimism.

“All previous partnerships have ended disastrously following MQM’s complaints that PPP failed to honour the promises it made. As ever, no sincerity exists in this accord. It’s merely a marriage of convenience.”

He says PPP needs MQM’s few MNAs’ votes for the success of the no-confidence motion against Imran Khan. Once MQM has served this particular purpose, it will become obsolete.

“Benazir Bhutto had agreed to all MQM demands in 1988 when she needed 14 votes to become prime minister. None of those demands were honoured after she took office,” he recalls.

He opines the primary reason for the failure of all previous pacts between PPP and MQM lies in the ethnic make-up and rural/urban division of Sindh. “Despite ruling the province six times since 1971, PPP essentially remains a party of Sindh’s rural areas only.”

Mr Nusrat says strong anti-PPP sentiments in urban Sindh will leave the MQM-P even weaker.

Published in Dawn, April 2nd, 2022

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