Attempting to break out of its urban Sindh heartland, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) held a massive rally at the football ground of Gaddafi Stadium in Lahore on Sunday, attended by thousands of its supporters, many of whom had come from different parts of Sindh and Punjab.
The event, billed a ‘public meeting’ by the party titled “Stabilising Pakistan”, was the largest event held by the MQM in Punjab and the culmination of several months of organising and preparation, both logistical and political.
The rally was attended by leaders of the Pakistan Muslim League Quaid (PML-Q), which sent a 10-member delegation led by the party’s parliamentary leader in the Punjab Assembly Chaudhry Zahiruddin Khan. Former president Pervez Musharraf’s changing the venue may have been political.
“They can change the venue but they cannot block our ideas and our workers from gathering,” said MQM Deputy Convenor Farooq Sattar.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain addressed the rally via telephone from London. He was particularly keen to dispel a notion that the MQM was an ethnic-based party, focused on the interests of Muhajirs and hostile to other ethnic groups.
In a message that was full of left-wing populism, Altaf laid out the party’s 18-point agenda. The MQM leader promised to eradicate “the nuisance of feudalism, capitalism and unequal distribution of wealth” from the country.
Seeking to burnish the party’s liberal credentials, he took aim at several of the most regressive cultural traditions in the country, such as “watta satta” (where two families arrange marriages between their sons and daughters), karo-kari (honour killing) and marrying women off to the Holy Quran (in order to disinherit them).
The MQM leader also promised to overcome the energy crisis, though he did not make it clear how that would happen.
However, Altaf appeared to also support the partition of Punjab through the creation of new provinces in Bahawalpur and the Seraiki belt, an unpopular position in central and northern Punjab. He did, however, state that the division would only occur after a referendum.
On a similar note, Altaf also called for an end to the military operation in Balochistan and demanded that the military establishment let the issue be resolved politically. He then offered the MQM’s services as mediators between the federal government and Baloch insurgents.
The party appeared to be breaking away from its pro-American stance of recent years, when the MQM chief advocated an independent foreign policy and termed the US drone attacks on the tribal regions “violation of Pakistani sovereignty”.
He also criticised the International Monetary Fund (IMF), a traditional bugbear of the MQM, and said that the country would refuse to accept any loans from the international lender if his party were to come into office. Altaf Hussain also promised to ‘eradicate’ unemployment while at the same time promising to introduce unemployment insurance in the country.
The MQM leader also promised to introduce a constitutional amendment to make education up to grade 10 mandatory for all citizens, punishable by an unspecified penalty for non-compliance.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2011.