Just when it looked like the rally season was finally over, the MQM held the biggest one of all — comprising only of women. It was as if the MQM was letting the up-and-coming parties like the PTI know just who is in charge of the country’s largest city and financial centre, Karachi. In a country where women are often marginalised and their political participation curtailed, this was a heartening display. The audience, from what one could see from the footage that was aired, was diverse: it had women who appeared to be from affluent backgrounds, to those from the middle classes, as well as from the minorities.
This isn’t the first time Altaf Hussain has tried to rouse the women of Karachi and make them a part of his political battle. In the 1990s, as the MQM tried to stave off the military and successive civilian governments, he had urged Karachi’s women to arm themselves and get training in using weapons. To its credit, the MQM has always taken a stand on extremism and has tried to include some female representation in its strength in parliament as well as in its party posts and cadres. In the past as well, the MQM chief has been one of the few leaders of major political parties who has taken the obscurantist and rightwing elements and groups present in the country, head on. He has spoken vocally against the rise of jihadi outfits and also the need to combat growing intolerance in society. However, there are some who think that the party’s view that Talibanisation has crept into Karachi, is a bit exaggerated because when it makes this assertions it seems to make no distinction between the ANP and the Taliban itself.
This particular rally, however, was welcome because unlike several other rallies that have been held in the country in recent weeks, this one was devoted exclusively to women and the MQM managed to bring them out to participate in the thousands. The issues that Mr Hussain discussed, notable among it that empowering women was key to Pakistan’s overall success and prosperity, are very relevant and it is about time that a mainstream political party leader said this in public. Furthermore, the MQM chief’s sentiments on Balochistan were apt as well, since he is saying what many in the country are now saying to the Centre: address the issue or risk losing the province completely.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2012.