The MQM should reinvent itself

The rejuvenated party should be open and accountable and should be concerned about its reputation

Talat Masood March 17, 2015
The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Pakistan Army, a former federal secretary and also served as chairman of the Pakistan Ordnance Factories Board

Nations, political parties and even individuals at times are confronted with existential challenges. They are left with two choices — be overwhelmed and perish or consider the challenge as an opportunity. The MQM — which is facing a very grave internal crisis and a tough crackdown by the Rangers — can only reclaim a position as a respectable political party if its leadership and party members accept their failings both in policy and conduct, and undertake major reforms.

It is amazing how the machinations of our past political and military leaderships have come to haunt us today. Just as we adopted the convoluted concept of using asymmetric forces to augment military power of the state against external adversaries, similarly on the home front to retain power, military rulers used political rivals to suppress their political foes. The MQM was exploited by General Ziaul Haq to crush the PPP in Sindh and General (retd) Pervez Musharraf played the same game in a modified form by making it a political ally. There were bad times for the MQM as well, when the military tried to clean the stables by turning against it as happened during the late General Asif Nawaz’s tenure or what we are witnessing currently in a more forceful manner. It is indeed surprising that the security forces, including the Rangers, have been stationed in Karachi for the last 27 years and the state has remained clueless or a mere spectator, especially if we consider the revelations that are coming out right now, with MQM activist Umair Siddiqui alleged to be involved in 120 murders.

The big question that political leaders have to answer is regarding the use of militant wings to counter opponents and subduing their own people. Does it not betray their shallow commitment to democracy? Do they realise that political power should not be used for engaging in fratricidal skirmishes, running a parallel administration or creating autonomous areas? Only the state should have the monopoly of using force and no political party should operate as a parallel coercive regime to impose its authority.

The arrest of the murderer of journalist Wali Babar and the perpetrator of the horrific tragedy at the garment factory in Karachi has also exposed the complicity of certain elements within the MQM with other criminal elements. Altaf Hussain has expressed ignorance about the reasons for their presence and that of other criminals at Nine Zero when the Rangers conducted the raid. It will not be easy for him to dissociate himself from these people who are alleged to have committed multiple grave offences. As investigations proceed, a lot more information could come out that will push him into a corner. His party workers could rebel against him for disowning them for crimes they committed on the orders of their party bosses.

Altaf Hussain has also remained under intense pressure from the British investigating agencies regarding Imran Farooq’s murder. According to recent reports, the case is only awaiting confirmation by Pakistan authorities on the nine queries sent by the Scotland Yard. All this indicates how political parties that pursue unethical practices as part of policy destroy their cadre’s basic values and turn them into murderers and hardened criminals.

Criminality in politics is not unique to Pakistan. In India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, several candidates for national elections have had blemished records with criminal cases waiting against them. In countries where democracy is in transition, politicians scramble to capture and retain power, and unabashedly employ criminal elements to retain their grip on it. Politicians in Latin America and Africa are notorious for corrupt practices. The best way to curb this tendency is by strengthening institutions, particularly the judiciary and parliament. In the past, Pakistan’s courts have generally remained subservient to political power. It is rare to find any judgment against powerful politicians or members of the establishment. In exposing militant activities of political parties, the media has been cautious because the state was unable to protect them. The Ranger’s operation in the present circumstances is justifiable but why did successive governments wait that long and allow the problem to fester to this level?

If as a consequence of the operation, the MQM splits into factions, it would not be in the national interest because the party represents a broad cross section of the middle and lower middle class population of urban Sindh. It is secular in character and has educated people in its ranks. Those in the top leadership who are corrupt or convicted of involvement in criminal activities should be tried and the law must take its course. New leadership should emerge from the survivors of the current accountability process. It would be for them to reform the party and the first step should be to disband any armed wing that may exist and genuinely dissociate from all criminal elements. Altaf Hussain should realise that he can no longer continue to run the affairs of the party through video link and remote control. Regrettably, his towering influence and centralised style has deprived the party of a second-tier leadership despite the presence of some talented and dedicated party members. The rejuvenated party should be open and accountable and should be concerned about its reputation. The MQM should grow out of the victimhood syndrome, practise democratic ethos and rise from a narrow ethnic base to being a broad-based national party. The need for delegation of authority is even greater because of the current circumstances of Altaf Hussain. In the recent past in particular, the MQM leadership has pursued mostly expedient policies, by sometimes inviting the army to declare martial law or by going to the other extreme of using harsh language against it. Such sharp swings in behaviour and policy reflect deep insecurity in the MQM’s leadership. What we need today are politicians who are able to lead their people to conform to the laws of the country and set high moral standards. Unfortunately, what we are witnessing is just the opposite and that does not augur well for the party or the country.

Published in The Express Tribune, March  18th,  2015.

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Solomon2 | 6 years ago | Reply Pakistan will never be a real parliamentary democracy until its parties embrace internal elections for leadership. Until then Pakistan is more of a competitive oligarchy, closer to sixteenth-century civil war France in mores and spirit.
Dr.M.M. Khan | 6 years ago | Reply The MQM leader is like a sword of democles hanging over every Karachite. His word is law. Either pay up or disappear. All the Govts. past and present act as appeasers in front of him. One day he is a bhai and the next a killer! It is usually said actions speaker louder than words---it is true in case of Mr.Altaf. Reinventing MQM is impossible. It is carrying a lot of ballast. It can't be trusted.
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