The announcement for the annulment of assemblies on March 16th was a wakeup call for political parties all across Pakistan. The clock is ticking and the time to make changes, stir up electoral issues and leave a lasting impression on voters in now here. It is thus quite remarkable how projects like the Metro Bus in Punjab, the promise of target operation against religious extremists in Quetta and MQM’s concern for Karachi’s insecurity transpired at this momentous time.
Withdrawal of murder cases of Lyari’s criminal gang members’ specifically those belonging to the Peoples Aman Committee and the failed implementation of Sindh Peoples Local Government Ordinance (SPLGO) in Karachi were the last straw for MQM. In a televised briefing on February 16th, Dr. Farooq Sattar, MQM Coordination Committee Deputy Convener, officially terminated MQM’s alliance with PPP at both the federal and provincial level. He accused PPP of delaying the process of justice by harboring criminals identified as absconders by the courts. MQM had expressed its reservations a few days earlier too but PPP representatives either denied the withdrawal order for or gave reassurances of reconciliation efforts.
It must be noted that this is not MQM’s first attempt to break their alliance with PPP. It has done so several times in the past and soon afterwards tends to mend fences. Given this trend, other political parties including Jamaat-e-Islami, Sunni Tehreek, Save Sindh Movement, National Peoples Party and PML-Q (Likeminded) were suspicious of a conspiracy. Chaudhry Nisar, Leader of the Opposition and member of PML-N called MQM’s move a “joke”. He refused to consult MQM in the formation of a caretaker setup.
MQM’s separation will not have an impact on the overall functioning of the government. As far as provincial politics are concerned, MQM continues to have a strong voter bases in Karachi and Hyderabad. PPP might have lost MQM but it would translate to the loss of only a few seats since PPP has a dominating presence in many areas of Sindh.
Many have questioned what MQM can achieve in this short period of time as part of the opposition. If they hope that breaking ties with PPP will exonerate them from being an accessory to the nation’s insecurity and economic downfall and thus prove the sincerity of their motives, they are badly mistaken. Its party leaders argue that an earlier break would have risked derailing the government. It is however, quite unlikely that they would reconcile with PPP since the government is set to be dissolved on March 16th.
So how is this breakup different from the rest? This time MQM may in fact be planning for a pre-election scenario. The government is bound to take into consideration the view of the opposition in installing a caretaker setup. As members of the opposition, MQM will prevail over other nationalist parties especially PML-F in appointing an opposition leader in the Sindh Assembly. This will give MQM a chance to contribute to the selection of a caretaker chief minister and therefore, maintain their influence until the elections. MQM’s move puts the 17-month stalled appointment of a leader of opposition in a new light. It seems that Governor Dr. Ishrat ul Ebad may have been saving the seat for his MQM brothers. The fact that contrary to the claims of MQM leadership, Ebad has not handed in his resignation means that MQM plans to have the cake and eat and eat it too.
Another explanation for PPP withdrawing cases was also offered; it may be seeking voters from People Aman Committee. While this may be true, it is more likely that the MQM-PPP fight is a farce. Contesting elections from both sides of the fence, this duo could crush PML-N, which has been making headway in building alliances with Sindh’s political parties and emerge successful in Sindh. If PPP is unable to win a re-election, as leader of the opposition MQM will still have the opportunity to negotiate a partnership with the ruling party.
On Saturday, MQM chief Altaf Hussain said “When forces, instead of providing protection to the masses, are protecting criminals, the people will take extreme steps for their safety.” What Hussain doesn’t realize is that these very masses also know that he may not be more than just a boy who cried wolf.