Altaf Hussain's lengthy press conference in London has put his party in deeper trouble. To begin with, the MQM Chief did not answer the disturbing questions about himself or his party raised by Dr Zulfiqar Mirza. He did not offer any ideas about the solution to Karachi's troubles, the city that has been dominated by his party for more than two decades and that is the focus of the current debate. He claimed that he'd come equipped with evidence, but did not produce any to support his serious allegations against the ANP, JI and PML-N. The papers flashed at the media at the beginning of the press conference as evidence and held up in front of the cameras later, turned out to be copies of a book published 10 years ago and articles and papers published by the American newspapers and think tanks that the media in Pakistan had already brought to public attention. Surely, the MQM leadership will have to do better than reverting to its ethnicity-based narrative and blaming the independent media to win over the hearts and minds of Pakistanis. Interestingly, ever since Dr Mirza's press conference, the MQM leadership has consistently targeted the media for conducting a media trial of their party. Altaf Hussain and other senior MQM leaders have taken the position that the newspapers and news channels have been giving undue coverage to Dr Mirza's no-holds-barred war against the party and that the media has an anti-MQM bias. This is an unfair criticism of the vibrant independent media that, despite its other shortcomings, has attempted to cover both sides of the story. Considering who Dr Mirza is and the explosive content of his case against the MQM, the media was well within its professional limits to give him the airtime and column space that he got. And all along, the MQM was given the opportunity to respond to his charges that he levelled with documentary evidence before the nation. The reactions of MQM's leaders and the press conferences they held were given full coverage. And if there were any misgivings on part of the MQM about the media being hostile to it, they should have been cleared by the way the marathon press conference from London was covered, televised live without a break by every channel under the sun and made the lead story by every national newspaper. The problem for the MQM is that while Dr Mirza has made concrete and specific allegations, and keeps presenting documents to support them, the party has not been able to counter his charges effectively. The MQM leadership has not even bothered to answer the questions that Dr Mirza has raised. Even Altaf Hussain refused to answer those questions and chose instead to make vague appeals and hurl veiled threats to the military and elected leadership. He offered his hundreds of thousands of workers to help the army defeat the superpowers out to break up Pakistan on the one hand and talked about freeing these workers to do as they please on the other, a discomfiting thought for those who understand what that would mean. The most disappointing aspect of the press conference was the return to an ethnicity-based narrative that the MQM had done well to leave behind. One can't blame the independent media if it is not impressed by the MQM response so far. As in the case of every other power player in the country, whether it is the largest political parties like the PPP and PML-N or powerful institutions like the military, ISI, judiciary or bureaucracy, the MQM, its leadership and their response to their newest challenge was put under the magnifying glass, and analysed and commented upon from various angles. And just as in the case of other power players, the MQM came under criticism for its shortcomings. In fact, it is a refreshing change to see the media treat MQM at par with other political parties that get their due share of flak where and when they deserve it. Instead of generalising the response of the media as a victimisation of their party, the MQM leadership would do well to listen to the critical voices and take measures to address the points raised by them. An independent media is not only the eyes and the ears of the nation, but also its leaders, and by pointing out their shortcomings, it affords them the opportunity to improve themselves. Take, for instance, the criticism regarding the MQM's reversion to an ethnicity-based narrative. In a U-turn that obviously does not serve the political future of a party that seemed all set to rise above its origins and embrace a national agenda of politics, the mohajir card is beginning to be flashed by the party leadership all over again. This would only make the restoration of peace in Karachi more problematic. Whether it is the PPP government, its coalition partners or opposition parties, the Supreme Court, the military leadership, the media or civil society, a national consensus is clearly emerging on tackling the Karachi situation that calls for an across-the-board operation against criminal elements regardless of their political affiliation. Being the biggest stakeholder in Karachi and claiming to have members from every ethnic grouping living in the city, the MQM must embrace this national consensus to help the cause of peace in Karachi. An ethnicity-based perspective can only create more trouble in mini-Pakistan. The PPP will have to be far more responsible in its negotiations with the MQM than it has been so far. Reconciliation is a good thing, but it is meaningless if it is not based on common political goals and principles. If the negotiations are reduced to an understanding about how the benefits and spoils of power are to be shared, and involve illegal concessions the likes of which Dr Mirza has accused Rehman Malik of brokering for the MQM, it can only result in short-term benefits, like adding up the numbers in Parliament for staying in power, and spell disaster for the citizens. The coming days will test the political maturity of not only the MQM, but also the PPP. As the largest political party in the country, leading the country, the PPP needs to wake up to the task of bringing MQM round to the idea of an across-the-board operation in Sindh without political interference. The MQM, on the other hand, will have to rise above an ethnicity-based narrative and be open to media criticism. The writer is an independent columnist. Email: