At the outset, two realities are in order: Karachi, the financial and commercial hub of the country, has turned into a battlefield for criminal gangs and armed group enjoying overt and covert support of mainstream political parties; ‘state’ has showed ineffectual and feckless response to protect the life and property of the citizens. The ethno-political violence has torn apart the social fabric of the city of lights and the inhabitants live in an atmosphere of constant fear and uncertainty.

The recent JIT report, revealed two years after the incident, holds the MQM activists responsible for the Baldia Town factory fire devouring 258 innocent lives. The report is a damning indictment of MQM, a political party that claims liberal, secular and bourgeoisie credentials. Some valid objections have been raised against the findings - the most important being that they are based on ‘confession’ of one person. But, in politics, perception is bigger than reality and there remains a widespread perception of MQM workers executing very heinous offences. Earlier in May 2007, mayhem was unleashed in Karachi killing 40 people at the behest of a military dictator who had unlawfully deposed the Chief Justice. A week ago, the law enforcement agencies have been successful in apprehending the MQM sector in-charge for his involvement in the May 12 carnage.

The Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) was formed in 1985 amidst violent ethnic clashes that erupted after the death of a muhajir schoolgirl hit by a Pashtun bus driver. The party began its journey as an ethnicity-based organization to struggle for the rights of the ‘marginalized’ muhajir community. Altaf Hussain led the party to a surprising victory in elections of local bodies and national polls of 1988, winning 13 and 31 seats in the National Assembly and Sindh provincial assembly respectively.

The rivalry between the PPP and the present PML-N during 1990’s often compelled each of them to rely on the support of MQM to form government. The MQM, founded with the original avowed purpose to enhance the status of Muhajirs at par with other sub-nationalities, adopted the politics of expediencies and pragmatism became the cornerstone of its ideology. The ensuing two decades witnessed MQM forging partnership with the IJI, PPP, PML and the military regimes, with securing its foothold in Karachi as the only permanent objective.

The party had got pre-eminence in national politics because of geographical concentration of its electoral strength in the largest city of the country. But the parochial outlook combined with its heavy-handed tactics of intimidation became limiting factors for outreach of the party across the rest of the country. In 1997, the party changed its name to Muttahida Qaumi Movement, giving a pretense of shedding its politics of Muhajir nationalism but practical actions did not reflect change in policy.

Another prominent feature of the party is the personality cult built around the figure of the supreme leader, which makes its internal culture extremely undemocratic and suffocating. The Markazi Rabta Committee, nominated by the leader, is the mainbody responsible for organizational affairs and formulation of political programs while the Central Executive Committee only plays second fiddle to the former.

Notwithstanding these inherent limitations and grievous allegations of varying nature, the MQM retains a semblance of legitimacy within its support base. The explanation could be vacuum of alternative leadership of Muhajir community because the attempts to create a Haqiqi faction of MQM around mid- 1990’s was viewed as a ploy of establishment and hence discredited. But this should not serve as a factor of complacency, as the PTI has emerged to pose a big challenge to traditional primacy of MQM in Karachi in the next elections. The MQM already faces a precarious situation because of pending cases against its leader in London courts and therefore the party must make a demand for a thorough investigation in Baldia factory tragedy and clear up the matter.

But the MQM is not solely responsible for the present bloody situation in Karachi. There is no incentive for MQM to forego violence where the other competitors, including the ANP and the PPP, are not willing or compelled to disband their militant wings. The federal government launched the ongoing operation in Karachi with great hopes but it could bear fruit only if it were conducted across the board. An evaluation exercise conducted by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has termed the operation as a ‘failure’ for it has failed in achieving something concrete towards its ultimate objective of restoring peace to the city. The major issues afflicting law and order situation in Karachi have been inadequate capacity and politicization of police, lack of political will and failure to resolve governance issues of the metropolis. To measure the success of the operation in terms of a temporary drop in incident of offences of certain nature, whilst the nagging problems continue to persist, will be a shortsighted approach. De-weaponisation should be undertaken earnestly and police officials need free hand in tackling of criminal gangs without fear of political interference.

Tailpiece: Altaf Hussain uttered offensive remarks about the PTI women participating in public meetings, comparing the sit-in to ‘heera mandi’. Perhaps there was not any statement more misogynistic in its content, with which the supreme leader could come up in this context. Would not the dharnas of the PTI youth, in their worst possible state, a thousand times better than the scene of hordes gathered against their will for listening to long telephonic speeches delivered from the Edgware Road?