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Pakistan Today Editorial – 19th March 2016

Are MQM dissidents losing momentum?

Facing a dilemma

There was initially a widespread perception that Mustafa Kamal had only a limited aim. He had returned to Pakistan to expose and demolish Altaf Hussain and create a big dent in the MQM to reduce it into a small and ineffective group. In less than a fortnight he managed to increase his groups’ strength from two to five. If the group was hoping for large scale desertions in the MQM, it must have found by now that it had taken up a difficult task. The campaign to win over MQM leaders has apparently hit snags. On Thursday a press conference meant to announce the desertion of another MQM leader was first delayed, then postponed. On Friday, Ishratul Ibad who was supposed to be mulling change of party affiliation made it known that he did not support the dissidents. On Friday the MQM commemorated its 32nd foundation day with traditional fanfare in Karachi, Hyderabad and other urban centres of Sindh, indicating that the party was still capable of putting up a good show of street power even during one of the worst periods in its history.

Mustafa Kamal had hinted in his first speech that he wanted to build a new party. Apparently he had done no homework regarding the rationale for a new party, its long term programme and its immediate aims and objectives. If Anees Qaimkhani is to be believed the dissidents want to create a mainstream party with branches all over Pakistan. The Sindh chapter of the new party, according to him, would represent all Sindhis across the ethnic divide. This is putting more on their plate than the group can chew. While in Dubai Mustafa Kamal had enough time to work out details about party formation. Now that the small group has jumped into the political fray it would further lose momentum if it was to get involved in debates related to party formation. It has to face the dilemma created by a hasty return without completing the homework.

The mullah ultimatum

Regress or else…

The way Nawaz was suddenly, and so visibly, turning secular – celebrating Holi, empowering women, etc – the kitchen cabinet must have factored in some manner of a mullah revolt. But surely they couldn’t have seen the ‘or else’ ultimatum coming. The Punjab women empowerment initiative – flawed as it is – turned out to be the proverbial last straw. And it’s not just the JUI and JI types that are out for blood. Others not usually on the bandwagon and some pretty close to the Sharifs are also on board this time. Apparently they have threatened a ’77-78 like agitation that ultimately brought down the government.

It goes without saying that though once hand in glove since the Zia and then the IJI days, there has been a parting of the ways of sorts between the N-league leadership and the conservative lobby it rode for so long. The prime minister first upset them with his views regarding India. Then he okayed Zarb-e-Azb and took the fighting, for all intents and purposes at least, to their darlings in the badlands. Surprisingly, he also developed a sudden, and timely, liking for minorities. And now the Punjab government has pushed the women protection bill through the assembly.

Since the government has obviously charted this course very carefully, a retreat does not seem likely. Nor would it do the party any good in the next election. PML-N should, therefore, move quickly to form an alliance with other seemingly secular parties. That, of course, will require considerable back-and-forth since it will involve reaching agreements with the likes of PPP, ANP and even MQM. Then it’s best to take the case to the House and let the democratic process really take its course. Now that the leadership has taken some long overdue steps, it must stand by them, and pre-empt any attempts at sabotage by a small, regressive lobby.

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