This is a forcefully eloquent piece on the incidence of violence in Karachi. PTH does not necessarily agree with its contents and the arguments – by Rukhe Zehra Zaidi
It seems that recycling storylines and repeat performances are not solely the prerogative of cinema and theatre. In Pakistan, the plot of politics is often repeated and rehashed until the performance has become a fine tuned and much rehearsed drama on the ongoing tussle between democracy and the military. Dictators replace democrats, democrats negotiate and bargain with each other and the army, and the masses stand by much like the citizens of fair Verona caught in the crossfire of the fighting between the Montagues and the Capulets. And although the actors change on a seasonal basis, the transition is now almost seamless and perfect. Costume changes require minimal refitting as the Ayubs make way for the Zias and Musharrafs, and the MMA of today steps into the shoes of the Islamic Democratic Alliance of yesterday. And repeated though it might be, the performance is by no means dull as bloody assassinations, behind the scenes plotting and scheming, horse-trading, and even exploding helicopters all add to the political experience in Pakistan.
One feature of this repertoire of action is the role played by the much maligned MQM. Only treading onto the stage in 1984, the MQM under its Quaid-e-Tehreek Altaf Hussain has undergone qualitative transformations since its debut. Initially enjoying significant support from the Muhajirs that it represented, the party focused on targeting the local Pushtun and Sindhi population it saw as its opposition. Later, it came under direct attack from the army for its militancy and terrorism in the province, resulting in the formation of the equally notorious Haqiqi splinter group. Today, the fortunes of the MQM have changed and the party now plays the part of the establishment’s mini mafia in Sindh, promising electoral and political support to Musharraf and his cronies. But despite these functional transformations, the defining characteristic of the MQM has remained constant over the years: widespread political violence and terrorism.
Forced public strikes, extortion, political intimidation, drug trafficking for raising party funds, vigilantism and public repression to promote party influence have all emerged as tactics of the MQM’s political arsenal. In 1986, over 124 people were killed in just one night of street violence in response to the news of Altaf Hussain’s arrest by the authorities, ironically for instigating violence. In a crackdown on militants in 1992, the Sindhi government found several torture sites that had allegedly been used by the MQM to torture and even kill dissident members and rival activists. Inter-factional and ethnically charged gun battles involving the MQM became commonplace on the streets of Karachi and in 1995 alone an estimated 1,800 people died as a result of the growing violence in the city. Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch, and even the UNHCR have internationally condemned the rights abuses perpetrated by the MQM.
The party also openly attacked critical elements in the press, frequently targeting journalists and even vendors of newspapers carrying criticisms the party. Most famously, in 1990 Altaf Hussain issued public threats to the editor of Newsline magazine for printing an article accusing the MQM of torture and political killings. There is blood on the hands of the MQM, and its there for all to see.
The ongoing violence and mob like behaviour of the MQM has paralysed the life of Pakistan’s largest city on innumerable occasions and their new role as the gangsters of the establishment in Sindh continues to overshadow and suppress free thought and action in Karachi. Whether it is May 12th 2007 or 9th April 2008, the goons of MQM are called in to stamp out any efforts to oppose the state; like loyal attack dogs providing a violent distraction and warning to the people of the city. Today’s events point to yet another occasion where the MQM has, with carte blanche impunity, attacked, burnt, looted and killed on the streets of Karachi. People have been shot and murdered, and lawyers burnt alive till their remains have been rendered unrecognizable.
But the cycle cannot continue endlessly and the violence must end. The lawyer’s movement, with all its imperfections, appears to have disturbed the oppressive power structures of the country and promises better things to come in our political future. Benazir’s assassination and the subsequent strengthening of the PPP and democratic institutions in the country have also challenged the authority of the MQM on a local level. The recent elections in Sindh have been a rude reminder to the MQM of its waning electoral support. It has had to rely on widespread rigging, political harassment, and armed coercion to maintain its hold on the province. Despite all its ammunition and weaponry, it is not immune to the popular discontent and condemnation of its constituents.
We must not allow the manipulations of the establishment and the violence of the MQM to distract us from our demand for true democracy, or weaken our support for the lawyers struggle. We must condemn all efforts to discredit and break the lawyer’s movement, and use every opportunity to expose the ugly face of the MQM and the dictator who hides behind it. We must demonstrate, lobby, protest and appeal to our democratic leaders to not let the MQM get away with its actions of today as it did on the 12th of May. But most of all, we must continue our demand for a free press, a free judiciary, and the end of a dictator who has been responsible for the worst human rights record in all of Pakistan’s history.
The show must go on, but isn’t it time we stopped being spectators and took charge of directing it?
Rukhe Zehra Zaidi is a member of the Communist Mazdoor Kissan Party of Pakistan that can be accessed at: groups.yahoo.com/group/cmkp_pk