The MQM's latest gamble


    Babar Sattar shows his bias in the very first paragraph of his article where he states “If the MQM’s paramount objective is to sabotage the Karachi Operation or limit its scope to exclude the MQM from it, the move might not work” The main demands of MQM are quite well-known and these are the formation of a monitoring committee, which incidentally was promised by Nawaz Sharif right at the start of the operation, but the promise never got fulfilled. Their other demands comprise investigation of extra-judicial killing of their workers and disappearance of over hundred. Now, no person in his right mind and with the slightest sense of justice could term these demands as an attempt at black-mailing or to exclude MQM from the scope of the operation.

    Now, as for his assertion that the Karachi operation is part of the National Action plan, well, the operation basically started as a civilian affair, with Rangers given special renewable policing powers by the Sindh Provincial Government, with Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah declared Captain (in-charge) of the operation. And on occasions Sindh CM wrote to D.G. Rangers stating they were exceeding their powers also makes it quite clear that it was a special exercise limited in scope and area. However, as is common in Pakistan, things start one way and over a period of time, their complexion changes altogether. So, in time, with the direct involvement of the army, Karachi operation became part of the National Action Plan.

    And talking of National Action Plan, that also included acting against militancy, extremism and terrorism – meaning action against banned outfits and also against madrassas found to be involved in aiding these activities. However, despite identification of 48 madrassas in Sindh found to be having links with banned outfits – with half of them in Karachi – no serious attempt has been made in Karachi or anywhere else in the country to control them. The reason perhaps could be that fighter jets can’t be sent to bomb them – like they were used in Waziristan – and taking them on in ground combat could pose risks to law enforcers because of formidable street power that the madrassas and their associated groups have. We often hear people condemning militants and terrorists for having killed around fifty thousand innocent Pakistanis – including thousands of soldiers – and of causing hundred billion dollar worth of damage to the country’s economy. However, surprisingly, we do not see proportionate force used against them except in tribal areas. Could it mean that which group to take on is determined, not by the threat it presents to the country, but personal risk to the forces designed to take them on? If so, it would be very unfortunate indeed.

    Babar Sattar says “Now the DG ISI, corps commander Karachi and the DG Rangers seem to be on the same page and fully backed by the army chief, who has repeatedly stated the object of NAP is to extinguish all space for terrorists” However, what about the terrorists who have done much greater damage to the country and the nation as described in the preceding paragraph. Apart from damaging Pakistan from within, they are also instrumental in spoiling our relations with our neighbours, especially Iran and Afghanistan, apart from India which is for ever complaining in order to take eyes off its own crimes against Pakistan. With the coming to power as Afghan President of Ashraf Ghani, who had an open mind, our relations with the country were on the mend. However, now our relations with Afghanistan also seem to be back to the old pattern and he is pointing fingers at Pakistan saying “Pakistan still remains a breeding ground from where mercenaries send us messages of war.”

    The writer says “But is the overwhelming sense across Pakistan (excluding the MQM’s support base in Sindh and human right concerns regarding extrajudicial killings) not that it is commendable that Karachi is being cleaned up? Will the operation become controversial even if it remains across-the-board and the military makes no effort to reengineer the MQM or grant concessions to PPP-backed militants?” Now, is he suggesting mob rule to bulldoze MQM and its supporters’ protest against extra-judicial killings, forced disappearances, media trial and unfair means to marginalize the party?

    Now, while army as an institution may be sensitive to public opinion, there have been cases in Pakistan’s history where some over-ambitious Generals followed their own agendas and openly disregarded the majority will, as shown clearly in the case of East Pakistan which had a population greater than that of West Pakistan. And is Babar Sattar justifying extra-judicial killings on the grounds that this treatment is meted out to a community which, on all Pakistan basis, is a minority and the majority sector remains indifferent to these and other excesses towards it?

    The writer states “Will the operation become controversial even if it remains across-the-board and the military makes no effort to reengineer the MQM or grant concessions to PPP-backed militants?” However, in the absence of a monitoring committee of impartial persons of repute, how could it be said with certainty that the operation remained across-the-board, with no attempts to re-engineer MQM and with no unfair concessions granted to PPP-backed militants? It is well known that there have been official attempts to re-engineer MQM in the past as well.

    Apart from other things, I must say Babar Sattar is terribly poor in elementary arithmetic which is evidenced by his statement “The PML-N has completed 27 months of its tenure and there are another 23 to go. Despite all the corruption and nepotism in the country, a year has twelve months even in Pakistan, and with 27 months gone, there would be 33 to go.

    The writer claims that the re-election of PML-N depends primarily on three interlinked factors: terror, energy and economy of which the first has been outsourced to the military, and with military delivering on ‘terror’, the party just

    has to concentrate on economy and energy. However, on the terror front, what we have seen so far is clearing of the tribal areas, where air force softened the targets and then ground forces moved in, using overwhelming force. And then there is operation in Karachi where the law enforcers have made significant progress against pockets of militants, and in the circumstances where MQM offered no resistance. However, the military has yet to take on militant madrassas, terrorists and sectarian outfits and Punjabi Taliban against whom aerial bombing, artillery shelling and such means can not be used. And we do not know how the military will fare in this field because it has not even started a serious fight on this front.

    The writer declares MQM’s organizational structure being rooted in coercion and fear. However, MQM’s recent spectacular success in NA-246 elections under Rangers’ control and supervision clearly negate this view.

    As for MQM resignations, the writers says “From a legal perspective the National Assembly speaker and chairman Senate have no discretion to reject voluntarily furnished resignations.” What he fails to take account of is that the National Assembly Speaker is also required to ensure that the resignations are not being submitted under pressure. However, the resignations were submitted en masse, with reasons for them detailed in the annexure. And these facts take them out of the realm of voluntary resignations in the real sense of the word and place them more in the category of a protest. But I do not expect Babar Sattar to appreciate this point. I recently saw him in a talk show where the matter of Reham Khan’s journalism degree controversy was being discussed. Babar Sattar and Saleem Safi took the view that since Reham Khan did not hold any official position, her degree was a private matter. However, Mazhar Abbas disagreed, saying that he would not buy that argument and then gave his reasons for feeling that way. And let us face it. If Reham Khan was indeed a very private person, and of no consequence, her degree would not have been the topic at the talk show.

    The writer concludes the article saying “In a country where the military has had little problem packing up parliament, the judiciary and the constitution all at once, the MQM might have played the wrong hand in trying to negotiate with the khakis.” First of all, MQM is not trying to negotiate but is demanding some basic justice. Moreover, MQM is not the only party in distress. The Karachi operation basically started as a civilian affair with Sindh Chief Minister as the incharge, and while MQM was at the receiving end, he seemed to be quite happy and contented. However, a situation has now reached where he protests quite regularly against what he calls the Rangers exceeding their authority. And after criticizing army, Asif Ali Zardari is already out of the country, with Peoples Party meetings being held in Dubai and England. Of course, Sharif brothers would also be worried that if things kept going the way they are, it won’t be long before the law enforcers start knocking at Sharif Brothers doors. Surely, statements by Khwaja Asif against the army and the latest one by Mushahidullah, and recent suggestion by Shahbaz Sharif for a judicial commission to probe involvement of Lt-Gen. Zaheer-ul-Islam in the alleged conspiracy against PML-N government could not all be classified simply as a slip of the tongue and entirely unconnected incidents Obviously, these moves could be considered to be an attempt to hit at the army. Recently, superior judiciary has also said words to the effect that it will protect democracy. However, seeing the sorry plight of Pervez Musharraf, Khakis may not be all that keen to take over power anyway.

    So, in the overall context, the move by the MQM may not be as hopeless as Babar Sattar makes it out to be. Also, there was just no point in continuing to suffer daily degradations and much more without even making a protest, which is about all that the party could do, and which is what MQM resignations are all about. Also, there is no harm in hoping that perhaps at some level, there could be some decency.