MQM’s pullout – Is it too late to have an impact ?

By Reuters Staff
July 1, 2011

By Faisal Aziz

For once, the government of President Asif Ali Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party does not seem too bothered about the decision of its junior partner, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), to say good-bye to the ruling coalition.

Perhaps it is too late a call by the MQM to pile pressure on the government, and that too if it sticks to its decision. The MQM, which has long dominated urban parts of Sindh province and is now aspiring to make a mark at the national level, is not new to such resignations, and has done so in the past, in what has been an uneasy relationship with the PPP. But the sweet talk by the PPP has been able to lure back its partner one way or the other.

While the recent decision by the party looks more serious this time, it does not pose a threat to the government in terms of numbers. The government already has in the coalition wings the Pakistan Muslim League (Q), once the loyal soldiers of former president Pervez Musharraf, so that nullifies the impact of the MQM’s move.

However, a deep downturn in the economy and the poor security situation in the country have put the government on the back foot and if the MQM can join hands with the other opposition parties and is able to mobilize the public, bringing them out on the streets, that can be the start of a move to topple the government and go for an early elections.

But it’s not as simple.  It is not yet clear how the MQM will work with the main opposition party of former premier Nawaz Sharif and if it will start a movement, but if it does that will certainly be a hard job for the government to handle.

In the favour of the government is that fact that the MQM does not enjoy a cordial relationship with Sharif or, for that matter, with most of the other political parties around. Still the fact remains that it is one party which has the power to bring out people on the streets. Such is the loyalty of the MQM workers that a one-day notice by its leader Altaf Hussain can result in tens of thousands of people to come out on the road,. There is hardly a culture of questioning the leadership in MQM, and that is where it draws its strength from.

In an address to party workers, the self exiled Hussain thrashed the government for “stabbing its partner in the back” and warned that the “downfall of the government” had started now.  Despite the harsh talk, political observers are unsure as to how long the MQM’s decision will last, though the tone of the speech of Hussain, and the fiery announcement of the decision to quit the government by MQM’s Pakistan based leaders, indicates that things are much wrong this time.

The moves also adds concerns that it may lead to a further rise in instability in the Pakistan’s commercial capital Karachi, where the MQM draws its strength from and which is already prone to regular bouts of political and ethnic killings. As an editorial in the Daily Times points out the reasons for the MQM’s withdrawal of support for the PPP look far more than a disagreement on the elections in the Pakistani part of Kashmir.

Not only has the MQM pulled out of the federal as well as the Sindh provincial government, it’s member and the longest-serving governor of any Pakistani province, Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan, has also resigned this time and flown to London to meet his leader, Hussain. But with a past tarnished by charges of violent politics, and military actions that followed against workers, many believe that the MQM is better off in the government, or else the stability of the biggest city of the country is in doubt. Not that it is a peaceful city anyways, but the chances of maintaining peace are brighter if the strongest party in town, the MQM, is in power.

The country’s leading newspaper Dawn pointed out in an editorial that the concerns with MQM parting ways are much more than political, as it is more likely to have a bearing on the law and order situation than any such move by any party in other provinces.Concerns amongst the public about the impact of the decision are also high, with many fearing the worst for Karachi. A sample of some Twitter feeds on the decision is an example. But the way the Pakistani politics works, there is still a chance that the MQM may rejoin the government, or that President Zardari and his allies walk away of this crisis, just the way they have over the past few years.

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