Altaf Hussain, chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), has appealed for a “martial law-like” intervention by “patriotic generals” against “corrupt feudals and landlord politicians”. Coming from someone whose party is known for its ethnic exclusivism — despite pretending otherwise of late– and various other crimes like land grabbing, bhatta (protection money), torturing and/or murdering dissenters, Mr Hussain’s statement could have been laughed at for its sheer absurdity. The only problem is, this is no laughing matter.
When General Musharraf was in power, we witnessed a militarisation of the state and society. Because of this, the people lost respect for the army. Ever since General Kayani became the chief of army staff (COAS), he has tried to portray himself as a professional soldier with no interest in politics. Under General Kayani, the army has refurbished its image by protecting our territorial integrity and internal security, which is its primary task. Apart from fighting the Taliban, the military has been at the forefront of rescue and relief efforts during the floods. This has done the army’s image much good. On the other hand, the incompetence of the incumbent civilian democratic government is no secret; allegations of massive corruption against the government and its track record have not helped matters either. After the recent floods, despondency can be felt all over the country. It seems that the public has lost faith in the incumbents. An anti-government lobby is now trying to exploit this situation to its advantage. Thus, the MQM chief’s ‘call’ for a not-so-divine intervention by the army at this point in time may be a reflection of not just that anti-democratic lobby but some signals from the powers-that-be may also have something to do with it.
The MQM came into being with the support of the intelligence agencies to counter Sindhi nationalism. Since then it accumulated more and more power and eventually got out of hand, a la the Taliban. After a few ups and downs in its relationship with its mentors, the MQM is back in the game and wants to return to the fold of the establishment. Altaf Hussain’s statement has been criticised by almost every political party. Some have even gone so far as to suggest the ultimate penalty for him since this is a clear violation of Article 6(1) of the constitution: “Any person who abrogates or attempts or conspires to abrogate, subverts or attempts or conspires to subvert the Constitution by use of force or show of force or by other unconstitutional means shall be guilty of high treason.” This may only be wishful thinking because Mr Hussain has only ‘suggested’ a military intervention while no military dictator has ever been tried under this Article even though they directly subverted the constitution. Dr Farooq Sattar has denied that his party chief has asked for a martial law; he claims that Mr Hussain has taken a bold stance and has his finger on the pulse of the public. Now this is going a bit too far because despite the public’s reservations about the incumbents, no sane person wants a return of military rule. Those who oppose democracy argue that we would be electing the same faces even if the present government completes its tenure since there is a dearth of alternatives. This is true, but if one were to rationally think about it, the only way to find new leadership is to continue with the democratic process.
It would be wise if Mr Hussain could think with a cool mind instead of giving an open call to the military to seize power. Pakistan has already suffered greatly in its history by not adhering to democratic norms. Military interventions have brought nothing but pain to us and a fresh one will not bring anything new. Democracy on the other hand is a painfully slow process but to develop our institutions, there is no other alternative in sight. We should let it take its normal course instead of delving into tried and failed interventionist territory.
With his vow of open support to “patriotic generals” in any martial law-action against “corrupt politicians and feudal lords”, MQM supremo may have stirred up a hornet’s nest. But has he not himself been running with the hare and hunting with the hounds all through? He sits with this brand of politicos in the governments and partakes in the spoils of office. His MQM has, in fact, been a permanent fixture of federal and Sindh governments since the late 1980s, partnering with the PPP or PML (N), though often falling out with them latterly over quarrels on distribution of booty.
He commiserates, too, with feudal lords if they are in trouble. But a priestly muteness he keeps on the woes of the enslaved, suppressed and rapaciously exploited citizenry these feudal lords keep in their stifling serfdom and servitude. Yet if he really feels so strongly about corrupt politicians and feudal lords, what was it that had inhibited him from taking a fling against them when he had had been a perpetual rider on the praetorian generals’ bandwagon? After all, he too has been a cloned baby of the hatchery of General Ziaul Haq, the most brutal military dictator in the nation’s annals who also lent it the darkest era of its existence, as is PML (N) supremo Mian Nawaz Sharif, another pretender who never tires of teasing this woebegone nation with his laughable pretences of being a born democrat. He could have, had he so wanted, employed the ruthless dictator’s sharp sword to behead corrupt politicians and feudal lords. He did not.
Why? Is it because he was then too much obsessed with capturing Karachi to become his exclusive preserve and his fiefdom? Couldn’t he use the dictator’s props to mount an insurmountable challenge to landed aristocrats monopolising the nation’s all politics and the bulk of its economic wealth? If indeed he is so miffed at these exploitative and suppressive elites’ shenanigans, why did he let go a chance to do them down in the era of another military dictator, General Pervez Musharraf, in whose power dispensation too he occupied such a pride of place? His MQM was powerfully then entrenched in the federal and Sindh governments. Yet his overriding passion had all through been to fortify his Karachi fortress and urban Sindh citadels. He did venture to employ the vantage ground for expanding to country’s other parts as well. But a pointed focussed political assault to take on the landed aristocracy frontally was never ever a part of his scheme of things. Verily, his act has throughout been fraught and foul. And at times ridiculous too, the recent one being his taking umbrage to President Asif Zardari’s European jaunt, certainly a Himalayan stupidity whose tremendous negative fallout would keep haunting this unfortunate nation for years to come.
But this Pakistani-British could only be the last to take exception to that ill-advised presidential odyssey. If he felt offended by British Prime Minister David Cameron’s provocative Delhi outburst against Pakistan, he should have been the first to renounce his British citizenship and return home at once. And if he felt bad at Zardari’s UK wanderings while his country was drowning in a disastrous deluge, this Pakistani-British himself too must have taken the first flight to Pakistan to be with a people being ruined and devastated by destructive flash flooding. He did not. And if he is so miffed that he is egging on the generals to act in a martial law-like style, that has to do more with the threats to his stranglehold on Karachi than with any real grouse against “corrupt politicians and feudal lords” with whom he has been colluding, coalescing and partnering all through. Palpably, his MQM is presently pitted against ANP, possibly backed up by PPP, in a turf war for the conquest of Karachi, a battle in which outrageously are becoming gun fodder mostly innocent Pakhtuns who have nothing to do with politics and are in the port city eking out honest living through sweat and labour in its workplaces, transport systems and construction sites. But he should know, as also all other political grandees swaggering on national political landscape so vaingloriously, that a different kind of storm is brewing on the country’s street. An angry public disillusioned with political leaderships of all hues and stripes, is burning with anger and hate over its persistent betrayal by the rulers and their opponents alike.
It is turning fast into a live human bomb about to explode. Once it does, its upheaval will be transformational, move on its own momentum and choose its own leaders. No aristocracies will survive, no dynasties will stay on, no fiefdoms will live. It will be an entirely new order, though one cannot predict or visualise the shape it will take. One thought MQM being so close to public pulse would be knowing it. But its supremo seems all blind and deaf to it.