Alas, the fun is over

Ayaz AmirBy Ayaz Amir

Islamabad diary

In the matter of destruction the gods have a choice. Whom they would destroy they first make mad…or they first make ridiculous. The MQM has gone through both phases. It made itself mad and is now making itself ridiculous.

Altaf Hussain can’t reinvent himself. Asif Zardari can’t change, nor can the Sharifovs. All represent an age that is dying, breaking down before our eyes. New realities are emerging but the political class, still drawing its inspiration from the past, is having a hard time recognising them.

Altaf Hussain is wrestling with the impossible. He wants to turn time back, to his glory days when no one had the power in Karachi to utter a word against him. The entire media – the whole lot of lions roaring on the channels and displaying their courage – were like lambs not too long ago. No matter how long his rants lasted – and in his lexicon, as in Chaudhry Nisar’s, brevity was not the soul of wit – all the channels were duty bound to carry them live. At a gesture from him life in Karachi would come to a halt.
No dictator in Pakistan’s history had this power. Indeed, it was something more akin to a reign of terror and the price of crossing the party’s path, or incurring the Fuehrer’s displeasure, was high. Yes, the MQM had a mass base and its support was genuine. Yes, it gave voice, and a sense of entitlement and power, to the Mohajir under-class and the Mohajir petty bourgeoisie. This was a phenomenon but given a sinister edge by the cult of violence.

Big-time Mohajirs were among the lords of the Pakistani privilegentsia, part of the ruling class, purveyors of ideology and keepers of the national flame. Paranoia was part of the migrational baggage these super-players brought with them from India. Paranoia and a sense of narrow nationhood were amongst the gifts they bestowed on the new state. Leading bureaucrats who became policy leaders and set the country’s direction were mostly Mohajirs.

Altaf Hussain was not of this class. He represented the other side of the equation: the Mohajir middle and depressed classes who settled not in the posh centre of Karachi but in what were then its outer suburbs. With no little help from the Zia regime – which wanted a counterbalance to the PPP – he spoke to this constituency. There were others who crafted the ideas. Over the years many of them were sidelined or ‘eliminated’. Altaf Hussain remained the undisputed caudillo, his word soon law and scripture.

It was great while it lasted. No government could afford to displease the caudillo because he had the country’s largest city and only port in his grip. So governments and political figures sought his favour. And the MQM laid down the rules. Karachi became a lawless city with the only law that of the gun and extortion.

Operations to bring the MQM to heel were attempted but they were half-hearted affairs and when they petered out – at the altar of expediency and lack of resolve – Altaf Hussain’s mystique, that he could not be touched, became all the stronger. (For good measure he had relocated to London in the early 1990s…making him in physical terms out of anyone’s reach in Pakistan).

Gen Pervez Musharraf proved to be the party’s biggest benefactor (after Ziaul Haq). The Haqiqi dissident faction led by Afaq Ahmed was disarmed and areas under its control handed over to Altaf Hussain. Police officers said to be involved in earlier anti-MQM operations were systematically eliminated. (Rao Anwaar was one of the exceptions, proving to be smart and getting out during the Musharraf years. The MQM fears him for good reason. He knows the party inside out.)

Altaf Hussain’s problem is easily understood. He’s finding it hard to accept that the old glory days are over. The sector in-charge and TT pistol siyasat which was the MQM’s vateera, its hallmark, is over. This ‘tarz-e-siyasat’ could survive so long as the army hadn’t made up its mind…so long as the army was a victim of its own irresolution. But when under Gen Raheel Sharif it decided, over the heads of the politicians, to declare war on terrorism in all its forms and varieties – whether ‘jihadi’ terrorism in Fata or the MQM’s ‘secular, liberal, progressive, middle class’ terrorism in Karachi – the MQM should have been able to read the signs.

It should have reshaped its posture. Altaf Hussain’s problem is that he’s a prisoner of his past (as indeed we all are). He’s living in the past while time in Pakistan, at long last, has moved on. The night of the sector commanders is over. Only he is not realising it. Karachi is moving out of its reign of terror. Now the caudillo can terrorise only his inner circle. Pity the members of the thrice, four times reshuffled Rabita Committee. Spare a thought for the Haider Rizvis and Waseem Akhtars, who put such a fearsome, angry face in public…only to tremble in private when the ‘Rehbar’, the caudillo, works himself up into one of his regular rages.

With its hold on the media the MQM can hog the limelight and portray itself as the victim of repression. But it is another sign of the times that there are less and less people impressed by its old mastery over the histrionic arts, and such visual displays as lamentation and posturing. In any event, the key question is how the people of Karachi are taking the present operation. There is broad agreement that Karachi hasn’t breathed easier in years.

So the resignation ploy is not set to work. The army is set on its path and it knows what has been achieved in Karachi…indeed what has been achieved across the board, starting from Fata and spreading elsewhere. It is not about to throw all this away because of this latest bit of theatre. It wasn’t even a well-thought-out move. As reported in the press, the caudillo, beside himself with anger, gave his leading members a severe tongue-lashing. To appease him the resignation suggestion came up. That’s the amount of thought that went into it.

The Rehbar clearly is not a happy man. He faces legal troubles in London, the crackdown in Karachi and, to top it all, dissension and discord for the first time within the party (in the tongue-lashing special mention was made of the ‘cowardice’ of some leaders). Distance is feeding and magnifying this siege mentality.

Mafia rules in Pakistan are simple. To be a successful gangster you must have your area or ‘ilaqa’ SHO – police station house officer – on your side. The army was Karachi’s area SHO for long and for the wrong reasons it was on the MQM’s side. What will it take for the MQM to realise that that cover stands withdrawn?

Germany’s tragedy was that one of the most culturally advanced nations on earth came under the thrall of a primitive creed like Nazism. Mohajirs are the most educated lot in Pakistan, heirs to the culture of Delhi, Lucknow, Bhopal, Hyderabad Deccan and what not. And the major part of them in Sindh’s urban spaces had to come under the spell of a party like the MQM…wedded to the politics of coercion.

Our history is colourful. The Jamaat-e-Islami introduced ‘danda’ siyasat into this country. The Afghan ‘jihad’ gifted us the Kalashnikov. The MQM was inventive, making the drill machine and the gunny bag symbols of its politics. (Lyari gangsters have made the gouging out of eyes their trademark. And the leadership of the so-called mainstream parties, both in Sindh and Punjab, have laid down new lessons in the art of turning politics into a source of profit and even plunder.)

Altaf Hussain can’t reinvent himself. Asif Zardari can’t change, nor can the Sharifovs. All represent an age that is dying, breaking down before our eyes. New realities are emerging but the political class, still drawing its inspiration from the past, is having a hard time recognising them.

Courtesy: The News

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