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Breaking the Cycle

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? 




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