PTI sets sights on Karachi amid Muttahida turmoil

SUPPORTERS of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf chant slogans during a sit-in demonstration at the Teen Talwar roundabout in Clifton on Friday.—Online

 

KARACHI: Over the past couple of days, Karachiites have witnessed two major scenes on the political front: the dissolution of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) coordination committee by its London-based chief who accused party leaders of being involved in massive corruption amid protests in Karachi followed by another city shutdown by the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, whose leadership on Friday apologised to the people for the inconvenience caused to them.

The crucial question is: can a parallel be drawn between the organisational chaos the MQM has been facing for more than a year and the popularity the PTI has been enjoying since late 2011 in the country’s financial capital?

In his impassioned speech during which he broke into tears a few times, the MQM chief accused the key leaders of indulging in corruption and dissolved the coordination committee to prove that the MQM can work without them.

The move can be described as the party’s internal matter but for many Karachiities every development within the MQM matters. Maybe that’s the reason all news channels televised the hours-long address of Mr Hussain to his party workers, though it was purely the MQM’s internal and organisational matter.

Within the next 48 hours, life became largely paralysed in the city on the PTI shutdown call along with sit-ins on main roads and at key traffic intersections. It was like any other strike the city has been witnessing for the past three decades and the PTI managed to put up a political show that to a large extent ended peacefully. PTI chief Imran Khan later said ‘sorry’ to the Karachiites for the inconvenience they suffered becaused of the shutterdown and thanked them for their support.

The 2013 general elections did undermine MQM position to a certain extent when it lost a large number of votes to the PTI, but will that trend continue on the back of MQM organisational turmoil and the PTI’s promise of change and a ‘New Pakistan’?

Senior analysts and political pundits agree with the PTI’s popularity but don’t see the party replacing the MQM in the near future. With weak organisational structure against the strongest party in terms of street power in Karachi, the PTI can only grab its electoral share and that too only when fair polls are held.

“The MQM is the sole political proprietor of this city,” says senior broadcaster Wusatullah Khan who is known for his satirical and witty columns. “I don’t see any comparison that can be drawn between the MQM and the PTI. The organisational crisis the MQM is suffering is not new, as the party has history of such moves. The PTI has votes in Karachi but not the organisation.”

He says there is no parameter to gauge MQM roots in Karachi as the party enjoys ‘mysterious’ strength that affects every segment of society. The party can gather crowds of thousands within minutes at any intersection of the city, he adds.

“For instance, the traders’ bodies and even the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry always question political parties, including PTI, protest calls arguing that they affect commercial activity and the economy. But do they ever dare do the same when MQM comes up with an appeal [for a city shutdown]?” he questions and then replies himself: “Never.”

“I don’t think the PTI’s successful show was possible without the unspoken blessings of the MQM.”

Dr Jaffar Ahmad of the Pakistan Study Centre at the University of Karachi thinks differently. He says he is concerned that the PTI is practising the conventional politics of shutdowns in Karachi.

“I am more concerned about their style of politics,” he says. “Road blockade, strike and then thanking people for their support are what we have seen over the past three decades. I fear if they replace any party in Karachi, they would be doing it in the same manner as others did when they started gaining strength in the city.”

He argues the PTI uses the same muscle — as much as it have in Karachi — as is used by the MQM to enforce a citywide shutdown.

His analysis could be food for thought mainly for the PTI, but many others believe that the party can capitalise on the frequent organisational crisis, controversies and accusations being faced by MQM after enjoying more than three decades of unchallenged strength and electoral mandate.

Already blamed by political rivals and sometimes by law enforcement agencies, the MQM’s first tier of leadership is now under fire from its own founding leader who recently discredited his own men through serious allegations of corruption. Wusatullah Khan, however, says such crisis surprisingly has always further strengthened the MQM.

“What does it prove when Altaf Hussain levels allegations against his leaders and workers?” he asks another rhetorical question. “Definitely it proves that there is a proper system of accountability in the MQM. The entire party can be corrupt but their leader and founder is clean and keeps a check on every key man whatever position he or she enjoys. The MQM is an Altaf Hussain-centred party and as long as he leads the party, one cannot expect any serious challenge to the party in Karachi from any political segment.”

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