PPP-MQM relations – Ali K Chishti

Source Daily Times

The crisis in Sindh is, no doubt, a very complex one. Historically, the Mohajirs have throughout kept themselves apart from the native Sindh populace — politically, socially and culturally. The powerful feudals of the PPP had never made common cause with the common man’s Jiye Sindh factions, which had traditionally opposed the settlement of ‘non-Sindhis’. There have been different aspects to the MQM’s approach to the PPP, considering the bitter experiences between Sindhis and Mohajirs after the language riots in 1972. It was to a certain extent motivated by the strategic considerations of the party leadership, which realised that it had to join a coalition to gain power and rightly anticipating a victory for the PPP in the national elections of 1988. Altaf Hussain lobbied within the party for a closer relationship with the local Sindhis and had condemned any aggressive attitude from his community towards the Sindhis, whom Altaf Hussain thanked in one of his addresses as “those who gave us their lands”.

Famous Sindhi sociologist and historian Feroz Ahmed wrote a long article, which was published in four installments in the weekly Viewpoint of Lahore (August 18, 25, September 1, 8, 1988), where, after discussing critically the historical, psychological, cultural and political aspects of such a claim, he made rather positive assessments: “By bashing its approach on Mohajir rights, the MQM has avoided playing up Islam, a significant departure from the Mohajir political tradition. In a sense, the MQM could be considered secular and a natural ally of the Sindhis…The MQM has been instrumental in cutting the Mohajir’s umbilical cord from the Punjabi ruling establishment.”

On a popular level, the MQM had the quality of flirtations, a playful and semi-serious case of making advances to a Sindhi rural culture that was portrayed as exotic and authentic rather than dangerous or backward. These flirtations had an element of provocation, challenging the high cultural, Islamic, modernist values of the Mohajir cause. The MQM felt a sense of liberation, togetherness, power, and joy while interacting with various Sindhi political personalities, who had previously been against the Mohajirs. After the ethnic rioting in Sindh in the 1980s, the gap between the MQM and PPP widened and the situation became such that both parties even considered each other as their sole enemies.

In time to come, the MQM would contest the elections with the PPP and form a coalition. Benazir Bhutto would come down to Nine Zero and Altaf Hussain would visit 70 Clifton. Altaf Hussain’s increasing interactions with G M Syed and Benazir Bhutto apart from his frequent visits to the interior would transform his MQM, at least in appearance, into a more ‘pro-Sindhi’ party and for the first time attempted to meld the Mohajirs with Sindhis with tags like ‘New Sindhi’. Altaf Hussain would in time start wearing traditional Sindhi caps and ethnic ajrak in his speeches to convey to both the Sindhis and Mohajirs that he represents not just the Mohajirs but the oppressed Sindhi and lower classes too. Despite the conflict of interests, the MQM joined the PPP’s coalition government following the general elections of 1988 on the pursuance of PPP and with the historic, ‘Karachi Charter’ signed by both Benazir Bhutto, who overwhelmingly supported the Sindhis, and Altaf Hussain who pretty much represented every Mohajir in Sindh and Pakistan.

The PPP-MQM alliance of convenience crumbled, thanks to absence of concrete political programmes, profound distrust on both sides, class differences and disagreements over political strategy, resulting in the start of another round of rivalry between the two parties. During the 2002 elections, the MQM and PPP negotiated a deal to form the government but the negotiations broke down.

After the 2008 general elections, PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari rightly anticipating that he would need the MQM on board to form the central government, did the unthinkable and visited the MQM’s headquarters and its martyrs’ graves following his party’s policy of reconciliation on April 2, 2008. The PPP and the MQM formed an alliance at the Centre and in Sindh. At least at the provincial level, the coalition has been a victim of active sabotage by certain spoilers within the PPP and MQM.

The PPP’s local leadership wants to expand to urban Sindh, forgetting that traditionally even during the pre-MQM days it was the right-wing political parties like the JI and JUI that had a firm grip on the constituencies that the MQM now holds. The MQM needs to understand the complexities in Sindh and should expand to interior Sindh and make a serious effort to make common cause with an average Sindhi who had been left in the dark ages, while all the development was undertaken in urban Sindh.

In the end both political parties should understand that their alliance is integral and natural as both are historically progressive and secular forces representing smaller provinces at the federal level. In doing so, both parties need to seriously introspect and respect each other’s mandate, as another conflict between the two would not just be devastating for Sindh, but for Pakistan too.

The writer is a political analyst and can be reached at akchishti@hotmail.com



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