My reaction to Altaf Hussain’s marathon press conference was one of sympathy. Sympathy that I felt not for the beloved leader but for thousands of his otherwise rational followers, who have now been entrusted with the Herculean task of defending gems from his speech, one that featured verses from the Quran as well as songs from Bollywood.
What makes things worse for these MQM supporters is their obsession to demand a saintly reverence for their leader. Consider the case when Imran Khan, the leader of PTI, chastised his supporters for raising the slogan “Zardari Kutta”, calling it an “insult to dogs”. The response of the PPP to that low blow stands in a sharp contrast to the killing spree that followed Zulfiqar Mirza’s outburst in July this year, when he declared Altaf Hussain to be a criminal. This extreme reaction is not something that can be simply pinned on emotional party workers, as even the party leadership is known for flaring up on talk shows. The former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal, went to the extent of threatening PML-N’s Zaeem Qadri with physical consequences, for his audacity to criticize the Quaid of MQM. But with his recent vitriol against every major political party in Pakistan, the Quaid I Tehreek, has managed to invoke a lot of “irreverence” from his detractors; as his loosely built arguments and eccentric theatrics are proving to be easy pickings for them.
Take the map for instance; that plan to carve up Pakistan to make room for “Free Baluchistan” and Greater Afghanistan. The map itself is not from a classified CIA or MI5 file but from an article written by an ex soldier and a novelist named Ralph Peters. Mr. Peters imagined a hypothetical map for this region, with borders redrawn in a way that would resolve conflicts and bring peace. Pakistan is not the only country that lost territory in that map, Israel did as well. The requirement now for maintaining Altaf Bhai’s reverence is to not only prove Mr. Peters as the mastermind behind United States’ global agenda, but also to justify the existence of a secret US plan that will result in the loss of Israeli territory to Jordan and Lebanon.
Also consider the duration of the event; the MQM has always denied allegations that it intimidates the media through violence, an allegation that was part of Zulfiqar Mirza’s charge sheet against them. But, the duration of this press conference lays credence to that claim. If one assumes the Mirs and Lakhanis to be rational businessmen, then it is indeed mindboggling to see their channels sacrifice millions in ad revenues to ensure an uninterrupted broadcast. These two families are not known for their loyalty to the MQM, but for their business acumen, it would indeed be ridiculous to accredit MQM’s “PR” capacity for causing this irrational business decision. The only rational explanation for such a decision is that the reward for these sacrificed revenues came in terms of the security of life and property for these channel owners. The forced sacking of Nusrat Javaid for pointing out this particular “hostage taking” of Pakistan’s media, further corroborates the allegation that MQM uses violence against the media. It would indeed be very difficult to prove that these channels that are operating in an industry that is marred by low profitability were suddenly willing to sacrifice precious ad revenues en masse.
While the leadership of MQM insists that it does not want to address the allegations from Zulfiqar Mirza, it is very obvious that these three press conferences were done to do exactly that. If Mirza’s allegations of extortion, treason, and mass murder were frivolous then what exactly was the need for these three events? One would assume that for each of these conferences the MQM used the best that it had in terms of evidence. But by deflecting the pointed accusations of Mr. Mirza and by focusing on completely irrelevant issues, MQM has only strengthened the case that was made against it.
The strengthening of Mirza’s case only magnifies the severity of his allegations, and with the leadership of MQM simply failing in making a credible case; it is time for MQM’s supporters to start questioning their leadership. Under no circumstances, should the construction of flyovers and up gradation of drainage systems be reason enough to justify the massacre of thousands, because caring about Karachi should mean valuing its people and not just its infrastructure.
The writer is an Islamabad-based development economist. He blogs at iopyne.wordpress.com
Appeared in Pakistan Today on the 13th of September 2011 under the title “Still Defending Him”