April 11, 2008

A divisive president and Karachi violence -President General (r) Pervez Musharraf, now a thoroughly divisive figure and the source of instability in the country

Filed under: NEW GOVERNMENT AFTER MARCH 24-2008 — civilsocietypakistan @ 11:57 pm
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APRIL 12, 2008

Saturday, April 12, 2008
Rahimullah Yusufzai

The slogan “Karachi kis ka � MQM ka” says its all. The workers of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM as it is commonly known, claim ownership to Pakistan’s biggest and richest city as their slogan-chanting on April 9 showed and they don’t want a “no” for an answer.

The slogan has predictably created controversy. There are other political parties that contest this claim. More importantly, ethnic groups that consider MQM as representative of Urdu-speaking people only would never give up the claim that they too own Karachi. The Urdu-speakers, or Mohajirs as the MQM referred to them when the party was launched as Mohajir Qaumi Movement, undoubtedly outnumber and outdo other ethnic minorities in almost every walk of life. Politically, they are united and are, therefore, able to win elections in Karachi and certain other urban centres of Sindh. But this doesn’t mean that anti-MQM forces are ready to abandon their claim to Karachi and allow the MQM followers to solely own the mega-city.

Political slogans in our country convey facts of life and are sometimes revealing and meaningful. “Roti, kapra aur makan” has stayed with us for four decades and it still inspires the low-income PPP cadres who form the party’s nucleus. Another popular PPP slogan, “Bhutto family hero hero, Baqi saray zero zero,” bluntly reminds all and sundry that only the Bhuttos count in the party as the rest don’t have a value more than a zero. “Qadam bharao Nawaz Sharif, Hum tumharay saath hain,” also gained currency when the PML-N leader was being egged on to move ahead and take on his rivals. It also was an effort to create the Nawaz Sharif cult in our peculiar dynastic politics.

Then there is the abiding slogan, Fakhre Afghan, Bacha Khan, eulogizing freedomfighter Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, popularly known as Bacha Khan, as the pride of the Afghans, or Pakhtuns to be specific. The other nationalist parties and even Islamic parties have their share of political slogans highlighting a cause or lionizing a leader.

The MQM answer to all this sloganeering is to idolize the party’s founder, Altaf Hussain. So we have Jeeay Altaf, coined and chanted in the style of Jeeay Bhutto. There is nothing wrong about these slogans. The slogans convey admiration for party leaders and loyalty to a cause. Imaginative slogans convey a lot more than hours long speeches and provide a touch of emotionalism to an idea or a cause. Passions are roused and a tempo is built up when such slogans are chanted.

However, slogans such as “Karachi kis ka – MQM ka” arouse concern and provoke criticism. A party that is forever accused of using strong-arm tactics reinforces that image when this and similar slogans are raised. On April 9, when Karachi once again descended into a familiar chaos, many lawyers publicly accused MQM activists of chanting this slogan to shout down political opponents. Twelve more innocent lives were lost and properties worth millions were burnt. There was mayhem on the streets of Karachi as lawyers were burnt in their chambers and poor drivers, mostly hailing from NWFP, were shot dead while resisting the torching of the mini-buses and rickshaws that happen to be their only source of livelihood.

President General (r) Pervez Musharraf, now a thoroughly divisive figure and the source of instability in the country, fired another unimaginative salvo like the one he did when Karachi suffered death and destruction the last time on May 12 by commenting that the April 9 violence appeared to be a backlash to the manhandling of Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Dr Sher Afgan Niazi. He didn’t say it but the comment in a way justified the backlash. In his view, there would have been no violence in Karachi on April 9 if the two politicians who happened to be his most fervent supporters hadn’t been manhandled in Karachi and Lahore. Why is it that the MQM, or pro-Musharraf forces, have to avenge the manhandling of politicians who don’t belong to the party and contest elections from other places? Why is it that the backlash targets Karachi and paralysis life in Pakistan’s largest industrial and commercial centre? And how can one justify the killing of innocent people in this manner?

The last time the president made one of his typically insensitive remarks was after the violence in Karachi on May 12 last year. Forty-eight people, innocent and mostly belonging to the ANP and NWFP, were mercilessly killed that day in Karachi as the MQM staged rallies and blocked roads to protest the arrival in the city of deposed Chief Justice of Pakistan, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. He wasn’t allowed to come out of the airport and anarchy prevailed in Karachi as armed and hooded people went on a killing spree. President Musharraf raised his fist in commando style while speaking at a public rally staged with taxpayers’ money in Islamabad and argued that “people’s power” had ensured that someone unwanted would not enter Karachi. He also said in a subsequent interview that the MQM would react if another party tried to intrude into its territory. His line of argument justified the violence in Karachi and the MQM’s show of force to protect its political terrain. He refused a judicial probe into the incident even though 48 innocent Pakistanis were killed. In fact, his reaction to that May 12 killings alone is enough to disqualify the retired general from retaining his job as president of Pakistan. A president is supposed to be neutral and a fatherly figure to the nation and not someone who is biased and supports one or the other party and group for political purposes.

Any probe, judicial or otherwise, doesn’t mean much in the Pakistani context as the perpetrators of a crime and an act of violence and terrorism are seldom made accountable. Still a proper inquiry into the May 12 killings could have fixed responsibility and prompted the authorities to take measures to prevent such incidents in future. The authorities in Sindh and the centre also ensured that the Sindh High Court’s suo motu action concerning that incident was thwarted. The perpetrators of the May 12 killings are not the only ones to go unidentified and unpunished. Those responsible for the Nishtar Park bombing of Sunni Tehrik’s public meeting and the October 18 suicide attack on Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming procession too remain hidden and at large.

It is meaningful that the presidency is blamed by President Musharraf’s opponents for the recent wave of violence and acts of intolerance in the country. Nobody can condone the beating of Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim and Dr Sher Afgan by unruly elements but doubts are raised when Karachi erupts into violence in retaliation and critics start looking for clues if the presidency is pulling the strings as part of some secret political agenda. The critics may be wrong and could be believers in conspiracy theories. But they may have a point while pointing out that General (r) Musharraf is using his last cards to retain power and prevent reinstatement of the 60 or so brave superior court judges who sacrificed their jobs instead of legalizing his illegal and unconstitutional election as president. It is obvious that a president used to authoritarian rule would have to go if Pakistan is to return to democratic and constitutional governance.


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