TUESDAY’S protests in Karachi organised by the MQM are a far cry from what — until quite recently — used to happen whenever the party wanted to express its dissent in the metropolis.
At the very mention of an MQM protest call or ‘day of mourning’, a wave of panic would ripple through Karachi, disrupting everyday life. On the day of the protest, roads would be deserted, offices closed, businesses shuttered, and few would venture out of their homes.
Yet Tuesday’s demonstrations — organised by the Muttahida to protest against what it terms is a media blackout of its supremo, Altaf Hussain — were a different affair entirely. Instead of flexing its muscle by shutting down the city, MQM leaders and supporters, in small groups, stood on green belts and sidewalks in numerous locations holding up placards inscribed with their demands.
Unlike the ominous protests of yore, the event resembled polite demonstrations organised by civil society. This is a far more civic way to express dissent.
However, it is a path the MQM should have adopted a long time ago. It would not be wrong to say that the security establishment-led crackdown on the party has had a role in mellowing the Muttahida’s ways. Protest is a democratic right; yet shutting down the city through the use of force is unacceptable.
Despite its recent strained relations with the state and the establishment, it is a fact that the MQM has retained its support in urban Sindh. In the recent LG polls, the party won a large number of seats in Karachi.
But what is unfortunate is the PPP-led Sindh government’s attitude of denying the MQM full powers to run the local governments. For example, the Muttahida has described the latest amendment in Sindh’s LG law — regarding the election procedure of the mayor and deputy mayor — as ‘rigging’.
The Sindh government has also ignored demands to hand over Karachi’s water board to the city’s elected mayor. The provincial administration should not try and micromanage the affairs of the local governments. This is a clear violation of the spirit of devolution, which seeks to empower the third tier.
The elected representatives of the third tier must be given full powers to discharge their duties and run civic affairs effectively.
Moreover, the MQM’s legitimate demands should be met to encourage its continued participation in the political process, and to convince the party to forever shun the politics of agitation and strong-arm tactics.
Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2016
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