May 12th 2007 – A Decade of Defiance? By Jehangir MirzaCreated on Thursday, 18 May 2017 07:15 | 341 Views
2007 was the year of rude political awakenings.
A panic-stricken dictator had begun losing his plot. One blunder followed another as political & apolitical forces converged to fill the void. By March, lawyers had taken to streets protesting detention of a sitting Chief Justice of the apex court. Tensions rose high in the federal capital as Lal Masjid authorities relentlessly challenged the writ of state.Exiled civilian leaders flew in, only to be forced out & then later back in. Suicide bombers emerged on the scene for the first time and in remarkable abundance. For once, policy cracks left behind by half a dozen years of post-9/11 double dealing were all too obvious to ignore.
And then May 12 happened.
A statistical analysis of Karachi’s most gruesome days in the past four decades might yield some startling insights. But most Karachi residents will tell you there’s been nothing quite like May 12, 2007. This was the day whenvulnerability brought the city down to its knees. Being a teenager gearing up for his O’Level exams in a week’s time, I vividly remember the shock & dismay on being told how armed assailants atop Baloch Colony Bridge opened fire on unsuspecting civilians underneath, leaving numerous dead. This sub-event took place merely two blocks away from our residence on Shaheed-e-Millat Road & left an indelible mark on the minds of many in the neighborhood.
Word was clear: Stay indoors.
An insecure Musharraf had felt politically endangered by the detained CJ. Thus, in an attempt to humiliate & bar Iftikhar Chaudhry from addressing lawyers at a Sindh Bar Council event, Shahrah-e-Faisal was painted red using the MQM platform & infrastructure. 48 precious lives had to be done away with; not alarming by Karachi standards (excuse the insensitive undertone) but the utter disdain with which the city’s ruling party carried out Musharraf’s dirty laundry was a first on many levels.
It was the marriage of opposites; not meant to last but to serve momentary political objectives.
Musharraf – being Musharraf – wanted to trounce upon the dissenting CJ. Altaf wanted to appease the military establishment because, well, there’s no safer haven than a receptive Aabpara. The ensuing display of arrogance & sheer disregard for human lives by Pakistan’s uniform clad president, assisted by Karachi’s biggest mafia don at that point remain unmatched till date. Later that evening, the state owned TV channel aired a recorded clip of renowned playwright Anwar Maqsood, mocking CJ for being inflexible, inconsiderate & effectively responsible for the loss of lives. Propaganda went a bit far – too far – even by PTV standards.
To understand MQM, it is pertinent to understand its modus operandi. For over three decades, the party has drawn political relevance by ‘producing’ crisis they could later resolve. Each crisis would be dealt as a unique project, carefully maneuvered by designated project managers stationed in the party headquarters. By pitching unsuspectingstakeholders against each other, the party elevated its status as the ultimate power broker of an ethnically polarized metropolis.
Kill Shias, kill Sunnis, invite both parties to Nine Zero, put on the arbitration cap, forge resolution, & walk away with political brownie points.
Systematic coercion was MQM’s forte since inception. Members of the business community often found themselves in desperate Either/Or situations with minimal grey area to contend with. ‘Protection packages’ offered to traders & retail shop owners would bind them down to either pay up & acquire fortitude against ‘other bad guys’ like ANP, TTP, Aman Committee etc., or face consequences similar to the unfortunate Ali Enterprises factory in Baldia Town.Commerce in Karachi remained hostage to MQM for as long as Altaf Hussain was politically relevant.
Yet, as fate would have it, two things happened in the wake of May 12, 2007.
Firstly, it marked a beginning of the end for Altaf Hussain. All mythical accounts of MQM’s oppressive hold over Karachi lay bare like never before. This was their most lethal exhibition of violence since the advent of free electronic media in Pakistan. AAJ TV cameras, for instance, transmitted live pictures of cross firing at the Patel Para neighborhood only to be greeted by MQM bullets, as alleged by their then anchorperson Talat Hussain. Mainstream media came to the realization that survival via appeasement to Altaf Hussain was probably not their best foot forward. (This conviction was further strengthened a few years later with the murder of Geo’s reporter Wali Khan Babar.)
In Hamid Mir’s show the same day, MQM’s home minister (& present Mayor of Karachi) Waseem Akhtar revealed it was his decision to confine police troops within their barracks in a bid to avoid probable confrontation between protesters & law enforcement officers. As it panned out however, the move was to facilitate a showdown between armed assailants from the ruling party & unarmed civilians out to welcome the suspended Chief. The state had taken up arms against its own people & without prior warning.
While a chest-thumping Musharraf later that evening in Islamabad seemed content with day’s proceeding, the military command underneath had already been jolted by mass outcry & unprecedented public reaction on mainstream media. Karachi had bled, and for once the blame was to be shared between MQM & its supposed historical nemesis, the army.
As power gradually drifted away to civilian leadership in 2007-08, COAS General Kiyani became increasingly reluctant to carry the MQM baggage left behind by Musharraf. The establishment watched on the sidelines as Altaf Hussain let his own hysteria get the better of his party. Building onto which, General Raheel delivered the sucker punch Karachi Operation a few years later. To his credit though, Raheel took Altaf out politically, not militarily – a feat that had alluded the military command of the 90s.
Secondly, Imran Khan emerged as the single most powerful voice in opposition to Altaf Hussain. Newly established media channels seemed happy hunting grounds for Khan, who up until that point had struggled relentlessly on the political front. A feeble PTI had lost workers on the fateful day in Karachi & on the same Hamid Mir show flanked by Waseem Akhtar, Khan vowed to drag Altaf through British courts. The neutral, apolitical Karachi diaspora that had grown up loathing Altaf’s brand of coercive politics saw these developments with keen interest.
Although efforts to bring Altaf down in UK courts bore little fruit, it was obvious that only Khan could dare challenge the MQM hegemony with resounding force. He returned much later in Karachi to hold a mini-protest at Native Jetty Bridge but over a different agenda: to demand closure of NATO supply routes to Afghanistan in reaction to US drone attacks in Waziristan. This was followed by a mammoth gathering of a rejuvenated PTI near the Quaid’s mausoleum on December 25th, 2011.
Arguably though, PTI delivered its greatest jolt to Altaf Hussain’s MQM in 2013 when it protested in great numbers at Teen Talwar Clifton citing massively rigged Karachi polls. This event alone prompted a series of errors from the MQM chief. In a rather self-destructive fit of madness, Altaf decided his party was being mishandled by office holders on ground and that it was time to let them face chin music – quite literally – from rank & file. At this point did the likes of Mustafa Kamal part ways from MQM, to be followed by other notable colleagues over time.
Karachi has come a long way in the decade post May 12, 2007.
As dust continues to settle post Altaf Hussain’s undoing, an unfamiliar air of uncertainty looms over the city. On either end of the spectrum are former MQM folks trying to make a case for themselves. Farooq Sattar is leading rallies against the incumbent Sindh government while Mustafa Kamal contemplates a million march. All this while, PTI too is struggling to botch up an organizational structure that can earn them anything between 6/8 out of 20 available seats in the coming elections. A shabby Afaq Ahmed can be heard in the distance, pressing hard upon the notion that if MQM factions don’t work together, an establishment-backed PTI might wipe away the Mohajir community.
Then there is the role of our establishment that continues to raise question marks. You would think that with Altaf gone, it would make sense to leave MQM on its own & let nature take its course as in the case of PPP. But, is it really so hard to foretell that pitching Mustafa Kamal led PSP as the cleansed version of MQM will ultimately create another MQM down the road? Unfortunate as it is, expedience seems to be taking precedence over rule of law much like it did during Musharraf’s early years in power. Altaf Hussain was a part of the problem alright but not the problem itself;militancy-backed politics still is. The legacy of terror he left behind can be spotted in the front rows of each MQM faction that currently operates out of Karachi.
So here’s a hypothetical situation. What happens if on the eve of General Elections 2018, all of MQM’s factions namely London, Pakistan, Haqiqi & PSP come together to declare Altaf Hussain as their joint leader? Sounds highly improbable, but not if you’re a resident of Karachi. Those who know MQM also know it has traditionally been driven by the doctrine of necessity, not by dictates of morality. A joint collaboration on that scale would strengthen their voter base & they know it all too well. Yet if – a decade of defiance later – one such scenario does see the light of day, guess who will end up with the egg on its face?
Holy Establishment. And it would only have itself to blame.