Political crisis in Karachi by Abdul Q Kundi

The incidents in Karachi where some members of a political party attacked media houses resulting in loss of life and property are highly condemnable. Anti-state slogans and allegations against Rangers as well as military are also damaging for the state authority. I do condemn anti-state statements of Altaf Hussain and those of his supporters that engaged in acts of violence and taking law in their hands. But to blame the whole MQM as a party and all its supporters is unjustified. In my view every major party in Pakistan is driven by political opportunism without any constraint to consider interest of the larger community. We may look at this situation as a one off incident or look at it holistically to find some viable solutions.

Politics in Pakistan is more tribal in nature rather than truly democratic. All parties are headed by dictatorial chiefs that guarantee protection of rights of its members through control of elected offices. Members have to elect the candidates presented by the dictator while in return he/she promises that development funds and other perks will be secured for them. In this process the party chiefs demand unquestioned loyalty from its members and the expression of it is frequently demanded as we experienced in Karachi today. This is not the first time such incident has happened. In 2014 members of dharna parties also broke the fence of Pakistan Television and entered it to damage cameras and injured staff. Before that members of PML N scaled walls to enter premises of Supreme Court to harass judges that were deemed hostile to its interest. In late 1970s members of PPP formed a militant wing that hijacked a plane to seek revenge for the hanging of former Prime Minsiter Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. We also remember General Musharraf as President enjoying music on stage while people were killed in Karachi to stop the lawyer’s movement and the same party condemned today was leading that efforts. I am not suggesting that all incidents are same but there are many elements common in it.

Even in jalsa speeches our political party heads have been reckless with their words without giving any considerations to the effect it could have on the nation. We all remember the speech in which Asif Ali Zardari issued threats against military. Imran Khan demanded office for TTP while labelling them as our misguided brothers. Shahbaz Sharif claimed he will drag other politicians on the road as if he is the judge and jury to issue the verdict. Sheikh Rasheed told dharna participants jala do, toor do, maro ya mar jao. Amir of Jamat-e-Islami refusing to proclaim soldiers dying in war against terror as Shaheed while at the same time terrorist that died in operation were labelled Shaheed. When such statements were issued members of these political parties instead of condemning it came forward as defenders which is not a democratic but tribal behavior. Protecting image of the chief is more important for these party members then banishing the lack of propriety in their statements. When anyone raise their voice to oppose such statements then they are labelled as traitors, expelled from parties and in extreme cases killed to preserve interests of the tribe.

Since parties are organized around individuals their governance style is also to increase their clout and power base rather than offer good governance to all. For instance police force, election commission, bureaucracy and judiciary is infiltrated with supporters of political party in power. Once these organizations are captured then they increase in power of their political party by engaging in unjust practices against political opponents. This is more style of organized crime rather than a political party which is supposed to serve all citizens. In all four provinces the situation is almost same with minor differences in its intensity. The killing of 14 political activists of a political party in Lahore is still remembered.

I am against banning any political party because if we adopt this approach then almost all political parties should be banned. The correct approach is to ban individuals, regardless of their position in the party, whenever they issue a hate speech or incite violence among its members. We need structural change in how our political parties are organized. The situation has become untenable and if we fail to act now then the risks will increase for anarchy and civil war. Military and Rangers can be a temporary relief rather than a long term solution.

Every political party that is undemocratic in its internal politics claim that it is their democratic right to protest. But they keep forgetting that agitation is not a norm but an exception in a society. Agitation is used sparingly when all other avenues of raising an issues are closed. This is not the situation in Pakistan of today. There are many tv channels providing opportunity to everyone to speak. Parliament is there to raise an issue. Judiciary is functional to entertain petition. Social Media is available to all to say whatever they want. There is also no control on expression in any form. In such situation agitation is not a democratic right but a tribal effort to impose will of vested interest.

We are facing many challenges both internal and external. External will never disappear as there will always be efforts to undermine our unity and progress. But external will only succeed if our internal situation is weak. Our first priority should be to organize our society better and this cannot be achieved without fixing politics which cannot be fixed until and unless the nature of political parties is changed from being tribal to democratic. Hold of individuals have to be weakened; criminal elements in political parties prosecuted; and political decisions of the parties should be based on their constitution and ideology rather than to encourage patronage and loyalty. This will not be achieved in one day but the problem is that we are not making any progress on it rather situation is moving from bad to worst.

We have to define a red line that no party should be allowed to cross.

What Next?

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