Many urban, relatively well-off Mohajir voters reminisce former dictator General Pervez Musharraf’s reign as ‘good old days’. He introduced the local body system and handed over the development funds to Karachi’s mayor. Yes, he was a dictator, he allegedly killed Akbar Bugti, and did many unsavoury acts to remain in power. But he gave Karachi a semblance of governance — and the city blossomed in his era.
Back in those days, when he was at the helm, Musharraf’s political sins were mostly discussed ruefully in Karachi’s living rooms, and that was it.
The former dictator also gave Karachi the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), conferring the party a carte blanche to shape the city at their will; and paving the way for the MQM to come out of the fringes and take charge.
However, under his watch, the non-Urdu speaking citizens of Karachi were brutally marginalised because he stood behind an ethnic party.
Given Karachi’s polarising politics, since the last few months, ideas have been swirling that Musharraf is perhaps the person who can unite the two factions of MQM — MQM-Pakistan and Pak Sar Zameen Party (PSP) — and lead what was once Altaf Hussain’s party.
Last week, banners cherishing the plan appeared near Karachi Press Club and other areas of the metropolis.
But how realistic is the idea? Both the MQM-Pakistan and PSP are denying all such plans. In fact, Aasia Ishaque, a former spokesperson of Musharraf’s All Pakistan Muslim League (APML), who joined Mustafa Kamal, says, “It is below his [Musharraf’s] rank to lead a party that is based on ethnic lines,” pointing to Farooq Sattar’s MQM.
“If I know him, I’d say, he will never lead the MQM-Pakistan, because he has a national and international stature,” she adds.
She also categorically denies that her own PSP is in need of a new leader. “Our doors are open for everybody, but the PSP’s leadership is good enough.”
It was All Pakistan Muslim League’s (APML) Ahmed Raza Kasuri who, in a video statement, floated the idea that the MQM-Pakistan and PSP should unite under Musharraf’s leadership. In fact, the former general in a recent interview said he has “no sympathies for MQM” but his heart aches for Mohajirs in Karachi.
Independent observers think Musharraf’s re-entry into Pakistan politics is unlikely. “His own legal troubles won’t make it possible for him to enter into politics in the country,” says Mazhar Abbas, a senior journalist. “I don’t really see any chance of such an arrangement in the MQM”.
Senior leader of the MQM-Pakistan, Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan, went to meet the former general in Dubai, which only intensified the rumours that his party is talking to Musharraf. Hasan on the other hand claims that he met Musharraf to explain to him how absurd the idea is. “Right now we are busy making some internal policies that will make the MQM stronger. We have no plans to take Musharraf sahib as our leader.”
Hasan further says that the MQM-Pakistan is restructuring the party and will fix tenured terms for senior leaders. “A massive reform is underway and soon the MQM-Pakistan will be an independent, democratic party — the first of its kind in Pakistan.”
At the grassroots level, when the paramilitary rangers are conducting operations against the MQM, the thought that a former dictator will take charge of the party is the least an MQM worker wants to hear.
Musharraf’s fan-base mostly comprises the sophisticated urban middle class Karachiites. Those who attend the MQM’s rallies or mobilise tens and thousands, are still mostly devoted to Altaf Hussain. But they are quiet. The MQM-Pakistan knows that well. It’s also aware of its limitations. The party is treading a tight rope. To part ways with Hussain is one thing, trying to replace him with a new quaid can be counter-productive.