Predicting Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) actions has always been a difficult job; the moods of Altaf Husain are fickle, and the party consciously maintains an impression that it can always do the unexpected. Yet, the shifting stances of the party on the issue of its resignations from the parliament would make even the most seasoned commentator dizzy.

On Wednesday, reports indicated that the reconciliation procedure was almost complete, the demeanor of the negotiators was amiable, and the terms of agreement were concluded. On Thursday morning, the issue was turned on its head – not for the first time – and now the MQM has called off all negotiations while it focuses on “relief work” and the “creation of a new province”, demanding that their resignations be accepted. The party’s previous almost –agreements makes it clear that it is not principally opposed to reconciliation – meaning that the present statement is mere brinkmanship. Of course no one can begrudge the party trying to eke out a better deal, but MQM must be wary lest it goes too far. Already the anti-MQM opinion is strong and the stakeholders are running out of patience.

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday dismissed a writ petition seeking ban on MQM – not because the writ was unmerited, but because the time was “immature”. How long before the IHC decides that it is the right time to entertain such petitions? The Lahore High Court (LHC) has already banned live transmission of Altaf Hussain’s speeches, and is enforcing the ban strictly. The Rangers are carrying out operations against the party that were unimaginable a year ago. MQM needs to realise it is on thin ice, and a misstep may take it past the point of no return.

If the government decides to accept the resignations of MQM lawmakers than other censures will swiftly follow, such as the bans on its activity and an accelerated campaign by the law enforcement agencies. The government does wish to avoid the disruptions that the by-polls will cause and the MQM’s street power is surely formidable, but MQM must realise that the days when it could hold Karachi hostages without opposition are over. PTI, PPP, PML-N and several other parties have a strong presence in Sindh, and given the current mood of the establishment, much of its street power will be nullified. Street agitation is not another day at the office anymore, it is the last resort. The MQM needs to rejoin the parliament - it is bluffing, and the bluff might soon be called.