The killings of political workers in Karachi may be a mystery, but what is clear is the calling out of the Rangers, in the hope of restoring peace to the much-battered financial hub of the country. Neither is this the first time that the city has been handed over to the Rangers, nor is this the first time that a Sindh government has run the danger of coming unstuck because of trouble in the provinces capital. The signs of trouble in Karachi have also been a warning for the central government. Even where the MQM has not been a coalition partner, the fall of the Sindh government has meant the fall of the central government. The MQMs stranglehold on Karachi is only just over two decades old, with its surprising the entire nation by the sheer comprehensiveness of its win in the local body elections in 1987, in Karachi and Hyderabad, where it virtually swept the polls. Dr Farooq Sattar first came to prominence as the first MQM Mayor of Karachi. That victory was to prove the first of many, and its immediate successor was the sweep by the MQM of the 1988 national and provincial elections. The MQM was unable to register, but the 'Haqparast candidates won, with the PPP only taking one national Karachi seat, the one in Lyari, which has been the only holdout in the city, and which has been determinedly PPP all these years. However, the Lyari seat has now only gone to the PPP in the Provincial Assembly, the national seat going to the MQM without fail. Though the MQM was not represented in the 1985 assemblies, it was establishing itself as a presence, and created enough difficulties for the Ghous Ali Shah ministry to be replaced by the Akhtar Ali G Kazi ministry. Then, as now, Qaim Ali Shah became Chief Minister of Sindh. The PPP had swept the interior of Sindh, and with the minority members, could have formed the government on its own, but included the MQM in its ministry and thus showed an almost overwhelming mandate to rule the province. However, the MQM pulled out of the Cabinet in the beginning of 1990, and the Qaim government was replaced by another PPP government under Aftab Shaban Mirani. Though this happened in February, but the Benazir government fell in that August, and Mirani fell too. The MQM swept the 1990 elections too, and formed part of the Jam Sadiq Ali government. It was carried over to the Muzaffar Hussain Shah government which was formed when the Jam died. However, when there was an operation carried out to pacify Sindh, which included against the MQM in their strongholds, the MQM split, and Shah only stayed in office with the support of MQM (Haqiqi) members who hived off from their party. The MQM boycotted the National Assembly elections, allowing the PIF, which was the banner the Jamaat-i-Islami used, to win seats from Karachi. However, the comprehensiveness of the MQM wins in the provincial elections showed that the results of the 1993 elections were not to be repeated if the MQM was also running. The resulting Sindh Assembly installed Syed Abdullah Shah as chief minister, and as before, even though the PPP did not need MQM support, it was included in the Cabinet. The PPP was constantly winning in interior Sindh, and losing in the urban areas, to the extent that it was no longer running even second there, having conceded this position to the PML-N. Though its massive wins in the interior gave it the raw majorities needed to install its own CM, because the capital of Sindh was Karachi, and of Sindhi culture Hyderabad (both with massive MQM majorities), it needed these cities represented in its Cabinets. So did the PML-N, which never came to power with any majority, only because it had denied the PPP a majority and it had itself obtained a plurality, winning enough seats from the PPP, by hook or by crook, to form a government, but only with MQM support. This was why, especially in 1990, there was so much talk of an MQM CM, and there was later much made of this by the MQM itself, which added the giving up of this slot to the list of sacrifices it had rendered to make the alliance credible. However, all this, along with the MQMs role in the formation and fall of the Liaquat Jatoi ministry, lay in the future. The MQM was part of the Jatoi government, but when it left, the province was put under emergency, and handed over to Ghous Ali Shah as PMs adviser. The MQM cooperated with the Musharraf government not so much because he was a Muhajir, as because he was also with MQM supremo Altaf Hussain in being with the USA in the War on Terror. If Musharraf headed a Pakistan which was accused of being on the terrorist side, Altaf headed a party which was accused of being a terrorist organisation. Thus, the MQM supported the Mehar government in Sindh, after repeating the previous electoral successes, and supported Arbab Rahim when he in turn became CM. This was also the time when the new Musharraf-imposed local government system gave the MQM unprecedented control of Karachi through its nazim. However, the Musharraf government was not brought down by the departure of the MQM, which in the 2008 election once again established its grip over the urban areas of Sindh, and as in 1988, formed part of a government led by Qaim Ali Shah, though he did not need their votes. However, the central government of Yousuf Raza Gilani did need the MQM votes to survive after the PML-N left the government. The MQM of 1988 is as different from the MQM of today as the PPP of 1988 is different from that of today. Mainly, though by no means solely, the main difference is that the MQM supremo, Altaf Hussain, then present in Karachi, has now been in self-imposed exile since 1992. However, he still represents a continuity the PPP does not have, with one 1988 co-chairman in a Dubai retirement (Nusrat Bhutto) and the other assassinated (Benazir). Because of the key role of the MQM in Sindhs urban politics, and because of that politics centrality in the survival of the government, the question does have to be whether the strings are being pulled to bring down Asif Zardari in a way that will not implicate the string-puller, the USA. It should be noted that the Supreme Courts decision striking down the NRO did not just affect the PPP, including the president himself, but also the MQM. The calling in of the Rangers involves the military in internal security, providing it with an excuse for takeover. However, there has been no direct takeover by the military using Karachi as an argument. The main concern at present must thus be the fate of the central government. That is why there is so much focus on the survival of the coalition, and why both partners are putting so much effort into its survival. There is an internal PPP dynamic, for with the collapse of its governments, the PPPs ministers would lose office, and the only official to survive would be the president. Incidentally, the MQM ministers, both central and provincial, would also lose office. E-mail: