Once again, Karachi is on edge as the Rangers and the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) workers clashed in different parts of the city, resulting in several arrests, a few minor injuries and property loss. All this ruckus apparently started from a Quran recitation event that turned into protest at Liaquat Ali Khan Chowk, or more accurately, the law enforcement agencies’ over the top response to this event.

Over the course of the past few months the distinction the between two MQM factions has become clearer and the names given to them – MQM-London and MQM-Pakistan – have stuck. It is becoming easier to distinguish the groups, and it could be said, easier to discriminate among them. The law enforcement – who follow the Rangers’ lead – have developed separate standards with which to treat both parties, and this schism is not in violation of the law, but is a direct cause for the simmering atmosphere in the Sindh capital. While permission to hold a memorial service at Pakka Qila was granted to MQM-Pakistan, it was denied to MQM-London.

It seems that any political gathering, even if it is small scale, by the so-called MQM-London is treated immediately by the authorities as an unwanted event and a threat to security. In the words of Rangers sector commander Brig Naseem Ahmad, the unrest started when “some male party workers raised party slogans and started putting up party flags in the area. The police took action on this and arrested some of the workers.” Quite tame by the standards of the city.

This hardly seems like the kind of activity that requires the police to intervene. Displaying party colours and symbols, gathering for peaceful protests and raising slogans is the right of every Pakistani citizen regardless of who that party is. It must be remembered, that it is only Altaf Hussain who is barred from broadcasting his speeches to the public, MQM as a whole is still a large and legitimate party, and not to be restricted in any way. Even if the sloganeering is extremely hostile and passionate – as it often is in most political rallies – unless the crowd get unruly and dangerous, the police has no justification to arrest people – and essentially suppress the freedom of speech.

This knee-jerk and disproportionate reaction from the law enforcement let set off a chain reaction; more protesters arrived to hold a sit in, traffic was impeded, and the police responded by sending in baton-wielding riot police and teargassing the amassed crowds. The law enforcement must be appreciated for trying to keep the peace, but it’s heavy-handed techniques may be doing more harm than good.