The MQM’s resignations from the national and provincial legislatures and the Senate are at one level mystifying, and at another worrying. Ostensibly, the resignations are a protest against an unfair operation targeting the party’s innocent workers who, the party claims, are either bring killed extra-judicially or kept in unlawful confinement. Whatever the reality, there are no takers for the MQM’s claims that those being targeted are innocent. Aside from the obvious partisan actors like the PTI, which would be a natural beneficiary of the MQM being weakened, even independent analysts are not buying the innocent theory. It is an established fact that political parties in Karachi have militant wings, with the MQM’s being one of the oldest and most well established. And the mess that Karachi’s security situation was, had had all and sundry, including the media, very wary. It’s no surprise then that one cannot find any sympathisers for the MQM’s protestestations.

Whilst in principle no one can approve of extra judicial killings, the nation’s mood seems to now spell: if all else has failed, then so be it. It is this very mood the Supreme Court read very well and reflected in its recent judgment on challenges to the 18th and 21st amendments, when it ruled the military courts were to stay. They too, may be deemed somewhat extra-judicial because of their nature and how they work in a non-transparent manner.

Yet, the MQM has sought to be confrontational in its bid to preserve its right to criminal activity and a grip on biggest city of Pakistan through this activity. The surprising thing, however, is that it has gone head to head with the military. The entertaining element of the developments is that the party thought the PMLN government and other opposition parties would treat their resignations in a manner similar to that of the PTI. And yet did not draw a lesson from what happened President Zardari had roared against the operation. The PTI has a strong faction of the establishment behind it – and accepting its resignations, or dealing with its hooliganism in D Chowk with a firm hand, would have destabilized the government further, perhaps bringing it down. Neither the ruling party nor the opposition parties in parliament wanted that – and hence cat and mouse games with their resignations. On the other hand, Mr. Zardari’s veiled demands and threats to leave the PPP’s criminal wing and corrupt elements within government departments was met with a very cold response from the Prime Minister and no attempt at reigning in the Rangers was made. The ruling party is not only interested in the cleanup of Karachi (for which it would gladly claim credit), but it is also not interested in crossing the military for supporting the PPP’s unjustified demands. True, Mr. Zardari thought he would claim his pound of flesh for having supported the government in its worst crisis to date, but the Prime Minister read the situation astutely. This was not the time to let Mr. Zardari carve out the flesh – as it would have meant giving his whole life. The military too reacted angrily, and Mr. Zardari was made to back down.

In both situations, the PM acted prudently, and did not cross the military. How the MQM has misread the situation, the writing on the wall, is therefore surprising. One credits the MQM’s thinking party leaders with much more intelligence and political sense than this. Yet, each one resigned on Altaf Hussain’s orders. What does this imply? That Altaf Hussain cannot be convinced by saner minds and he still rules supreme, with enough hold and terror over party workers to ensure adherence to his absurd demands.

Given that the public, judiciary, media as well as the government and opposition parties are all looking away from the one genuine concern, that of extra judicial cleansing at this point in the country’s time of crisis, the MQM’s move looks destined to fail. If the gamble is the military will blink, it’s a bad bluff. The party does not have any cards it can play to force either the government’s had to side with it, nor any to force the military to back off when it has clear public and media backing. One can only hope that the MQM’s party leaders will find Altaf Hussain in a sober moment to persuade him to withdraw the resignations with some face saving. Should this not happen, the by elections will only cause an unnecessary diversion from focus on progress on the fight against terror and the economy. Clearly, the rangers will have to be deployed for the elections and divert their attention from the cleanup operation. Even if the MQM wins back all its seats what will it prove? That it has a strong constituency that still supports it? But that is an accepted fact already, the 2013 election considered by and large free and fair.

On a side note, a couple of observations on the Independence Day celebrations. The military and General Raheel Sharif in particular, once again, stole the show with the mega PR exercise of the match arranged for the IDPs in Rawalpindi. The General not only inaugurated the match, but shot a four (helped by Afridi) and sat through the match basking in the public’s adulation. The Prime Minister perhaps went home for a quiet Nihari breakfast after the parade. This out-of-touch-ness on part of team PMLN is emerging as a pattern. When APS opened its doors, it was the COAS welcoming the children back under media glare; when Safoora attack took place in Karachi, admittedly the PM was busy with the Pak-China corridor, but the COAS flew there immediately; on Eid, the COAS was seen celebrating with the jawans on the war front, with the PM out of sight, sequestered in Saudi Arabia. The PM needs to be seen to be more in touch with the public and the party would do well to give this some thought.

However, the names of the cricket teams and the result of the match gave rise to much humour on social media. Pakistan Army XI beat Pakistan XI – the army may have missed the irony of having the army play against Pakistan, but the public missed neither that nor that the army defeated Pakistan. Most of it was jest and reflected more on the public’s opinion of the military’s past adventure, as at this time the public is firmly behind all initiatives being taken by the military and rather thankful that it has forcibly taken politicos along in the fight against religious and sectarian terrorists.