After Altaf Hussain’s speech on Monday, followed by MQM activists attack on the ARY office, one can notice how things in the political arena are changing rapidly, particularly in Karachi. It would not be wrong to say that Altaf Hussain’s speech worked merely as a catalyst in the backdrop of the current political scenario.

Karachi’s politics have consistently been composed of blunders and has more often than not attracted the attention of the military. There is a carnage that we cannot ignore, unfolding ahead of this incident on different levels. The ethnic, linguistic, sectarian and commercial dynamics of Karachi have already influenced major policy decisions; and have sometimes been used to deliberately escalate violence.

Pakistan’s democracy is still shaky and political parties in Sindh are themselves to blame for creating the vacuum that allowed the Sindh Rangers to step in.

It is sad that underlying legal notions always remain ignored while emotions and political inclinations ascend over much of the discourse in Pakistan. It is equally sad that the victim card plays very well here which often stymies critical discussions, greatly manipulating people’s opinions.

Altaf Hussain’s speech first needs to be analyzed from a legal perspective but even before that, it is imperative to briefly discuss the content.

He said:

“Pakistan is a pain for the world. Pakistan is a curse for the entire world. It is a hub for terrorism. Don’t say Pakistan Zindabad. Pakistan Murdabad!”

Let’s dissect these sentences keeping aside what others said almost in the same tone but using politically softer words sitting in Lal Masjid; or bringing up the topic of how the MQM came into being. Let us put aside all the grievances we have against the state of Pakistan just so we can better understand these lines in its context only.

We all heard what was said but the important thing is, why is it unacceptable?

Pakistan Penal Code, 1860 has clearly outlined which acts are seditious and which are not. Section 124A of PPC reads as:

‘124A- Sedition: Whoever by words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite dissatisfaction towards the Federal or Provincial Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added or with fine.’

Explanation 1: The expression dissatisfaction includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity

Explanation 2: Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures if the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3: Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

The section makes everything clear; not only defining what sedition is but outlining what doesn’t constitute sedition. Altaf Hussain’s speech was used in front of a public at large, by a leader of a major political party, which created a law and order situation in Karachi.

Moreover, the speech and the consequent acts under discussion have all the elements which attract West Pakistan Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance, 1960. It relates to the law of preventive detention and control of persons connected with maintenance of public order, public safety and public interest. Even a liberal interpretation of this law cannot favour Altaf Hussain .

There are a growing number of people who are citing Article 19 of the constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, who believe that the speech was made because it supposed to be protected by right to free speech, a fundamental right which the constitution of Pakistan guarantees to every citizen. This isn’t entirely true if you read the article in detail.  Article 19 reads as:

‘Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of speech and expression, and there shall be freedom of the press, subject to any reasonable restrictions imposed by law in the interest of the glory of Islam or the integrity, security or defense of Pakistan or any part thereof, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, commission of or incitement of an offence.’

No right is absolute, and they are given to citizens by the state to ensure rule of law, social cohesion and security of the state.

It is important to note that had such remarks been made in isolation, even by Altaf Hussain himself, they would not have had any serious consequences. But because they were addressed to the public and caused mass unrest in the city of Karachi, MQM is in a very critical condition. Perhaps this means the end of the party as we know it.