It was inevitable that PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari would assume the mantle of his murdered mother, but it was not inevitable that his entry into politics should have instigated the departure of the MQM from the Sindh government. However, his remarks must be seen within the context of the new challenge by the Pakistan Tehreek Insaf.

Just as much as the PPP is a national party, and the MQM still restricted to one ethnicity in one province, the PTI threatens the PPP nationwide, the MQM is threatened in Karachi. This should drive the PPP and the MQM together, but another divisive factor is the increasing PPP concentration on Sindh, the only province where it still has a government. Another reason for the division is the importance of the local councils. Sindh, or rather the PPP, has been hanging back, because the two parties have strong differences on the local government system to be followed. The PPP wants to control local governments, intending thus to overcome the MQM majorities in the urban areas, while the MQM wants as much autonomy as possible. The desire for that autonomy is behind MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s demand for new provinces, and once again has led to the MQM’s departure from the government.

The policy of ignoring the issue could no longer be followed, not after the pressure by the Supreme Court for the holding of local government elections. The MQM, which only joined the Sindh government in April, has found it impossible to remain. Bilawal only gave them the excuse it needed, while showing interior Sindh his nationalistic credentials. It is worth noting that his father, Asif Zardari, who had previously shown a personal rapport with MQM chief Altaf Hussain, escaped from the episode, not entirely unscathed, but sufficiently so to effect a reconciliation whenever it suits the two parties. Incidentally, the MQM, by deciding on this particular reason, showed its loyalty to Altaf, something that has become all the more necessary after the speculation in the party about the succession. Though Altaf has a daughter, she is not even mentioned in that speculation.

It is perhaps sad that Bilawal finds himself fighting over the youth vote with Imran Khan, who is his father’s age. The problem may well be that, while Bilawal is a young man, his party is old. It is not so old that all the founders are no more, but those who were old enough to vote when the party was founded in 1967, are now 68. It is a success that the PPP has gone into a third generation, but Bilawal is still young. Another problem that Bilawal has is that his party is losing support to the PTI. This is not just the case in the Punjab, but also in Sindh. It is a paradox that the PTI is benefiting from the inability of the PPP to oust the PML(N), but is also supplanting the PML(N) as the opposition to the PPP in the interior of Sindh.

The interior has been dominated almost completely by the PPP, and those who want to oppose it, have turned to the PML(N). Now the prospect of the PTI is opening up. However, for the time being, the PPP’s dominance is not threatened, and there is no sign that it will lose control of the province, which it rules by virtue of winning in the rural areas. The MQM has found itself in the position of holding the balance of power between two parties which have split the interior in 1990 and 1995, when the PML(N) needed it to form the government, but whenever the PPP has won, it has at best formed a part of the government so that the PPP did not find itself in opposition in its own capitals.

Now the PPP is doing what it could have done before: ruled without the MQM. The province’s, indeed the country’s, main city, Karachi, is undergoing an operation which has caused an MQM outcry. One outcome of Bilawal’s aggressive Sindhi nationalism may be the massacre of eight Punjabi labourers two days after his rally. Though responsibility has been claimed by Baloch nationalists, and though the killings took place in Hub, which is in Baluchistan, Hub is part of Karachi’s industrial area. Quetta started to show Baloch nationalism by becoming unsafe for those of Punjabi origin, and it seems that Karachi may well follow suit. It is to be noted that Karachi’s only PPP stronghold, Lyari, is populated by Baloch, who identify themselves as Sindhis. It must be noted that Sindhis define themselves either as Baloch or Samat. The Zardaris are Baloch, and the Bhuttos Samat, but the intermarriage is not unusual. There is a linguistic difference, with the Baloch speaking Seraiki, while the Samat are Sindhi-speakers. However, though the Seraike is near enough to the Punjabi dialect for the late Mustafa Jatoi to converse in it with the late Nawabzada Nasrullah Khan, it is very much a dialect of Sindhi. The Muhajirs do not figure in this scheme, and may well be the source of their unease. While their mother tongue, Urdu, is as Prakritic as Sindhi (including its Seraiki dialect). It is worth remembering that Karachi, before being developed by the Raj as a port, was a Baloch village.

However, there are other currents. It should not be forgotten that the MQM is also spearheading the Muhajir fight against the Pakhtuns, who have migrated to Karachi in such large numbers that it is the biggest Pakhtun city in the world. The Pakhtuns have brought their political trends, and thus give the ANP its toehold in the city, as well as the Taliban. The MQM has plumped against militancy, and now that part of the Taliban have gone over to the Islamic State, it too is a potential presence in Karachi. As the MQM (and the PPP) had faced militant terror in the 2013 election campaign, that will not be good news. For the MQM therefore, there is not that much difference between the operation against target killings and the militants, especially when law and order of the city has been left so parlous, that Maulana Abdus Sattar Edhi was robbed so daringly.

    The writer is a veteran journalist

    and founding member as well as executive editor of The Nation.