Diversity of political forces is an element of strength for political culture while monopolization of political space by dint of force initially begets fear and ultimately leads to widespread discontent. The survival of a ‘political’ entity that has developed private militias and established links with armed groups to display its strength through spreading terror is a source of serious concern as it jeopardises the flourishing of a democratic ethos- tolerance and peace. For the furtherance of the democratic project, there are two options: either such entity must mend its ways and adopt the ways of genuine political struggle or it would face extinction in due course. Over the past two decades, MQM has refused to go down the first path and the grinding wheel of time has now caught up with it.

The difficulties for the party started when Imran Farooq was murdered in London and the Scotland Yard took up the investigation of the matter. Then followed separate investigations into allegations of money laundering, raids at the Edgware headquarters of MQM, the arrest of Mr. Altaf Hussain, his interim bail and extension on two occasions. The most vulnerable point of an organisation built around the cult of a personality, is that the whole structure collapses when the ‘strong man’ is seen as falling. Another weakness is that there is no second tier leader who has been trained to legitimately take over in the event of vacuum of leadership. Therefore, the embattled Altaf Hussain in London failed to maintain his grip over the party as his feet of the clay exposed. In September 2013, Declan Walsh published in New York Times, reporting, “For two decades, Altaf Hussain has run his brutal Pakistani political empire by remote control, shrouded in luxurious exile in London and long beyond the reach of the law. He follows events through satellite televisions in his walled-off home, manages millions of dollars in assets and issues decrees in ranting teleconferences that last for hours — all to command a network of influence and intimidation that stretches from North America to South Africa. This global system serves a very localised goal: perpetuating Mr. Hussain’s reign as the political king of Karachi, the brooding port city of 20 million people at the heart of Pakistan’s economy. Now, though, his painstakingly constructed web is fraying.”(Italics for emphasis)

At home, the MQM always claimed itself to be and it really was the third largest political party in the parliament, controlling the financial hub of the country. The successive provincial and national governments found it expedient to include MQM as coalition partner because they were apprehensive of the latter’s blackmailing tactics in case of exclusion. In developing countries, because of patrimonial political culture, participation in government is considered as having access to a pie of resources that could be used at will without any chance of accountability. Thus the consistent strategy of PPP and PML-N during the 1990’s has been to secure peace in Karachi through handing over the city to MQM, which gradually strengthened its hold. General Pervez Musharraf found a natural ally in MQM as he excluded the two mainstream political parties out of active politics. It became proverbial that not a sparrow could stretch its wings in Karachi without permission from nine-zero. The capacity of diehard followers of Altaf Hussain to close down the city at a single call was on display every other day. During the lawyers’ movement, the party let loose a reign of terror and killed above 40 people in different parts of the city to block the entry of then deposed Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhary.

The political realities for MQM changed in the wake of 2013 general elections. The PTI replaced it as the third big political party by securing 35 seats in National Assembly. Imran Khan and his party men did what was earlier considered unthinkable. They openly talked on national media about the intimidating tactics of MQM employed to secure his support base and urged Karachites to come out to bring to end the atmosphere of fear. For the first time in bye-elections of NA-246, the MQM felt the need of door-to-door canvassing to ensure its victory. Thus the role of PTI in challenging MQM on its turf is laudable.

Besides a diminution of its political clout, because of the rise of PTI, the MQM landed in serious trouble with the decision of the federal government to cleanse the city of Karachi of network of criminals and militants. MQM raised hue and cry against the arrest of its affiliated criminals but the operation went on with unabated intensity. The PPP supported the operation at initial stage, as Asif Zardari could not foresee the clean-up operation against its maladministration and corruption.

Now when the BBC report reinforcing the public perception of MQM to be receiving funds from India and engage in terrorist activities, has come to the fore, MQM’s current leadership is in dire straits. The possible handing over of three people involved in planning and executing murder of Imran Farooq at the behest of Altaf Hussain, will add to the worries for him in London and consequentially the influence of the MQM will further weaken. The party might survive but, without the present leadership, it will only be a shadow of its former self.