The MQM is in an apparent mess. It’s senior leader Farooq Sattar had announced to disassociate the affairs of the party from the Altaf Hussain, founder and supreme leader, saying all political affairs will henceforth be run from Karachi. Yesterday, prominent party leader Asif Husnain announced to part ways with the MQM and joined Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party, which already comprised several prominent political figures.

The MQM was a unique phenomenon in Pakistan. Altaf Hussain had founded the party in 1984 and had over the decades been largely successful in giving a voice to the Mohajir community and a political identity. It gradually grew to become a major political party in Pakistan. The MQM was unlike other political parties in that it had a leader who was in exile in London since 1992 and was still running the show, so to speak. Also, the MQM had a very strong militant wing, reporting directly to Altaf Hussain, carrying out his dictates while mostly bypassing the political leadership.

The party had a shady past in that it was seen to be a creation of General Zia ul Haq as a force against his opponent PPP. Earlier, it had the support of General Musharraf and was able to establish its power completely over Karachi during his rule during the 1999-2008 period. It was then able to annihilate not only its political rivals but also scores of police officers who had been involved in earlier police operations against the MQM. It had forcefully established an independent tribute system in the city. Also, the MQM provided some social services and security to the poor Mohajirs of Karachi. Later, in opposition to MQM, other political parties like the ANP, PPP and the Sunni Tehreek also established their militant wings.

However, the MQM’s militant wing remained the strongest for a long time. Given Altaf Hussain’s diatribes and offensive langue employed against perceived enemies, the MQM’s political leadership has now become increasingly wary of their leader’s insane outbursts. The very recent ones seemed to be the tipping point. Hence, the disassociation of the party from its founder. Seemingly, space for the political party was being restricted as never before in history. Despite its criminality and violent nature, an outright ban on the party wouldn’t be prudent. The MQM does in some ways speak for the poor and lower middle classes in Karachi.

More importantly it is now desperately trying to shed its violent and criminal past. Perceptions matter and required careful considerations. It must be given the benefit of the doubt now. Therefore, MQM be tolerated as a political party because it is more than Altaf Hussain and the criminal aspects, the mafia and the violence. It was in some ways representing a nationalism, an identity issue and political aspirations of Urdu-speaking Muhajirs also which went wrong over the years because of various factors. However, the criminal elements must be eliminated by the State immediately. Minus the criminality and the militancy (the mafia aspect) the MQM must be given space to reform. Although agreed that it was easier said than done. The point was to treat the matter with extreme caution and prudence. It is advised that the Pakistani State show no highhandedness in the case of the MQM and give it needed space to evolve into a regular political party, albeit only very gradually.