“We probably need maturity or a stick.” That’s how a frustrated Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) leader vented himself on the phone, talking about how things were manipulated to ensure his party’s defeat in Karachi and parts of Punjab. The poll results came as a great shock to the youth supporting the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, who expected a landslide victory. The party and its supporters seem to be going into an overdrive trying to declare the poll process illegitimate and unfair mainly because they didn’t get the results they wanted.
This is not to suggest that rigging did not take place; Karachi or Urban Sindh has experienced rigging for ages. The ethnic party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) representing Urdu-speaking migrants from India, is a past master in manipulating election results. Violence is one of the mediums through which the MQM has been manipulating politics in Urban Sindh since the mid-1980s, when the party was established in Karachi. The popular myth during the ’80s was that saying a word against MQM leader Altaf Hussain will get you gunned down the very next day. Often people are surprised to see the manner in which Hussain, a semi-literate person, commands respect from millions of people. But as a local saying goes, “It takes a snake to kill a snake”. Until now, no one had dared to challenge the MQM’s power in Karachi until the PTI supporters organised a rally against alleged rigging in the National Assembly seat, NA-250.
The MQM leadership was quick to point out that the PTI supporters were ‘burgers’ (meaning English-speaking crowd from posh areas representing a certain class), while MQM supporters were ‘band-kabab’ eaters (indicating lower-middle or middle classes).
This may be true, but it still does not give any party the right to use violence against protesters. Indeed, reacting to the PTI dharna at Teen Talwar roundabout in Karachi, Hussain talked in an emotional and threatening tone about how he could send his men with talwars (swords) to remove those sitting at Teen Talwar. Later, unknown assailants murdered PTI founding member and vice-president Zahra Shahid Hussain outside her house in Karachi.
Although conclusive evidence regarding MQM’s involvement is yet to be found, many believe that the killing was done in typical MQM style. In any case, in a country where investigations are never completed and results never shared publicly, it is not certain that anyone will be able to definitively link it to the MQM. The common man will be too scared to give evidence in a case against the MQM, especially remembering how the party had systematically eliminated police officers who were involved in operations launched against it in 1992-93. Perhaps, Khan will manage to put pressure on the MQM because, as a source commented, “both the PTI and MQM are equally mad and probably it does take a mad person to challenge the power of another”.
There will be many non-PTI supporters who will be silently happy to see someone finally take on the MQM, which most people feared but no one could ever question. For years, other political parties, including the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) cut deals with the MQM and accommodated it as a coalition partner mainly because no one could imagine running Karachi without it.
The situation in Punjab, however, is less clear. Here, the PTI is adamant that rigging took place to ensure the PML-N’s victory. PTI supporters are not impressed even when their candidate won a provincial Assembly seat after a vote recount. The European Union observers found the election satisfactory other than in Sindh. Of course, some minor rigging always takes place at individual polling booths, which does not mean that the entire process must be de-legitimised.