Saturday, May 12, 2007

Understanding what is going on in Karachi

Pakistani politics is a complicated affair.

In the time that Musharraf has been at the top, the situation for the traditional political forces in Pakistan has worsened. All the big three parties , the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) of Nawaz Sharif, the Pakistan Peoples' Party (PPP-P) of Benazir Bhutto and the Muttahida Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) of Altaf Hussain have lost ground politically. In order to provide a "King's Party" all three formations were dissected and that peculiar entity the "PML- Qaid-e-Azam" group was created to be Musharraf's civilian cabinet.

In Musharraf's time the Islamists have grown stronger and their political front end, the Muttahida Majlis e Amal have established a sizable electoral presence. As things stand today, Musharraf's bizarre position on affairs is providing an excellent focal point for Islamist activity. Even a relatively low ranked mosque like Lal Masjid is able to openly challenge his office without fear of repraisals. It seems that Musharraf's actions on Sept 12 have left in some kind of perpetual moral debt to the Islamists and they have used that to leverage a bigger political spread.

This does not work well for the PML-N, the PPP-P and the MQM. Unlike the Army, these political parties actually have to have an electoral presence and so they are keen to see something similar to the leverage of the Islamists appear. The PML-N was very skilled in picking up the CJP issue. The PPP for its part offered itself as a political proxy for Musharraf in his problems with the Islamists - this was the secret deal that the Bhutto/Zardari clan and Musharraf's people were negotiating. The MQM has come out in support of Musharraf claiming kinship and opposition to Islamist ideology.

In Karachi we are seeing the three political parties parrying in an effort to showcase their street presence and power. Karachi is the life line of Pakistan, over 90% of Pakistan's external legal and illegal trade is sourced via the Karachi Port. Karachi is the center of all Pakistani financial activities. A show of dominance in Karachi is vital to proving your claim to status in Pakistan.

Needless to say the violence provides just the provocation Musharraf needs to impose an emergency and suspend the parliament. This act might seem inviting to Musharraf as it will apparently set the clock on the Islamists access to parliamentary power and leverage. If Musharraf can then agree to a political contract with the PML-N, the PPP-P and the MQM afterwards (as Tanvir Ahmad Khan suggested earlier), then it is possible that an MMA-free parliament can be "re-elected", and the Islamist influence in Pakistan brought to more manageable levels.

Ofcourse it may also be that the situation can proceed more smoothly if Musharraf steps aside and someone else takes his place. That ofcourse may explain the not so silent whispers of replace Musharraf emanating from Washington.

It seems entertainment is imposed upon us.

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