Experts see reunion of MQM factions in Pakistan's Sindh as 'merger of fear'

Senior members of splinter groups of the erstwhile Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party speak during a press conference in Karachi on January 12, 2023. (Photo courtesy: social media)
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Updated 13 January 2023
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Experts see reunion of MQM factions in Pakistan's Sindh as 'merger of fear'

  • Farooq Sattar-led faction and the Pak Sarzameen Party on Tuesday announced merging into MQM-Pakistan
  • Analysts, ex-member say these factions came together, fearing for their ‘political survival’ in next elections

KARACHI: Experts on Friday called reunification of splinter groups of the erstwhile Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party a "merger of fear," days after the Pak Sarzameen Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) factions came together following a significant drop in their votes in the last few elections. 

Founded by Altaf Hussain in 1984, the MQM had won the hearts of the urban, middle-class people in the southern Pakistani port city of Karachi and secured nine out of 11 National Assembly seats in the seaside metropolis in the 1988 general polls, in which the party had fielded its candidates as independents. The party grew in the southern Sindh province and performed exceptionally well in four out of five elections until 2013 and claimed at one point to have "80 percent" public mandate in Karachi — a bustling megapolis of more than 15 million people and the commercial hub of Pakistan. 

But the coming years were the toughest for the party, often accused of resorting to violence to suppress opposition and involvement in crime, after its self-exiled supremo, Hussain, delivered a controversial speech against the country in August 2016, having been frustrated over a loss of votes to former premier Imran Khan's Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party and a targeted operation in the city against militants.  

The speech forced colleagues and supporters of Hussain, who has been living in London since the 1990s, to distance themselves and the party from him. Dr. Farooq Sattar, one of the top MQM figures, saved the party by disowning Hussain and having it registered under his name as MQM-Pakistan. But Sattar's differences with another senior member, Aamir Khan, led to a split in the party and the formation the PIB and Bahadurabad factions. Sattar was eventually expelled from the MQM-P, which is controlled by the Bahadurabad faction. 

Months before Hussain’s speech, former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal along with Anees Qaimkhani, a former MQM member who is considered an expert on organizational matters, launched their own faction of the MQM, the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). While the MQM-P won 6 six out 21 seats in Karachi in the 2018 elections after losing majority of seats to Khan's PTI, the PSP failed miserably in the polls as it lacked public support.  

On Tuesday, both Sattar and PSP's Kamal announced merging their respective groups in the MQM-P, which currently holds most of the electoral seats. However, experts and former party members don’t expect any major impact of the reunion on Karachi's politics.  

“It is a merger of fear rather than hope,” Raza Haroon, a former provincial minister and an ex-member of the MQM and PSP, told Arab News. 

“These groups have been unable to engage and mobilize the people of urban centers of Sindh, while it’s also reality that the electorate of the original [MQM] wasn’t happy with the divisions and the unceremonious removal of the founder.”  

Haroon said there were multiple factors behind the "fear for survival" of these groups and a successful merger was dependent on the intent of each group. 

“There has been a reduction in the vote bank of Urdu-speaking communities, while these groups were also facing pressure and boycott appeals from London,” Haroon said.  

"In addition to this, their leadership has also remained disillusioned when it came to the narrative for the city." 

The London-based MQM supremo, who still enjoys some public support within the urban centers of Sindh, has often urged supporters to boycott breakaway MQM factions in elections and, according to Haroon, the repeated defeats pushed these factions to merge with each other.  

Mazhar Abbas, a senior political analyst, said the merger of MQM factions was being seen with “suspicious eyes” and its future depended on how they moved forward while overcoming their differences.  

“It’s believed that some people within the establishment, if not the whole establishment, were behind this merger,” Abbas told Arab News. 

“It also depends on how active the Altaf group remains. The future of this [new] group will become clear in the 2023 general elections. These are big names and can become successful, but there are many challenges.” 

Abbas said the political strategy and performance of the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and the PTI in urban areas of Sindh, which Karachi is the provincial capital of, will also decide the fate of the merged MQM factions.  

“They are also under pressure to not adopt the organizational structure of the original MQM, which had units, sectors, organizational committees and a coordination committee,” Abbas said. 

"They have been given the message that this old structure is not acceptable."  

The analyst said the new group may have an ad hoc setup immediately. “But the biggest test is that if this party runs by itself or is run,” he added, hinting at the military establishment.  

Pakistan's powerful army has ruled the South Asian country for nearly half of its 75-year history, and even when not in power, it is seen as the invisible guiding hand in the country's politics.  

Abdul Jabbar Nasir, a political commentator and journalist closely covering electoral politics in the Sindh province, said there were multiple factors that forced these factions of the MQM to come together for a "political survival." 

“The rise in support for Altaf Hussain, his successful boycott calls during the last few by-elections, delimitation by the PPP-led Sindh government, presence of strong support of the PTI and the JI gaining its lost ground are the reasons,” he told Arab News.  

Nasir said these factors, coupled with the "external pressure," pushed them to become a single political force. 

“But the question that if this merger will help them get the required results depends on if they are able to make a strong organization, which again is a challenge,” he added. 


Saudi ambassador honors Pakistani policewoman for heroic rescue, offers royal invitation to kingdom

Updated 11 sec ago
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Saudi ambassador honors Pakistani policewoman for heroic rescue, offers royal invitation to kingdom

  • ASP Shehrbano Naqvi safely extracted a woman from an enraged blasphemy mob in Lahore last month
  • She received widespread acclaim from the general public and was also praised by Pakistan’s army chief

ISLAMABAD: The Saudi ambassador to Pakistan, Nawaf bin Saeed Al-Malki, praised a female Pakistani police officer for her timely intervention that saved a woman surrounded by an enraged blasphemy mob in the eastern city of Lahore, extending a royal invitation to her for a visit to the kingdom.
Assistant Superintendent of Police (ASP) Shehrbano Naqvi received widespread acclaim from politicians, officials and the general public after a social media video showed her rescuing a woman wearing a dress with Arabic inscriptions, which some people mistook for verses from the Holy Qur’an.
Naqvi, who safely extracted the woman from the crowd, later clarified that the dress bore no sacred inscriptions, featuring only the Arabic word “halwa.”
According to the Associated Press of Pakistan (APP) news agency, during a meeting at the embassy, the Saudi envoy commended Naqvi’s selfless devotion that defused the volatile situation.
He also extended an invitation to her to visit the kingdom.
“The Saudi Ambassador to Pakistan praised the bravery of the police officer and assured her that the Saudi government would cover the expenses of her and her family’s trip to Saudi Arabia as honored guests,” reported the APP.
Independent Urdu, quoting an embassy spokesperson, revealed that Naqvi, along with her family, would be visiting Riyadh as royal guests before performing Hajj.
Prior to her meeting with the Saudi diplomat, Pakistan’s army chief General Asim Munir also invited Naqvi to his office to commend her dedication.
In the past, blasphemy charges have triggered mob lynchings in the country, with politicians assassinated, lawyers murdered and students killed over unverified accusations.


Pakistan’s former interior minister, Mir Sarfraz Bugti, elected unopposed as Balochistan’s chief minister

Updated 01 March 2024
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Pakistan’s former interior minister, Mir Sarfraz Bugti, elected unopposed as Balochistan’s chief minister

  • Bugti took oath as a caretaker federal minister last August before resigning in December to contest the recent elections
  • He asks Baloch insurgents to cease fighting and engage in dialogue, warning that the state would not condone violence

QUETTA: Pakistan’s former caretaker interior minister Mir Sarfraz Bugti was elected as the 25th chief minister of the southwestern Balochistan province on Friday, after no other lawmaker submitted nomination papers to contest the post.
Bugti previously served as the home and tribal affairs minister of the province and remained a senator from 2015 to 2021. Last year in August, he took the oath as the country’s interim minister for interior before resigning in December to contest the recent elections.
He participated in the provincial polls after joining Asif Ali Zardari and Bilawal Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
“I am thankful to President @AAliZardari, Chairman @BBhuttoZardari, my party @PPP_Org, and the people of #DeraBugti who allowed me to serve the people of #Balochistan,” he said in a social media post. “May Allah guide me and help me to do justice with this heavy responsibility.”
Balochistan, Pakistan’s largest province by area, holds a strategic position of immense importance due to its rich mineral resources, including natural gas, coal and minerals, along with its access to the Arabian Sea through the deep-sea port of Gwadar.
The port is also a cornerstone of the multibillion-dollar China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), part of Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative, making the province a pivotal player in regional connectivity and trade routes between Asia, the Middle East and beyond.
Balochistan has also experienced a low-level insurgency for decades by Baloch separatist groups who express grievances over political disenfranchisement, economic marginalization and the exploitation of the province’s rich natural resources without adequate benefit to the local population.
However, Pakistani authorities have always denied these claims.
Bugti, scheduled to take the oath at the Governor House tomorrow, asked Baloch insurgents to cease fighting the state and engage in dialogue while speaking to the media.
“The Pakistan Peoples Party believes in dialogue to resolve all political issues,” the newly elected chief minister said. “We wish all militants to skip violence and become part of the mainstream political paradigm. However, the state will not condone any kind of violence.”


Pakistan condemns Israel’s ‘policy of mass starvation’ after killing of over 100 Palestinians in Gaza

Updated 01 March 2024
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Pakistan condemns Israel’s ‘policy of mass starvation’ after killing of over 100 Palestinians in Gaza

  • Eyewitnesses say Israeli troops opened fire on a group of Palestinians waiting for life-saving aid and food delivery
  • Pakistan’s foreign office says Israel must face justice for committing crimes against Palestinians with impunity

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday condemned the killing of over 100 Palestinians who were trying to get food from an aid convoy in Gaza City a day earlier, saying the incident had highlighted Israel’s “deliberate and inhumane policy of mass starvation.”
According to eyewitnesses, Israeli troops opened fire on a crowd of Palestinians waiting for aid and food amid the rubble of their city destroyed by relentless airstrikes ordered by the Netanyahu administration last year in October.
Israel besieged the Gaza Strip after a surprise attack was initiated by Hamas in response to the deteriorating condition of Palestinian people living under Israeli occupation. The ensuing war has led to the killing of over 30,000 Palestinians, most of them women and children, as much of the world has accused the Israeli authorities of carrying out a genocide in Gaza.
International aid groups have also complained of increasing difficulties while delivering food supplies to starving Palestinians due to the Israeli military.
“Pakistan strongly condemns yesterday’s massacre by Israel’s occupation forces of unarmed Palestinians, who were awaiting life-saving aid and food delivery in Gaza,” foreign office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said during her weekly media briefing. “This massacre demonstrates a blatant disregard for civility and international humanitarian law and Israel’s deliberate and inhumane policy of mass starvation.”
Baloch reiterated her country’s stance for an immediate and urgent ceasefire while calling for unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza.
“Israel must also face justice for its crimes against humanity being perpetrated with impunity against the Palestinian people,” she added.
The incident in Gaza has come at a time when various stakeholders in and around the region are trying to negotiate a ceasefire to end the conflict which has lasted for nearly five months.


Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

Updated 01 March 2024
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Brothers accused of sparking blasphemy riot against Christians in Pakistan last year released

  • The brothers were detained on suspicion of defacing the Holy Qur’an in Jaranwala where a mob vandalized Churches
  • Christians make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population and occupy one of the lowest rungs in society

LAHORE: Two brothers accused of blasphemous acts that sparked a mob in Pakistan to ransack homes and churches in a Christian enclave last year have been freed from jail, their lawyer said Friday.
More than 80 Christian homes and 19 churches were vandalized by crowds in the eastern city of Jaranwala last August, after accusations spread that a Holy Qur’an had been desecrated.
Blasphemy is an incendiary charge in deeply conservative, Muslim-majority Pakistan, where even unproven allegations of insulting Islam have provoked deadly vigilantism.
While police rounded up more than 125 suspected rioters, they also detained two Christian brothers on suspicion of having defaced a Holy Qur’an – a violation of Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws which can carry the death penalty.
But the brothers’ lawyer Tahir Bashir told AFP they had been freed after an anti-terror court declined to bring their case to trial on Thursday.
“Without a trial, no suspect can be detained indefinitely in jail,” Bashir said, declining to publicly name his clients out of fear for their safety.
“They are free, they are with their family. They were very happy to be released,” he added.
Hundreds of Christians fled Jaranwala’s Christian quarter last summer when rioters surged in, setting churches ablaze and raiding homes.
At its peak the crowd numbered around 5,000 and was spurred by mosque loudspeakers announcing a Holy Qur’an had been torn, scrawled with offensive words and stuck to the walls of a local mosque.
Christians, who make up around two percent of Pakistan’s population, occupy one of the lowest rungs in society and are frequently targeted with spurious blasphemy allegations.
Politicians have also been assassinated, lawyers murdered and students lynched over such accusations.
Last week, police were forced to intervene in the eastern city of Lahore when a woman wearing a shirt adorned with Arabic calligraphy was surrounded by a mob accusing her of blasphemy.
The crowd of men said the clothing depicted the Holy Qur’an but it was in fact emblazoned with the Arabic word for “beautiful.”
The woman issued an apology for causing offense, but none of the men were arrested.
Pakistan’s top Supreme Court judge has also been targeted by veiled death threats recently after ordering the release of a man accused of disseminating a blasphemous text.


Inflation in Pakistan hits 23.1%, reaching its lowest point since June 2022

Updated 01 March 2024
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Inflation in Pakistan hits 23.1%, reaching its lowest point since June 2022

  • Pakistan faces historically high inflation, though the situation has improved from 38 percent recorded last year in May
  • Given the February inflation rate, experts predict the central bank to begin monetary policy easing from this month

KARACHI: Pakistan’s inflation rate was recorded at 23.1 percent in February, marking its lowest level since June 2022, on an annual basis despite surging food and energy costs, according to official data released on Friday.
Pakistan continues to face historically high inflation, though the situation has improved from the all-time high level of 38 percent recorded last year in May.
Last month, the prices of tomatoes and cigarettes saw substantial increases of 114.6 percent and 71.2 percent, respectively, on an annual basis. Condiments and spices rose by 55.3 percent, sugar by 53.4 percent, fresh vegetables by 46.2 percent and wheat flour by 45 percent.
In the non-food category, gas charges skyrocketed by 318.7 percent, electricity charges by 74.9 percent, transport services by 35.1 percent, textbooks by 34.7 percent, newspapers by 34.2 percent and accommodation services by 29.5 percent.
February’s inflation, the lowest in 20 months, suggests a potential easing in the country’s monetary policy stance.
“The low inflation rate was expected and interestingly despite incorporating recent gas and petroleum price increase in February the number is low. We will see this trend continue in the future and inflation trajectory will be downward,” Tahir Abbas, head of research at Arif Habib Limited, told Arab News.
Given the February inflation rate, experts predict the central bank will begin monetary policy easing from March onwards, with the market anticipating an indicative interest rate cut of around 1 percent this month.
Since June last year, the State Bank of Pakistan has maintained the interest rate at an all-time high of 22 percent.
The central bank recently adjusted its average inflation forecast for the current fiscal year to 23-25 percent, up from 20-22 percent, due to hikes in energy prices.