Barely a week after Pakistani Army Rangers raided the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, the embattled political party, accused of harboring illegal weapons on the premises, finally got some good news. On Wednesday, former president and co-chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) Asif Ali Zardari extended an invitation to MQM to join its coalition in Sindh province.
In many respects, the move doesn’t come as a surprise. Negotiations between MQM and the PPP, brokered by former interior minister (now senator) Rehman Malik, began well before senate elections earlier this month. Not all of the party’s rank-and-file were wild about making a deal with MQM. According to reports, PPP members listened in to Zardari’s announcement in silence. “They are in trouble,” Zardari told a lunch meeting of lawmakers at the Bilawal House last week. “We have decided to make an alliance with them.”
It’s not as though the alliance comes totally out of the blue in historical terms, either. Nine Zero, MQM’s headquarters, raided last week at the best of the ruling Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N), was left untouched by Zardari’s regime. The alliance may provide a boost to the PPP in Sindh province, particularly with local body elections on the way. A decisive result in those polls would be a major boon to the party’s numbers in one of Pakistan’s most important provinces.
What will this mean for MQM in the long-term? It’s tough to say for sure. MQM’s leader, Altaf Hussain, has proven an enigmatic and uncontrollable force in Pakistan’s politics and remains exiled from the country. He is currently living London, where he was arrested in June 2014 on charges of money laundering (he was later released on bail). The party has been implicated in a variety of crimes over the years, including murder and siphoning government money. It didn’t burnish the party’s image when the raid at Nine Zero turned up dozens of semi-automatic weapons.
The hardest part of keeping this odd couple together may be convincing PPP members to get on board. When Nadir Magsi, a PPP parliamentarian in the region, was asked to give his thoughts on the coalition, he was dutiful in his response. Although he did not personally like MQM, he said PPP had to honor their commitment to the group.
We’ll see if that commitment can stand the test of time.