How does the MQM do it?

I just read a really funny statement by Altaf Hussain in which he asked Zardari to review his visit to the UK in the light of David Cameron’s remarks about Pakistan. Now of course if one is seeking political asylum in a country one is perfectly entitled to criticize it’s leadership. But to urge your head of state to cancel his trip to the country is going a step beyond that, surely.

Anyway, this is pretty much parallel to MQM being a benificiary of the NRO but withdrawing support from it at the last minute. And it made me wonder about how MQM manages to take such clearly illogical positions? Not as a moral question, but more as a practical one. There are several explanations

1. MQM is able to avail of tacit “establishment” support at various times. Except for a decade or so when it overstepped its bounds, its always had the advantage of being the one small ethnic based party that has not been on the wrong side of the Pakistani establishment ideologically. This is due to the rather unique relationship of the Mohajir ethnicity (linguistic grouping, whatever) with the Pakistani state. Mohajir nationalism is not opposed to the idea of the Pakistani state per se, in fact its deeply connected to it. This makes MQM somewhat more privileged as a party in relation to the ANP (which only got accepted by the establishment when it completely softened its political stance) or the NP (under Hasil Bizenjo) and much more privileged in relation to parties like BNP-M, PKMAP, etc.

2. MQM is confident that it will have the support of its base no matter what it says. If Altaf Hussain acts hypocritically or MQM collectively acts hypocritically on the NRO, it doesn’t have a hugely fickle electorate (like, for example, the PPP or to a lesser extent PML-N). So it can afford to make statements for national consumption that aren’t really scrutinized by its own voters.

3. As a small coalition partner in a shaky coalition, MQM (like JUI-F) feels confident that the larger party (PPP) in the coalition needs it more than it needs PPP.

4. And finally, here’s a reason that I find really interesting and that is that MQM, unlike all other parties so far, is somewhat more advanced in the art of audience management. This is in sharp contrast to the party which (in my opinion) has the worst audience management and that is PPP. Now what do I mean by that? By that I mean MQM realizes it needs to say different things to cater to different audiences. MQM understands the need to make vapid (and at closer examination, clearly hypocritical) pronouncements on NRO and on Zardari’s UK visit because that appeals to what a certain audience wants to hear at a certain time. In MQM’s case, this audience is much larger than MQM’s potential electorate and even within MQM’s electorate, most would be happy to hear MQM taking such a “principled” stance, hypocrisy be damned. The percentage of people within MQM’s electorate that would be deterred by MQM’s hypocrisy on these stances is small compared to those who would be gratified at their party taking a stand. That’s weird, isn’t it? But if you are a party that is seeking to grow on a national level, it’s a good policy to throw various statements out there. Even if they are grossly hypocritical on closer examination, chances are that in the political climate (anti Zardari anti NRO) their rhetorical value will be more valuable than the irritation by a small number of disgruntled (mostly PPP supporters) people who will be turned off by their hypocrisy. Now one might ask, is this simply clever management of an audience? OR a party taking advantage of a relatively friendly political climate and a loyal voter base? OR a party with an implicit “bond” certified by the security establishment.

I’m not sure!


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