Pakistan Rangers raid on MQM headquarters in Karachi has taken over the national discussion. By Wednesday afternoon there were no less than four different hashtags related to the raid trending on Twitter. Unsurprisingly, attitudes are divided about whether the raid was a positive or negative. I find myself in the second camp, not because of any love for MQM but because I think the action will do more harm to democracy and the armed forces than it will against any criminal elements hiding in 90.
Aside from everything else, think about how this looks. A mainstream political party was raided by masked paramilitary forces with no explanation about who ordered the raid. Was this a case of the military acting on its own against a political party? It certainly looks that way, and until there is someone who is willing to take responsibility, the reputation of the armed forces will be questioned in the minds of many Pakistanis, not to mention the rest of the world that is watching.
The problem goes deeper than only questions about who ordered the raid against a political party and why. At a time when there is a lot of talk about zero tolerance for terrorists and a new National Action Plan to rid the country of all militant groups, the raid stands as an example of the glaring hypocrisy in our national security policy.
MQM is a mainstream political party. Yes, it is well known that there are some elements in MQM who are involved in criminal activity, but the raid was targeting suspected criminals – it was targeting the political party. Mosharraf Zaidi explains why this is an important distinction:
Go after criminals & no one will defend them. Go after an ethnic or political group, and many will claim prejudice. Go after criminals.
— Mosharraf Zaidi (@mosharrafzaidi) March 11, 2015
The common response is to point to pictures of weapons seized at the raid, but even this ignores the history of ethnic violence in Karachi and historic tensions between MQM and security forces.
Those who are enjoying the raid at MQM’s HQ, please rest assured we have been going through these type of dramatised raids since 1992. — Syed Ali Raza Abidi (@abidifactor) March 11, 2015
It also ignores the reality, which is no secret to anyone, that all political parties, even if ‘unofficially’, have armed groups supporters to give a show of strength in the streets. Yes, even the ‘pure’ ones.
However there is something else that is even more troubling about the entire affair and that is why MQM was raided, but Lal Masjid is not. Do we really believe that there are no weapons caches there? Do we believe Altaf Hussain presents a greater threat to the national security than Abdul Aziz? There was a ‘tip’ that some criminal elements may have been at 90? THERE IS AN UNBAILABLE ARREST WARRANT ISSUED FOR ABDUL AZIZ.
Why MQM was raided, but Jamaat-ud-Dawa is not? Do we really believe that JuD has no illegal weapons caches?
Why MQM was raided, but Lashkar-e-Jhangvi is not?
Why MQM was raided, but ASWJ is not?
The list goes on and on, but the point is made. Grand speeches and strong warnings are given about how we have passed a turning point and extremist militant groups will face a crackdown by security forces. Only, those speeches and warnings quickly fade into the ether. It is easier to carry out an operation against a minority political party. Criminal elements or no criminal elements, going after MQM while tolerating Lal Masjid, JuD, and ASWJ sends a clear message about the state’s priorities.