IN extraordinary times will inevitably come extraordinary measures — but the costs are piling up and perhaps now unacceptably from a civil rights perspective. That an ex-minister belonging to the MQM, Rauf Siddiqui, has to approach the Sindh High Court to obtain protective bail after the police booked him under anti-terrorism laws for listening to a speech by his party leader Altaf Hussain is mind-boggling. So too are the arrests of senior MQM leaders for allegedly facilitating and arranging the broadcast of Mr Hussain’s recent speech in which he lambasted the military leadership. Surely, inadvisable as Mr Hussain’s tirade may have been, there is no justification for arresting and intimidating MQM leaders for having simply listened to or arranged a political speech by the leader of their party. The actions are being explained away on the grounds that what Mr Hussain said amounts to hate speech and an incitement to violence. But this is patently false.
Consider the extraordinary contrast between the repression of the MQM and the space once again being afforded to a banned group like the ASWJ, which is no stranger to hate speech and that yesterday held public rallies rather incredibly in defence of the military. It is truly alarming that the law-enforcement and criminal justice systems are being used to shut down vocal dissent by a mainstream political party, howsoever controversial its actions, while banned militant groups are being allowed to preach in favour of the state and military. Could there be a worse indictment of all that is wrong with the state’s approach to fighting crime and terrorism in Karachi and beyond? To be sure, Altaf Hussain is only attacking the military leadership because his own party is under siege by the security apparatus. It was only recently that his party still seemed to regard the military as a panacea and urged it to intervene in national politics.
Still, while there may be objections to the tone and tenor and some of the impolitic language used, what Mr Hussain has said now on several occasions against the military is no different to what politicians routinely say about each other or other institutions of the state, particularly the bureaucracy. It is troubling that such a blatant double standard is being enforced, one for what can be said about any political leader and most state institutions and another for what can be said about the military. Yet, the pressure on the MQM at least is not about to abate — the extension of the Rangers’ mandate in the province for a year suggests the PPP government in Sindh has also been convinced of the need to continue the Karachi operation. That a wide-ranging operation is needed in the province cannot be disputed. That it should focus on crime and terrorism, including atrocities committed by MQM militants, and be mindful of civil liberties is very clear too.