Malala Yousafzai, the heroic girl from Swat in Pakistan, has serious competition. The Muttahida Quami Movement may soon turn national attention away from her with its call for a countrywide referendum on terrorism. This may seem to be an unfair assessment of the MQMís efforts to build up public opinion against the Pakistan Taliban after the attack on Malala. There is certainly need for such an effort, especially since not much is forthcoming from the the ruling Pakistan Peopleís Party on this matter. Besides, the MQM has been consistent in its opposition to the Taliban and, unlike most parties that have supported peace deals or reconciliation with the militants, it has condemned both Taliban-sponsored violence and the governmentís patronizing stance towards them. But even then, the MQM can never be successful in convincing the country that its stand against the Taliban, no matter how admirable, is completely divorced from its political ambitions. Nor will it be able to prove, given its not-too-discreet role in the relentless violence in Karachi, that its heart is in the right place. The MQM represents the urban, educated, middle class mohajirs of Karachi, a community, whose hold on the city has been increasingly threatened by the steady influx of Pashtun and Baloch populations from the surrounding areas following political instability and recurring floods. It cannot but reflect this sense of insecurity, and it has often done this by accusing its rival parties in the area, mainly the Awami National Party and the PPP, of sheltering and protecting the interests of the Taliban, who are predominantly Pashtun. The Pashtuns of Karachi, and wider Sindh, do not necessarily subscribe to the Taliban ideology. But the MQMís drive to establish the link as integral, though favourable to its political gambit, is worsening the strife in Karachi and pushing it in dangerous directions. Given that the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan has hinted at mayhem against MQM supporters, the fears are palpable.
The Sindh administration is not very comfortable about the MQMís referendum, which has now been postponed from November 8 to 14 after a public petition in court. Although both the PPP and the ANP are allies of the MQM in the national government, their lack of enthusiasm on this matter is also not surprising. This is unfortunate because the people of Pakistan have never needed a clear direction more than they do now.