KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) said on Monday it was quitting the ruling coalition, raising fears of growing violence in Karachi, the country’s commercial capital and the party’s political base.
Senior party official Farooq Sattar said the MQM could no longer work with the “dictatorial” government. Although the move was a blow to the government, it was not expected to collapse as it enjoys a comfortable majority in parliament.
“After looking at the undemocratic and dictatorial behaviour of the government, we have come to the conclusion that now it has become impossible for the MQM to go with this government,” Sattar told a news conference.
The MQM said in a statement the long-standing governor of Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital, would also stand down. Ishrat-ul-Ebad Khan is a member of the MQM.
The MQM was a junior partner of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) of President Asif Ali Zardari in both the Sindh provincial government and the federal government.
The MQM largely draws its support from the descendents of Urdu-speaking migrants from India who dominate Karachi and other urban centres of southern Sindh province.
The city was the scene of intense ethnic violence in the 1990s between Urdu migrants and Sindhis, who are the main supporters of the ruling PPP.
The ethnic picture has become more volatile since then with a large influx of Pashtuns from areas bordering Afghanistan, but some political analysts said tension had to some degree been kept in check by the MQM’s involvement in government.
“Whenever the MQM gets angry, the level of conflict in Karachi increases and that is a big fear,” said political analyst Hasan Askari Rizvi.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain lives in self-imposed exile in London after being accused of murder in the last round of blood-letting in the 1990s.
Karachi, according to some officials, contributes 68 percent of the government’s total revenue and 25 percent of gross domestic product. It is home to the central bank, Pakistan’s main financial markets and its main port.
The MQM quit the federal government in January to protest against a rise in petrol prices but later rejoined the coalition after the government scrapped the increase.
Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan said the government would try to address the MQM’s grievances.
“We will try to remove misgivings and our leadership will do this through consultation with MQM,” she told a news conference.
The departure of the MQM will add to political instability in a country which is already battling an Islamist insurgency and has faced fresh upheaval since U.S. forces found and killed Osama bin Laden in the Pakistani town of Abbottabad on May 2.
Its army, the most powerful institution in the country, has been the target of unprecedented criticism both over its failure to find bin Laden and to detect the unilateral U.S. raid to hunt down the al Qaeda leader.
It is also facing intense pressure from Washington to take tougher action against Islamist groups - action that it has said in the past could make Pakistan even more unstable driving some militants into a dangerous coalition and fragmenting other groups.
The weak civilian government meanwhile has clung to power by manoeuvring between different coalition partners, but has been unable to introduce the reforms or governance Pakistan needs.
“No good can come of this political matrix. It is inherently unstable,” wrote political commentator Najam Sethi in an editorial at the end of last week.
“Our tragedy could be compounded by the impatience and arrogance of America. It is forcefully staking its claims in the region while we are scrambling for countervailing space within our own country.”
Additional reporting by Sahar Ahmed and Faisal Aziz; Writing by Zeeshan Haider; Editing by Myra MacDonald and Robert Birsel