The Public Sphere: Epitaph for a non-digital Altaf

Altaf was an anachronism in this digital environment. He is no more. What is gone is gone.

The Public Sphere: Epitaph for a non-digital Altaf


The world we live in stands on perceptions, where reality is an irrelevant concept.

Let me admit at the start that being an editorial writer, my job has long been about contextualizing the events that make news but Altaf Hussain’s “emotional stress” has caught me off guard. Should we or should not we now call him the MQM supremo?

Analyst after analyst was telling us that Farooq Sattar is the future. Pak Sar Zameen head and Karachi’s former mayor Mustafa Kamal, who has an unusual penchant for wearing goatee, said so but Sattar was always quick to quash these assertions. Not anymore.

If you want to catch a snake, put hot water in its pit. If you want to hit Altaf, ban him on media. It seems some minds understood it and then applied it mindlessly.

On the other hand, Altaf believed that he had his grip on nervous centre of Pakistani media, mostly headquartered in Karachi.

The mistake that Altaf made is that there is no nervous system for media.

It has gone digital and hybrid, which he cannot force into submission and which his Rabita Committees are unable to manipulate. His arch rival Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) knew this weakness and hit where it hurt most.

Altaf had defeated his generation of JI activists and wrestle the biggest city of the country from their hands. He left them cursing themselves when their new generation had the only choice for them in the shape of MQM.

Even today, the older generation of JI is stuck in finding answers to what happened to them in Karachi. They gave ultimate sacrifices for their ideology but JI leadership continued slipping off from their hands to those who live in mountains.

The urban chauvinists were not ready to accept it. It was so lethal a strike that their leaders like Munawar Hassan castigated in public gatherings Karachites for voting for Altaf.

Nonetheless, they lived to fight another day and their powerful media machinery took the fight to its new levels on mainstream and social media.

They have lately been joined by the Dharna-crazy PTIwallas, the masters of manipulative and populist politics. Not a single seat in the city and yet not a single second without tweets about Altaf’s recklessness and his party’s shenanigans.

Altaf was an anachronism in this digital environment. He is no more. What is gone is gone. Contextualizing the matter in a traditional way, PPP is the ultimate beneficiary of this making and breaking. Karachi has been sticking out like a sore thumb for the rulers of Sindh. Now is the time for it to reclaim it.

Late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto had cut Karachi and Haiderabad off from Sindh. These two cities paid the price for housing considerable Muhajir population, not least in the field of higher education.

The PPP younger generation can demolish this divide but unfortunately their improper handling of media has earned them a bad name in society. The question is: will the PPP be able to fill the Altaf-sized hole in Karachi or leave it to the media mills of PTI.

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