Karachi’s politics is playing out like a terribly scripted comedy. One wonders whether to laugh at the goofy antics of the city’s politicians, or lament over the ill-fated masses of urban Sindh who they claim to represent. At the core of all these complexities, factional rivalries, and ego-wars, lies a very simple reason: the establishment is not ready to allow the people of Karachi to elect their own representatives. The popular mandate of the city still resides with Altaf Hussain, and there is nothing the establishment could do so far to change that. To be fair, the establishment has several reasons to restrict Altaf. After happily allying itself with Musharraf for almost a decade, MQM-Altaf attracted public ire due to its destructive show of strength during the 12th May 2007 incident. With Musharraf’s departure in 2008, the party lost its primary benefactor and could not build relations with subsequent army chiefs. The main source of contention between the two is Altaf’s use of militancy to sustain influence over the city. His reliance on extortion and land grabbing hurt the country’s economy by creating an atmosphere of insecurity in Karachi, the premiere port of the country. The military felt obliged to intervene and establish order due to increasing demands from civil society, media, and business community. Altaf’s problem is that he has no other means to fund his politics except for mobilizing his workers to collect animal hides during Eid or engage in unlawful activities. Other political parties like the PML-N and PPP rely on personal industrial and agriculture wealth, respectively, whereas PTI benefits from overseas Pakistanis as well as people like Jahangir Tareen and Aleem Khan. Altaf’s MQM, on the other hand, is a mass-based political party which prides itself in bestowing power to the lower classes of the society. This leaves it with limited resources to run its institutional operations. Since 2008, the deep-state has been consistently putting pressure on militant outfits belonging to MQM-Altaf, shutting down the party’s revenue sources and damaging its organizational structure. This pressure led Altaf to make extreme demands for secession from the state last August, and provided establishment the opportunity to re-engineer the city’s politics to its advantage. Farooq Sattar’s recent comments lay bare the fact that Karachi’s politics is being actively manipulated. The fact remains that isolating Muhajir politics from the MQM is close to impossible Militaries all over the world are trained to prioritize nationalism over everything else, which generally makes them intolerant toward ethnic, lingual, or regional diversity. Along with this comes a disdain for politics, and younger military cadres are especially rigid in their interpretation of these ethos.In recent years, the lower- and mid-career officers have gained unprecedented influence over the institution, mainly due to their role in spearheading the establishment’s narrative on social media. Farooq Sattar’s recent comments lay bare the fact that Karachi’s politics is also being actively manipulated by younger officers, which explains the establishment’s intolerance in allowing even a pro-establishment faction of MQM to function with that name due to ethnic undertones. The fact remains that isolating Muhajir politics from the MQM is close to impossible. Altaf Hussain, even with his cult status, could only have limited influence in this regard when he tried to move the party toward mainstream politics by changing the party’s name, wearing Sindhi skull caps and ajrak, marrying a non-Muhajir woman, and awarding party tickets to people from other ethnicities. The party continued to remain true to its core Muhajir identity. Leaders breaking away from Altaf are bound to move further toward Muhajir ethnic politics to gain legitimacy from party workers and supporters. This is what Afaque Ahmed’s MQM-Haqiqi had to do, and this is what Farooq Sattar will have to do to keep his faction relevant in Karachi’s politics. Leaders like Mustafa Kamal can ditch such politics to please the establishment since they do not enjoy support from the masses and depend entirely on the deep-state to sustain their politics. Farooq Sattar, however, controls the main faction of the party and must follow the wishes of his followers, or else he knows that the party will further split into numerous factions. He also understands that Muhajir vote is squarely aligned with Altaf, and he will need to engage in more radical Muhajir politics to attract it to his faction of the MQM. This, of course, foils the establishment’s plans to extend its control over the city. A coalition of PTI, PSP, and MQM-Sattar could have won the city for the deep-state in the 2018 elections, at least in theory. It could then serve as a tool to destabilize Sindh and federal governments on the establishment’s behalf, the same role MQM-Altaf played during the 1990s. This is all wishful thinking on the establishment’s part and the recent fallout between Mustafa Kamal and Farooq Sattar has deeply embarrassment it. The deep-state is already struggling to control Nawaz Sharif and Maryam in Punjab, and loosening control over Karachi would put it at a serious disadvantage, inviting more challenges in the future once politicians and media start to realize that the establishment is not as powerful as it used to be, or what it pretends to be. One big questions remain undiscussed among all this confusion: what is the future of Muhajir politics in a city whose demographics have transformed over the last decade? People from all over the country, especially the tribal areas, southern Punjab, and rural Sindh have migrated into Karachi, weakening the deciding majority Muhajirs used to enjoy in the city. No one seems to have an answer yet, but whichever political party knows how to deal with this issue, will control the city in the coming decades. The writer is an Assistant Professor of Public Policy and Administration at Cleveland State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. His twitter handle is @RamblingSufi Published in Daily Times, November 16th 2017.