IN theory, it’s a sensible idea: assemble the country’s political leadership for a roundtable conference and get them to focus on the country’s internal and external problems. In Pakistan, however, practice is far removed from theory. So is the MQM’s attempt to reach out to other political parties for a roundtable conference likely to yield anything? In recent years, seemingly every political party has mooted a national conference for one problem or the other. Former prime minister Yousuf Raza Gilani popularised the idea of national conferences — on Balochistan, on power, on solving poli-tical problems — and soon the opposition was doing the same. But as Balochistan continues to burn and power continues to run short, the national conferences and roundtable ideas clearly have not amounted to much so far.
However, past failures shouldn’t deter further attempts and already in the MQM’s outreach there is at least the possibility of one positive development: violence in Karachi may dip as the various political players in the city get together on the national stage for a round of consultation and frank discussions. The meeting between MQM and ANP leaders in Islamabad on Tuesday will have come as some relief to the beleaguered citizens of Karachi who must deal with news of killings, bombings, attacks, kidnappings and extortion rackets on a daily basis. Of course, of one meeting peace is not made in a city as complex as Karachi. Nor will a national conference necessarily bring down the organised violence and crime in Karachi immediately. Nevertheless, as long as channels of communication are kept open and expectations build that something positive will happen, there is possibility that a peaceable solution will be found. After all, while it may not seem so at the moment, Karachi is too important a city to be left at the mercy of forces of disorder and violence.
Beyond Karachi, the MQM’s outreach to parties from the Jamaat-i-Islami to the PML-Q to the PML-N could be the right tonic for stabilising national politics at a time that the judiciary vs government spat is fuelling all manner of speculation. The MQM’s status as a regional party is a positive in the sense that other major parties, such as the PML-N, may not necessarily feel they are being lured into a public relations’ trap by a national rival. Then again, the MQM’s historically prickly relations with most other political parties could be an impediment to a well-attended and successful roundtable. Still, it’s worth a shot, particularly if the politicians can hammer out a realistic strategy on education or health — the polio crisis, for example — and boost the public’s faith in the democratic process.