Is This The End of MQM and Altaf Hussain?
TORONTO: The sudden evaporation of Altaf Hussain’s fear factor and an apparent political dissolution of once deadly and dreaded Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) – an ethnic entity that mixed politics and terrorism – was arguably the most significant political development of South Asia in the year 2016.
MQM was always an organisation created by the intelligence agencies but having a mass political following in two major cities of Sindh province – Karachi and Hyderabad where majority of Indian Urdu speaking migrants chose to settle in the aftermath of partition. The authors of its script – General Ziaul Haq and his intelligence operatives – perhaps wanted a limited-mandated political urban pocket to counter Pakistan Peoples Party that had an overwhelming presence in rural areas of Sindh. However, when the genie of political violence got out of bottle it found Karachi – a teeming multicultural city of 20 millions – a perfect breeding ground.
However on the evening of August 22, everything regarding MQM changed. The party’s Don and Supremo who was running the party through remote control sitting in London made a usual telephonic speech and went on a long rant against the creation of Pakistan and led charged sloganeering against the country and army. In the past his terror was such that whatever he used to say under influence of alcohol from London, every TV channel and newspaper had to carry it verbatim. However that night, Pakistani intelligence agencies told the media not to carry his speeches anymore and for the first time since 1986 paramilitary forces surrounded MQM headquarters 90 and rounded up many from top leadership.
The next day, MQM’s political face Farooq Sattar, appeared in front of national media along with other leaders and announced the decision to sever all ties from Altaf Hussain and the formation of MQM Pakistan. Most of the MQM leaders denounced Altaf and joined MQM Pakistan. At first it looked a master political stroke by Altaf himself but when the army went ahead and razed every MQM office in Karachi to the ground…it started looking real.
Before the August 22 speech, elections in Karachi and Hyderababd were a hypnotic affair. MQM workers used to fill the boxes right at the polling station in front of people but no one ever dared to raise voice including the state’s apparatus. Also, the fear of Altaf’s unit commanders and sector commander always played a decisive role in bringing people to polling stations.
There is around a 6-7 million Mohajir vote in Karachi but when translated into seats it swells to all 24 national assembly seats. In the elections of 2013 MQM was polled 2.5 millionin Karachi. In Hyderabad too, MQM clinches four Urdu-speaking seats.
Now, which way will the vote swing? Will it swing en mass or will fragment to support Islamic parties and other ethnic group like it used to happen pre-MQM electoral era in Karachi. If the vote stays as a block which MQM faction it would support. At the moment there are three MQMs on the ground. MQM Pakistan comprising majority former Altaf loyalists. Then there is Pak Sar Zameen Party formed by a former Altaf worker and Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal who has demonstrated a few times ever since he returned to Pakistan that he could pull Mohajir crowd. But can he translate this crowd into a voting block remains to be seen. Third factor is former military dictator and an Urdu Speaking Mohajir himself General Pervez Musharraf. Living in exile in London on Saudi money which was given to him as a gift from Saudi King, Musharraf has a long standing desire to lead Mohajir politics. At the moment he has two open options, either he could activate his party All Pakistan Muslim League in Karachi or look into the possibility of taking over Mustafa Kamal’s party.
Then there is – Altaf Hussain – who is down but not out. There are people who are flocking to Sattar’s MQM Pakistan and then there are those who are filling up public meetings of Mustafa Kamal but where are Altaf’s voters. Does it mean that by erasing him from ground the army has erased his image and memory from people’s mind? He is caged in London at the moment facing murder charges of his own stalwart Imran Farooq. His health is said to be deteriorating by the day due to constant alcohol consumption day and night. His once iron grip on the party has considerably loosened as there are not many left in Karachi who take his call or his comrades surrounding him in London.
In Pakistan it is widely believed that he is living under the protection of British foreign intelligence MI6. And has always been accused by the Pakistan establishment of having links with India. This certainly means that as far as Pakistani intelligence agencies are concerned his days in Pakistan politics are over. Can he re-gain his political magic and his fear? Highly unlikely as working without the protection of any intelligence agency in Pakistan is an uncharted territory for him. And at this moment Pakistani establishment looks not in a mood to re-invent the circus.
The stakes are high. If Pakistan is to look politically and economically stable country, Karachi needs to be peaceful as so far it is its only commercial harbour. Any local or foreign investment from China depends on this factor. The equation is heavily loaded against Altaf as his hey days of acting as a security guard for NATO supplies are drawing to a close.
( Mohammed Rizwan is a Pakistani journalist based in Toronto)