A Redefining Moment

After Altaf Hussain’s denunciation of Pakistan, MQM faces a crisis.

Written by Khaled Ahmed | Updated: September 3, 2016 12:06:30 am
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On August 22, Pakistan’s third largest party in representation — 55 seats in the Sindh assembly and 25 members in the National Assembly — the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was pushed into a crisis it was not ready for. Its ailing leader Altaf Hussain, banned from Pakistani TV channels through a court order, addressed a hunger-strike audience via telephone and lambasted the state of Pakistan: “Pakistan is a cancer for the entire world. Pakistan is a headache for the entire world. Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism for the entire world. Who says long live Pakistan… it’s down with Pakistan. Pakistan Murdabad! (Death to Pakistan)”

Pakistan was stunned by this outburst. He was venting spleen against the arrest of scores of MQM workers whom the rangers — deployed in Karachi to “aid to civil power” — had picked up and made to disappear. Then he railed against the TV channels that wouldn’t carry his almost incoherent outbursts mixed with much sobbing and singing and asked the audience to do something about it. At the end of his speech MQM leaders, including women, said he should clearly say if he wanted them to attack and destroy the said TV stations. To which Altaf “Bhai” said Bismillah, a Muslim way of saying “go ahead”. After that the hunger-strikers got up, went to the nearby ARY TV channel’s headquarters and ransacked it.

Altaf Hussain also upbraided the Pakistan chief of the MQM, Farooq Sattar, for mishandling the crisis created by the rangers’ arrest of MQM workers and delivered the punchline his followers simply can’t take. He resigned from the MQM’s leadership to a background score of sobbing women. He is the Bhai of Karachi, a demigod next only to Prophet Muhammad PBUH, because he gave the muhajir refugee majority of Karachi their identity and dignity through street power. After a gory career during which he was given a leg-up by three generals ruling Pakistan — General Zia, General Aslam Beg and General Musharraf — he decided in 1992 to move to London and remote-control Karachi. The streets of Karachi had become too bloodstained from the corpses he had strewn there.

The rangers picked up Farooq Sattar and some of his “coordination committee” and kept them overnight. The next morning Sattar consulted his team and announced he was separating the MQM from Altaf Hussain, who was no longer mentally balanced. No one believed that Sattar and his coordination committee had actually removed Altaf Bhai from the scene. Karachi can’t think of politics without Altaf Bhai.

In another way of looking at MQM politics, the MQM leadership in Pakistan are a bunch of puppets because Altaf Bhai rules through his target-killers who remain out of sight and liaise directly with the supremo in London. That is where MQM and Bhai get their muscle and their moolah. Will Sattar and the others be spared in the coming days? Who will save them from being killed? Unless of course the “separation” is faked.

And who will forgive their own trespasses of the past? Take the example of Shahid Hamid, the MD of what was once the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation. He was killed in 1997 because he wouldn’t stop his dragnet against corruption in KESC from where the MQM got some of its funds. This year, Hamid’s son, Omer Hamid, a senior superintendent of police who fled Pakistan and settled in the US after hearing that he was on a hit-list, came on TV and accused MQM’s Farooq Sattar, Waseem Akhtar and Nasreen Jalil of threatening to kill his father. All the names are now in the new MQM which will rule Karachi after saying goodbye to Altaf Bhai. The splinter MQM named Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) thinks the alienation from Altaf Bhai is faked and challenges Sattar in Karachi and Hyderabad. A trifurcated MQM will face the 2018 polls, which might mean a watering down of its urban supremacy; but already this August, Sattar’s faction has retained their vote in local elections in Sindh. The question is: Is Sattar’s MQM successfully “separated” or is it still getting a secret nod from London?

The writer is consulting editor, ‘Newsweek Pakistan’

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