April Issue 2016

By | News & Politics | Q & A | Published 7 years ago

Is the emergence of Mustafa Kamal a repeat of the attempt to splinter the MQM in the ’90s — a Haqiqi part two?

Yes, but with a difference. The revolt of 1991-93 was led by Afaq Ahmad and Aamir Khan, who were believed to be the ones controlling half of the city through sheer muscle power. And it was because they controlled the party’s assorted sectors and units, that the MQM chief Altaf Hussain disbanded all of them and expelled hundreds of activists. That exercise was conducted on a much larger scale, but the party bounced back because of its strong organisational structure and, additionally, because of the authorities’ mishandling of the 1992 operation against them.

Mustafa Kamal, on the other hand, enjoyed the reputation of being a good administrator — someone who delivered when he was given a chance. He was good for the MQM and Altaf Hussain’s image. Also, he was considered close to former president, General Pervez Musharraf. But he was not very popular among his own party workers because of his “attitude” and intolerant behaviour. So, he never wielded the kind of control that Afaq and Aamir once did over the party.

However, if anyone could be compared to Afaq and Aamir, it is Anis Qaimkhani, former deputy convener, who was once the zonal incharge of Hyderabad, a city where the Mohajirs have far deeper roots than Karachi. He was among the hardliners within the party cadres.

I see Mustafa Kamal’s emergence as a repeat of 1992, but today the establishment has acted in a far cleverer manner than it did some 15 years back. In Afaq and Aamir’s case, the MQM (Haqiqi) were confined to District East or the Landhi, Korangi areas. Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani are working in a more relaxed and safe environment than the Haqiqi.

What are the similarities and differences between what is happening now and what happened during the ‘90s?

In both instances, the reasons for leaving the MQM are more or less the same — Altaf Hussain and his style of politics. Even the allegations of RAW’s involvement with the MQM are not new, and neither are the allegations of extortion, killing of opponents and corruption. Afaq and Aamir had accused the MQM leader similarly and cited them as reasons for the split. However, the difference is in the credibility of the past and present dissidents. In 1992 the establishment forced MNAs and MPAs belonging to both the PPP and the MQM to change their loyalties and join the PML-N government. In this case, though, the MQM suspects that the establishment is using pressure on those workers who are in their custody and leaders against whom cases are pending, to switch loyalties. However, Mustafa Kamal has requested the two MPAs who joined him to quit their Assembly seats and go in for fresh elections to the seats.

Do you think there will be more ruptures in the party and its vote bank? 

Maybe so, particularly if anything were to happen to Altaf Hussain. But on the occasion of the party’s 32nd Foundation Day, on March 18th at Jinnah Ground, what he demonstrated when he addressed a capacity crowd in pin-drop silence was his control over the party and its strength. Earlier, when there were reports that he might be indicted, he did the right thing by naming a nine-member Supreme Council last month. He has empowered the Supreme Council to take decisions in his absence. But, he is still reluctant to nominate his successor, even though he has named Nadeem Nusrat as party convener.

Do you think Afaq and his group could also benefit from this turn of events? 

Afaq appears to have been dumped by the establishment with the launch of the new group. In the past, Afaq always felt that he and Aamir were not being allowed to do any political work by the “relevant quarters.” After the 2013 operation, he was optimistic, but could not get the desired results in the local bodies elections. He is now in a difficult situation, but given a choice, he would prefer to go with Mustafa Kamal and Anis — but the problem is, in what capacity. He is more senior to the two and has his own style of doing politics. His chances of going back to Altaf are almost zero — but you never know, as politics is the game of the possible.

As far as the MQM vote bank is concerned, it is more or less intact, which was reflected in the NA-246 by-election and the local bodies polls.

As long as the other political parties, including the national parties, do not address the Mohajirs’ grievances, the latter will continue to rally behind the MQM and Altaf, because, firstly, they see him as the man who gave them their “identity,” secondly they are still skeptical about the fate of Mustafa Kamal, thirdly due to the indifferent attitude of the national parties towards Karachi and the Mohajirs. Moreover, they believe that the PPP-led Sindh government is biased towards urban Sindh, and the attitude of the establishment is still predominantly pro-Punjab.

How do you view the future of the MQM, and what impact will the current state of affairs and how they develop, have on the people of Karachi?

MQM is down, but certainly not out. Its future depends on its relationship with the establishment. It has managed to survive three different operations in the past, but this one appears to be the toughest for them as they do not have any political support from the PPP or the PML-N, neither at the provincial nor the federal levels.

Following the 1994-96 PPP-led operation, in which hundreds of its alleged militants were killed, the MQM recovered because the PML-N used that operation against the PPP and provided silent support to them. Subsequently, in 1998 when the PML-N imposed Governor’s Rule and distanced itself from the MQM, PPP expressed its opposition to Governor’s Rule.

In 2000, a confidential report of the Intelligence Bureau termed Altaf Hussain a ‘RAW Agent,’ but in 2002, General Pervez Musharraf quashed all these reports and used the MQM as his strongest ally. Not only was an MQM-nominee appointed as Sindh Governor with special powers, but the party was also given 50 per cent share in the ministries.

However, in the ongoing operation which began in 2013, the party’s alleged militant wing was practically disbanded; some of the party’s members were killed and hundreds were arrested, while many escaped abroad. Investigation of its links with RAW, including charges of receiving training and funding from them, are under probe now. Additionally, the Imran Farooq murder case and the money laundering case are pending in London and in Karachi. Almost all political parties have distanced themselves from the MQM, even though the party is still considered the sole representative of urban Sindh.

Like any other middle class political party, the MQM does have its problems of militancy and corruption. If the party, with its strong organisational structure, can overcome these problems and the Sindh government takes ownership of the city, empowers the local government, proceeds with pending schemes like Karachi Mass Transit, the Lyari Expressway, the Green to Orange Lines Project, the Circular Railway, the city is given a special status, and its police depoliticised, we might be able to see a true “mini Pakistan.”

MQM is still a key player in national, and particularly, Sindh, politics. With its liberal and secular outlook, one needs a party such as this, not minus Altaf, but minus its militancy. Given the kind of charges that the party and it leader are facing today, it is a “make or break” year for the MQM.

Has Mustafa Kamal been propped up by the security establishment, as is being alleged?

At least, this is what most people believe, though both Mustafa and Anis Qaimkhani have denied it. His statement, during his first visit to Hyderabad, reflected the same. He tried to dispel the impression that his party ‘had been launched’ by the establishment. “Those who say we were launched by the establishment, are the ones who gave a large amount of money to a fixer to get an appointment with former ISI chief, Lt. General (retd.) Zaheerul Islam,” said Qaimkhani. But the fact that Qaimkhani, who was once considered a party hardliner and a suspect in the Baldia factory fire JIT report, was not even questioned by the authorities gave rise to such speculation. But, unlike past splits, so far there is no visible presence of the establishment around them.

Will Mustafa Kamal be able to deliver what the Haqiqi couldn’t?

This is something certain quarters would expect. The atmosphere is now more conducive for Kamal to do political work than it was when the MQM (Haqiqi) was formed. So Mustafa Kamal has some advantage, which Afaq and Aamir did not have at that time. Today’s MQM is not as strong as it was in 1992. Secondly, Kamal has a certain charisma which appeals to the youth, but what he lacks is organisational capacity. His first public meeting on April 24 will be a test of his organisational skills and a demonstration of his strength.

It is widely perceived that with the Rangers operation against the MQM in progress, there is a danger that all the party’s criminals will take refuge in Mustafa Kamal’s party. Do you agree?

I doubt it because in that case it would help the MQM, as happened in the past. The operation has remained bipartisan so far, though the MQM believes they are the prime target. However, action against the PPP leaders, the Lyari gangs and the outlawed groups negates these allegations. However, it is true that in certain cases the Rangers could not come up with evidence to prove their allegation that NATO weapons were recovered from Khursheed Memorial Hall, near NineZero.

The MQM has survived many operations and splits within its ranks. Will it survive them this time too?

MQM will survive, but not before some more cracks appear in the party. Altaf Hussain’s decision to nominate Nadeem Nusrat as party convener, amid reports of the appointment of a possible successor to the Quaid-e-Tehreek, is significant, unless Altaf decides to change his mind. He, along with a nine-member Supreme Council, will look after party affairs in his absence. However, if the party is banned, in view of its alleged links with RAW, things can become more difficult for the MQM. In that eventuality, the party will survive but with the minus-one formula.

This interview was originally published in Newsline’s April 2016 issue.


Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.