June Issue 2007
Interview: Farooq Sattar
“MQM has always denounced the politics of arms”
– Farooq Sattar
A: In this age of instant communication, millions of people in Pakistan have access to volumes of live information from multiple sources in the shortest possible time, and with no censorship from the state. With this freedom comes the responsibility of protecting and propagating the truth. The obligation of the media to project facts truthfully can sometimes be compromised as the urge to be the first to get on air with the most sensational news supersedes the urge to be the first to get on air with the truth. Essentially, this partial commitment to honesty can deeply compromise the trust and faith in the impartiality of the media which, in the process, ends up presenting distorted images.
The footage of the gun battle at Guru Mandir released later shows the full picture of the actual events that took place in the Aaj TV office vicinity. Aaj TV’s office in Karachi lies at the junction of two main streets, and the tragic events that transpired on the streets below inadvertently affected the cross streets, and that included Aaj TV offices.
MQM thinks that such acts, if committed by any political party, are not to be condoned, and that’s why it has repeatedly insisted on the initiation of an independent inquiry as soon as possible.
Q: If MQM is not involved in these killings, why is the MQM-led coalition in Sindh resisting a judicial inquiry into the May 12 incident?
A: MQM was the first to demand an independent judicial inquiry and repeated this demand many times — and this is on record. As for the government resisting the inquiry, this question should be put to Arbab Ghulam Rahim, who is the chief executive of the province.
Q: Some questions pertaining to that day still remain unanswered. Why were you determined to hold a rally on the same day as the chief justice’s rally in Karachi? Who was in charge on that day? Where were the Rangers and the police? Who asked them not to carry or fire weapons? Who blocked the roads? Who fired on the processionists heading for the airport from overhead bridges?
A: As a political party, MQM has all the right to hold a political rally on any given day. Since the chief justice’s rally in the Punjab on May 5 was projected as a defeat of the Punjab government by the opposition, similar predictions were being made by the opposition regarding the chief justice’s rally in Karachi. Since MQM is a party of the masses, people contacted us and shared their sentiments about the tall claims of the opposition. So, the MQM decided that if head count is the criterion of popularity, then it will produce more heads on the streets of Karachi on May 12, and this will enable not only its supporters, civil society, independent observers and the media, but also the opposition to realise and judge the popularity of the MQM. This decision was made in consultation with our coalition partners.
Let the independent judicial inquiry take its course and let the truth surface. Enough accusations and counter-accusations have been exchanged from all sides. It is now time for reconciliation, political maturity and foresight.
Q: Of late, the MQM had started emerging as a mature and responsible political organisation. Do you realise that the events of May 12 have set you back?
A: Of course, it has temporarily disturbed our rapid progress in the provinces. Now, why in God’s name, would the MQM be interested in destabilising itself after making such painstaking political gains across Pakistan. Please do look at it in terms of the May 12 mayhem winners and losers. This is serious food for thought for our journalists community and will lead them to many an unanswered question.
Of course, like all mature and progressive socio-political organisations, we need to improve ourselves on a constant basis, taking into consideration the changing times, and instil quality values and modern political management practices to maintain and channel our high degree of discipline and passion.
Q: Some people are even questioning the credibility of the MQM and believe that it is working on a secessionist agenda. How would you counter these charges?
A:MQM fully believes in Pakistan and (recognises) that its strength lies with its people and the four provinces including FATA. Of course, we are the staunchest proponents of provincial autonomy, which is essential for Pakistan’s stability, growth and prosperity.
Q: What is the reason behind the PML (Q)’s distancing themselves from you after May 12, and why did the president have to request the PML (Q) to take you along?
A: Interesting question. But you better ask PML (Q) and the president.
Q: Do you realise that for the first time people are talking of General Musharraf’s ethnicity and his close links with the MQM. Aren’t you becoming a liability to him?
A: General Asif Nawaz Janjua took pride in his ethnicity; people in the past have also talked of Liaquat Ali Khan, Bhutto and Sharifs’ ethnicity. Let us be mature and deal with political issues politically and not on the basis of ethnicity, sect or race. We need to stop behaving immaturely and talk of solid issues and real problems.
Q: According to the opposition, the recent MQM rally showed that the party is losing its support base in Karachi. And there are predictions that in a free and fair election you would not be able to secure more than six seats in the National Assembly. What do you have to say to that?
A:Multiple small rallies, due to blockades and disturbances, failed to reach the Tibet Centre. MQM’s popular mega rally of April 15, against the extremists of Lal Masjid and Jamia Hafsa, was attended by people from all walks of life from Karachi and across Sindh, and was a roaring success. It is rather immature to think that the MQM’s strong vote bank, which has helped us sweep all elections since 1987, would go down so quickly. On the contrary, I can claim with much conviction that MQM’s original vote bank has been reinvigorated, and the party has emerged stronger after May 12. Let a free and fair election under an independent election commission spell out the verdict.
Q: You profess to be supporters of democracy, yet you are in a coalition with a man in uniform and are siding with the government against the movement for an independent judiciary which is vital for democracy?
A: MQM supports President Musharraf’s seven-point agenda which was put forth by him in October ’99. His agenda regarding eradication of extremism, provincial autonomy and decentralisation of power to the grassroots level was similar to the demands of the MQM.
The history of Pakistan is full of men in uniform, but let me reiterate that this is no excuse for perpetuating the trend. We need to permanently get rid of the intervention of the army as an institution in Pakistan’s politics, instead of naÃ¯vely focusing on the person of General Pervez Musharraf and reinforcing the traditional military brass-and-boot monopoly over Pakistan.
Shysters and charlatans who had receded into the political abyss have, of late, taken over the state, mismanaged the judicial crisis and hijacked the chief justice’s issue and turned it all into a popular bandwagon. Let us cast our egos aside and let sanity prevail. This (state of affairs) is extremely unfortunate and harmful for both the country and the judiciary. Though the state is to be blamed for the mismanagement of the judicial reference issue, what followed from the political quarters is also strongly condemnable.
To put it on record, the MQM does not at all doubt the sincerity of the legal fraternity towards judicial reforms and the liberation of the judiciary. But let me reiterate the fact that no piecemeal efforts in isolation will deliver the judiciary from the clutches of the executive. It is only with an institutional approach and through political and constitutional reforms that the judiciary, as well as all the other organs of the state, will be truly liberated.
Q: But the MQM chief Altaf Hussain was quoted in the international media as saying that General Musharraf should not doff his uniform. Why do you want him to stick to his uniform, when we all know that the general’s controlled democracy has brought the country to the brink?
A: Mr Altaf Hussain has never said anything like this. Yes, we want to see democracy back on track, and, at times, the journey has its rigours. What is important is that we, the political parties, do not miss out on this opportunity for full restoration of democracy and its continuity for all times to come. Keeping into consideration our chequered history, if the uniform in front were to be replaced with a uniform behind the curtain of democracy, as in the case of Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari, it will be a bad trade-off and will not offer a solution to the role of the army in the affairs of the government. We need institutional and permanent approaches to have a real participatory, decentralised and functional democracy that draws its power from the people. The ARD’s Charter of Democracy is silent on this.
Q: What are MQM’s future plans? How is the party preparing for the upcoming elections?
A: Friends to all, enemy to none and development for all — it is in this spirit of friendship, reconciliation and reforms that we brace ourselves for the upcoming elections.
Q: Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif claim that they will return to contest the upcoming elections. Can we expect Altaf Hussain to do the same?
A: Nothing is impossible in this world, but one thing is for sure: the extremists and fundamentalists will fare poorly in the upcoming elections, even if they contest from popular platforms.
Q: You talk about deweaponisation of Karachi but, according to reports, the MQM is among the most heavily armed parties. Your comments.
A: MQM has always denounced and dissociated itself from the politics of arms. The most heavily armed political parties are the right-wing religious and extremist parties. Most of their members are trained militants from Afghanistan, Kashmir and the tribal belt, and they are equipped with heavy arsenal and maintain factories where human bombs are developed. These parties have become a permanent and potent threat to Pakistani society. Unfortunately, the parties that are most vocal about democratic norms and values are also engaged in the politics of terrorism. You can not forget the PIA hijacking of the early ’80s, the rocket attacks on oil terminals etc. Sabotaging train tracks, gas pipelines and power grids with bombs has become a normal routine in Balochistan, the NWFP and FATA.
We talk of permanent and effective deweaponisation, not just for Karachi but for the entire country, including (capping) the source of weapons. You cannot take drugs off the streets of developed western economies like New York, Los Angeles, Amsterdam and Geneva without the actual termination of sources in Afghanistan and Pakistan’s tribal belts, can you? Let us not forget that weapons were, for the first time, introduced by the Islami Jamiat-e-Tulba and nationalist student parties in Karachi. It is our resolve to make the deweaponisation of society a part of our manifesto.
Q:The MQM is reported to have stopped live TV transmission of the chief justice’s journey from Islamabad to Lahore by pressurising cable operators in Sindh. And the excuse proffered was that your rally against Jamia Hafsa was not given the same air time. Is the MQM now going to dictate terms to the media on what should or should not be covered, and to what extent?
A: MQM distances itself from all such acts and condemns those who pressurise the media from outside, as well as those who abuse it from within. We thank the journalists community for their commitment, and wish them luck in their quest to uncover and report the truth, and pray that they don’t get tempted by any popular political bandwagon or swayed by sensationalism.
Q: The Mohajir Rabita Council has brought out a hit-list of journalists, who are reportedly anti-mohajir. The media has been equally critical of other political parties, but none of them have ever come out with a hit-list. When is the MQM going to start taking criticism graciously and stop intimidating journalists?
A: MQM has nothing to do with this organisation called the Mohajir Rabta Council, and naturally does not take responsibility for such acts.
It has nothing to do with the press release issued by the Mohajir Rabita Council. The denial, dissociation and condemnation from the MQM were communicated promptly and are on record. MQM respects journalists from all sections of the press, and fully believes in freedom of speech and expression.
Q: How can you distance yourself from its text when the list was faxed from a 90 number?
A: As I said earlier, the MQM had dissociated itself and condemned the press release of the Mohajir Rabita Council and this condemnation, in fact, was faxed from 90.
Q: What do you make of the bullets found in journalists Mazhar Abbas and Zarar Khan’s car? Who planted them?
A:I strongly condemn and denounce it like the top leadership of MQM including Mr Altaf Hussain did. I firmly believe that whoever planted those bullets should be condemned by the state, and legal action must be taken against these elements. This is a failed attempt by those who want to take advantage of the situation. This is a conspiracy that has been hatched by those who want to take advantage of the current situation; they want to distance the MQM from the journalists fraternity and weaken the fourth pillar of the state.
Q: Has there been any stock-taking within the party as to how badly its image has suffered a dent on account of the May 12 incident?
A: The true beneficiaries of the May 12 mayhem are the extremists, fundamentalists and hawks in the garb of political parties, as well as those within the establishment. It is quite clear that the true losers of the May 12 mayhem are the MQM and the city of Karachi. Our government is working day and night for the betterment and growth of the revenue engine of the country.
From 1992 to 1999, these kinds of allegations and actions against the MQM had tainted the credibilty of the then government and establishment. However, the MQM has tremendous ability to bounce back, and I’m very hopeful and convinced that we will get back on track again.
Q: The MQM sees Karachi as its personal turf and refuses to allow anyone else any space in the city. What gives you that right, when Karachi is a city with a mix of nationalities?
A: MQM’s main turf, yes, but not its personal one for sure. The beauty of this city lies in its diversity, and that is its true strength. Karachi is the most welcoming city when it comes to economic opportunity, and embraces all without any prejudice. Had your statement been true, this would never have happened.
Also, let us not confine the MQM to Karachi; the temporary and sad setback will only fuel our passion to perform better and embrace new turfs and frontiers in the north. The advent of the MQM in the Punjab and the NWFP has, indeed, rattled many a feudal nerve, and it is indeed a good omen for the downtrodden and disenfranchised masses in those provinces.
Q: Does it make any sense to just ban Imran Khan’s entry into Karachi when other political parties have been equally critical of the MQM’s violent style of politics? You could have responded to him through the various TV shows you appear in, instead of resorting to vitriolic wall chalking etc.
A: How can a party ban an individual’s entry into a city? The governor and the city nazim actually issued orders to clean the chalking.
I think people admire Imran Khan as a sportsman, but that does not give him the right to malign, castigate and launch a tirade of abuses against any individual. Such irresponsible acts can inadvertently elicit reactions from supporters and sympathisers, but we agree that such acts need to be handled with restraint, patience and tolerance, as was demonstrated for the first time in the history of Pakistan.
The ban on Imran Khan’s movement is a temporary administrative measure by the Sindh, Punjab and federal governments in order to maintain peace and tranquility, as the city regains its normalcy.
Q: By disallowing people from other parts of the country to come to Karachi, aren’t you exacerbating the tensions in a country that is already ethnically divided?
A: We don’t think that this country is ethnically divided. Though there are people in all segments of our society including the media, politicians and the establishment that, at times, create this impression for their own ulterior motives. However, people, by and large, are more mature today and have seen the games being played with their destiny. They have reason to lament and question all stakeholders who have ruled and used Pakistan.
It is one of the tragic instances of democracy that during the ’90s, we were not allowed to establish the party in the north or, for that matter, anywhere outside of Sindh. Only recently, has the MQM been able to set up offices in over 30 districts of the Punjab, seven in the NWFP, four in Balochistan — and in all districts of Azad Jammu and Kashmir.
I give the people full credit for their maturity, generosity and intellect for reposing their trust in us. We hope that our message of emancipation, tolerance and empowerment for all spreads with time.
Q: Will the MQM ever grow up and grow into a mature, responsible national party with increased tolerance levels?
A: I believe this is not a fair question. It is extremely biased and based on the frivolous remarks and propaganda of MQM’s opponents. This is an insult to the mandate of millions of people who have voted for the MQM over the last 20 years. We were, are and will remain the party which is open to all sorts of healthy criticism.
(Interview conducted by Newsline via email.)