The Party’s New Faces
The Dr. Farooq Sattar – led faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), with Pakistan appended to the party’s name after the August 22 fiasco, is launching a campaign to reach out to the grassroots — the party’s support base and its traditional stronghold. The genesis of the campaign was a general workers meeting held at PIB Colony, at the party’s new head office. This meeting was followed by similar gatherings in District West, Orangi Town, and Baldia Town, in the last week of October.
On the evening of October 26, Dr Farooq Sattar, flanked, by two of his close aides, Khwaja Izharul Hasan and Amir Khan, and some local elected representatives, arrived in Sector A-3 Saeedabad, Baldia Town, the homeground of the former Nazim, Baldia Town, and now member Sindh Assembly, Kamran Akhtar. Akhtar was not there to welcome the guests, with party sources maintaining he is currently abroad.
Akhtar’s absence notwithstanding, the general workers meeting at the Al-Beiruni ground turned into a public gathering, as hundreds of women and men assembled at the venue. Farooq Sattar and his aides must have heaved a sigh of relief.
Khwaja Izhar went into agitation mode, decrying the role of MQM’s former ally and Sindh’s ruling Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) vis a vis the regression in the city in the past decade. He referred to the abysmal state of Karachi’s public utilities, and the dire law and order situation, and vowed to fight back, restore the powers of the local government bodies, and rid the people of the feudals. He also touched upon the oft-repeated and clichÃ©d ‘urban-rural divide’ in Sindh — something which both the PPP and the MQM hold their electorate hostage to.
Amir Khan started by enunciating that he would be willing to acknowledge some bitter realities. He referred to a personal experience when, after returning to the MQM fold, he wanted to shift his residence to Federal B Area and was unable to find a house to rent after several months of searching, despite having employed the services of a broker and assorted real estate agents.
“So bad was the reputation of the MQM, and so great the fear of it among the people, that despite being voters of the party — they were hesitant to rent their house to a party leader. They feared they would never be able to get their house back from someone so influential in the MQM,” said Khan.
He continued, “Our unit and sector offices were turned into thanas, where disputes were not settled, people were not helped. The officials in charge at these offices would side with the higher bidder — ie. whoever paid the higher price would get the decision in an arbitration issue lodged at the sector office, in his favour. So people stopped approaching these places as they had no hope of receiving fair treatment.”
Having disclosed this, Amir Khan promised to purge the party ranks of criminal elements, and win back the confidence of the people, no matter how daunting the task.
Farooq Sattar was clearly overwhelmed by the sight of the huge gathering, and when he came to the podium, spoke as though he was having an intimate dialogue with a few people. He confessed past mistakes, made promises, and talked of his future plans, asking the people, with each stated vow and plan, if they agreed with what he was saying, or not. Finally, he announced that the ongoing campaign of approaching the electorate would end with a huge public gathering at Mazar-e-Quaid on December 25.
Given that both, the MQM led by Farooq Sattar and the breakaway party, the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by former city Nazim and one-time blue-eyed boy of Altaf Hussain, Mustafa Kamal, have ostensibly distanced themselves from their founding father, the question is what is the difference between the two groups?
In the words of Farooq Sattar: “We have cut off from Altaf Hussain and the London-based organisation. We still hold him (Hussain) in high regard as the party founder and Quaid, but no more than that… The line was drawn on August 22. But we will never abuse him; never refer to him in humiliating terms.” Farooq began his speech with these words, and his acknowledgement of the contribution of the MQM Quaid was received with a huge round of applause, shouts, and slogans. But noticeable was the fact that the once ever-resonant slogans of ‘Jiye Altaf’ (Long live Altaf) had tactically been replaced with those of ‘Jiye Muttahida’ (Long Live Muttahida) and ‘Jiye Mohajir’ (Long Live Mohair).
For his part Mustafa Kamal, the leader of the PSP, maintains Sattar’s avowed distancing from Altaf Hussain is not enough. He alleges the new MQM chief’s public claim of severing ties with London is just a tactical manoeuvre to avoid assuming any responsibility for Altaf Hussain’s August 22 speech and for other charges against the party leadership.
Sattar contends that the breach with the London-based, Altaf Hussain-led party has not benefited him or the new-look MQM he leads. According to him, his party members and him still have to endure the trauma of recovering the corpses of their missing workers from the outskirts of the city or from morgues.
A case in point: on September 30, the body of Abdul Navid was found near Thatta. He had been missing for the last one year after having allegedly been picked up by law-enforcement agencies. Sattar asserts that party workers continue to be held in ‘fake’ cases, and many MQM workers remain missing. He asks for their right to a fair trial to be honoured, and for the whereabouts of the missing workers to be made public. Sattar also offers the guarantee that if recovered alive and safe, the missing workers will not take part in political activities again.
Meanwhile, Mustafa Kamal’s attack on the Sattar-led MQM is unrelenting. In their frequent media appearances, thanks to generous coverage in prime time talk shows, Kamal’s aides continue to challenge the MQM, questioning those at the helm about their decades-long performance in government, accusing them of depriving the people of Karachi of even basic amenities and giving them nothing except the corpses of their loved ones.
Ostensibly in a bid to woo MQM workers and supporters over to the PSP, Kamal has repeatedly asked the Director General Rangers and law-enforcement officials to give MQM workers, who have been engaged in criminal activities on behalf of the party, an opportunity to mend their ways and break away from the past.
He has also attempted repeated forays into the MQM support base by recently opening sector offices in Musharraf Colony, Baldia Town. Kamal responded to the charge levelled by the Sattar-led MQM that he was attracting only the criminal elements of the party, by asking Sattar to provide the list of criminal elements within MQM ranks, so he could paste it outside PSP offices and ask those named not to join his party and remain in the MQM.
Kamal’s close aide, Anees Qaimkhani, who is behind bars for allegedly taking MQM militants to Dr. Asim Husain’s Ziauddin Hospital for treatment, has managed, while incarcerated, to establish contacts with some of the MQM’s imprisoned workers. Among them is Minhaj Qazi, a senior MQM member, who is accused in the Hakim Saeed murder case. He has now joined the PSP. Three other MQM veterans, Shakir Ali, Naik Muhammad and Salim Tajik have also recently ended their association with the MQM and joined the PSP.
Kamal opened another front recently when he criticised the longest serving governor of Sindh, Ishratul Ibad, and charged he was supporting the Sattar-led MQM. He accused him of involvement in the violence on May 12, 2007, and named him “Rishwatul Ibad” for spearheading the MQM extortion network and the illegal occupation of properties by them.
Ibad, once a trusted aide of Altaf Hussain’s has, in the past year, distanced himself from his former Quaid and his party. He responded to Kamal’s accusations angrily, calling him “the most dishonourable man,” and accusing him and his party leadership of involvement in the Baldia Factory fire, in which 289 workers were burnt alive.
Ibad also attributed the development work in Karachi, which Kamal is usually credited for, to Naimatullah Khan, Kamal’s Jamaat-e-Islami predecessor as mayor. And Ibad did not spare the MQM either, accusing them of violence and mayhem in the city during the last few years, and referring to the huge cachÃ© of weapons recovered from Azizabad, linking it to the organisational committee of “a certain party.” He contended the arms had been collected for use against the law-enforcement agencies.
The splintering of the MQM has also yielded another faction: the MQM London. This group announced its existence as the only ‘real’ MQM at a press conference. Professor Hasan Zafar Arif, an academic and veteran political activist, Advocate Sathi Ishaq, and Kanwar Khalid Yunus, followed by dozens of MQM workers, arrived at the Karachi press club, and in a press conference announced that there is still only one MQM which is led by Altaf Hussain.
It was just last year that a few left-leaning political activists and former members of the Communist Party Pakistan, the National Students Federation and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party joined the MQM, because of what they said was state oppression against the party and its support base, the Urdu-speaking community, the Mohajirs. The enlistment of people like Professor Hasan Zafar Arif, Momin Khan, and Advocate Sathi Ishaq into MQM ranks surprised many, who said it was unimaginable that people like them would associate themselves with an organisation with such dubious credentials. They sardonically contended that the party’s new recruits had perhaps become delusional on account of their advanced age.
There were others, however, who saw potential in the new recruitments. After Altaf was abandoned by his closest associates in Pakistan in the post August 22 scenario, the London-based segment of the party started to woo these very people who have a history of resisting state pressure in their political careers. They approached these left-leaning party members who had been active in the Zia era, and managed to bring them on board. The new 12-member coordination committee of the London-based party now includes some of these people.
In their press conference on October 15, the committee came out strongly against those who had deserted the party, and said that after Altaf Hussain had apologised for his seditious speech, the party led by him should have been allowed to operate freely. However, the law-enforcement agencies were not having any of it and detained members of the party under different charges.
The case of Momin Khan, a veteran leftist and respected political worker is something of a mystery. Law-enforcement agencies detained him, but thereafter, he went missing. Finally, he was produced in court and accused of possessing weapons and explosives. The image of the 63-year-old charged with possessing illegal arms, standing behind a table loaded with weapons and explosives, is currently making the rounds on social networking sites.
Against the backdrop of recent internal and external events, prospects for the future of the various splinter groups that are the offspring of the MQM remain as uncertain as the fate of the nation.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order