May Issue 2016
“The MQM is like an unwanted legitimate child” – Farooq Sattar
Patiently and cordially, he poses next to every single member of a family that has travelled all the way from Sukkur to be photographed with him at his residence. For a man in his 50s, Dr. Farooq Sattar exudes tremendous energy, reminiscent of the times when he was appointed Karachi’s youngest mayor at age 28. Sattar’s mobile keeps buzzing every few minutes, but he ignores the calls and remains focused on the Newsline interview. The face of MQM pauses to take one call only — from London. Surprisingly, he puts the call on speaker and ‘Bhai,’ Altaf Hussain is on the line. Hussain reveals that a Senator of their party was approached by a brigadier and a serving general to join Mustafa Kamal or leave MQM and remain on the sidelines. A private conversation is exposed to those in the room — with a purpose perhaps. It could help dispel earlier rumours of Altaf Hussain being gravely unwell and incoherent. Sattar ends the telephone conversation and reaffirms that Altaf Bhai is alert and well. As deputy convener of the MQM, Farooq Sattar remains the unruffled party head who keeps his cool and steers the party tactfully when the going gets tough, such as during the elections of May 2013, when senior party members were manhandled by workers of the party. Those were trying times. The PTI took on the MQM in Karachi, all guns blazing. “It was an eye-opener for the party,” and a period of reformation ensued. Candid and forthright, Farooq Sattar acknowledges his party’s shortcomings, his concern at the low turnout in the recent by-polls, and adeptly dodges queries on MQM’s alleged links with RAW and the party’s muted response on the Panama disclosures.
What were the MQM’s points of difference with Mustafa Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani? Were they sidelined by the party?
There is no political party whose members do not have disagreements. We had mostly organisational differences with them. There is a very thorough process of consultation among the members of the Central Coordination Committee (CCC). They were not sidelined. Even when Anis Qaimkhani left on long leave, he remained a member of the CCC. Mustafa Kamal was a member too. Even if some of the things that Mustafa Kamal and his colleagues are saying are right, how can you put the responsibility of every wrong done in the party on Altaf Bhai? They themselves were part of policy-making and so many day-to-day matters were in the hands of Anis Qaimkhani. At the end of the day, the discipline of the party demands that once a decision has been taken, you have to abide by it. We had differences but the duo preferred to leave at a time when the party badly needed them. Mustafa Kamal and company did not become part of the correction process in the party; they did not think that they owed anything to the party.
What is your response to the allegations levelled by Sarfaraz Merchant that the party has links with RAW and receives funding from India?
These are mere allegations. An atmosphere is being created, by default or by design, to discredit political parties. To this date, no case has been taken to court and no supposed RAW agent has been caught from within our party. In Pakistan, a vacuum is being created. Along with conducting a media trial, continuous attempts are being made to discredit political parties, one after the other, by hurling accusations at them. However, some of the leaders, too, must take the blame for discrediting their own parties. Nawaz Sharif was placed in a better position. However, after the Panama Leaks, his conduct, too, has become questionable. While the MQM has made mistakes as well, it has not committed any acts that would destabilise the country. In the last four years, we have not had any cases of encounters with the police and neither with the Rangers in the last 15 years. Our policy is to volunteer arrest if there are any raids on our premises. We have not committed any acts of violence, yet we are mostly in the dock. We are like an unwanted legitimate child.
Some people claim that Mustafa Kamal and company are backed by the establishment. Is there any truth to that rumour?
My suspicion is fast turning into belief. It is not that they bring dissidents in army trucks. Their strategy is more sophisticated and calculated now, unlike the one they adopted in 1992. There were no private channels back then and the media was not too free either. Moreover, people believed the state media when they said that the MQM had torture cells. This time the modus operandi is different. When our workers assemble for political purposes, they are taken away. More than 100 new workers have been arrested in a month’s time. The number of raids has shot up since March, which is not a coincidence; it is intended to send a clear message: ban all your political activities. This creates an environment of fear and intimidation. It tells workers that if you’re looking for safety then leave Azizabad and move to Khayaban-e-Seher. Almost all MPAs and MNAs have been approached by unknown callers. And now a Senator also says that a brigadier and a major general tried to convince him to leave the MQM.
Will Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sar Zameen party cause any dent in the MQM?
They will not be able to cause even the minutest dent in the MQM. I question the political acumen and maturity of the man behind Pak Sar Zameen. Mustafa and his colleagues used the term ‘Firoun’ for Altaf Bhai at least five to 10 times at one press conference. We don’t use that word even for our worst enemy. This won’t earn them any sympathy from the MQM supporters’ base either. Further, how can a political party call for a ban on another party simply by accusing them of being anti-Pakistan? They should prove their allegations in a court of law. Also, within the first month of his party’s formation, Mustafa says he might leave [the country] if the MQM is not banned. Why would people follow him if they sense that he could walk out any time.
The MQM is passing through tough times. Is there any soul-searching within the party and a plan to rectify the wrongs?
The 2013 elections were an eye-opener for us and taught us many lessons that we cannot afford to ignore. We have to look into whether any members are misusing their authority or the name of the party. So the soul-searching began in May 2013, after the elections. However, it was not possible to take any action immediately because Bhai was still in a state of shock and not happy with the results, particularly the way PTI took advantage of the situation. If Bhai said something in a state of shock, our job was to put things back in order. We reformed half the party in three years and it showed in the 2015 election results. We got the mandate and PTI did not. Those were testing times for us.
Is it true that the establishment doesn’t want Wasim Akhtar as the mayor of Karachi. Why is that so?
Wasim Akhtar is the need of the hour. We cannot afford to have young blood and a fresh face at this point in time. A junior person will not be able to take a stand. Whether the Establishment approves of his election as mayor or not, will be the final litmus test of the major political parties’ concern for democracy in Pakistan. The Election Commission of Pakistan has said it will hold the elections in two months. Why not in one week? There’s a reason for this delay. If provincial governments don’t play a role, it will be established that if local governments in Pakistan are to be given any powers, it will only be courtesy the army. [Incidentally], if the Supreme Court hadn’t ordered the holding of the local bodies elections, they would never have been held.
Will Mustafa Kamal succeed in making any headway with the Mohajirs and other ethnicities?
Whatever services Mustafa Kamal rendered for Karachi are now part of history and cannot be erased. However, his programme offers nothing to the Mohajirs. The party manifesto that he has revealed so far, talks about nationalism, not regionalism. How will he bring about any national integration unless the discriminatory laws in the constitution are removed? If you go to Balochistan, they will tell you that nationalism may work in Lahore, but not here. You cannot impose nationalism till the sense of alienation [in a province] is not removed. Mustafa’s success story should be attributed to the able leadership of Altaf Hussain, to the unity among the MQM voters and supporters, and the 104 Nazims who were with him. So it was a team effort.
MQM tried to reinvent itself and become a national party, but failed. What were the reasons behind this failure?
We took off as an ethnic regional party and I am not ashamed to admit it. But despite being ethnic, we did not spread venom against other ethnicities. The Punjabis and Pakhtuns of Karachi know that the MQM is not trying to banish them from Karachi. We have one Punjabi MPA, two Punjabi Senators, one Pakhtun Senator, and a Hazara, a Baloch and a Sindhi MPA. We have covered all ethnicities. Yes, I do acknowledge that we have made mistakes. It was not good politics to hop in and out of coalition governments. It was bad policy, but we had our reasons for doing that. However, it didn’t go down too well with the people.
Whatever happened to your Clean Karachi Campaign?
Whenever we are handed over power, we will deliver on cleanliness, and give Karachi a proper sanitary system. It is a matter of putting 540 good valve-men and pumping station operators and keeping a watch on them. We will solve the chronic water problems of this city and provide a just and equitable distribution system to the people. That way one can avoid misunderstandings and riots over water shortages. We have started holding meetings regarding this in the National Assembly, the Senate and the local assemblies. When we approached the government to let us use their vehicles to collect garbage from the city, 70 vehicles of the KMC were hidden at an empty space behind the Dolmen Mall so we wouldn’t be able to access them. We said that your vans make trips every day, we will put additional fuel in them so that they can make three rounds per day quickly and clean up Karachi. But they refused to facilitate us. We, on our part, cannot afford to rent so many vehicles in six districts.
Has the MQM named a successor to Altaf Hussain?
A nine-member supreme council has been named already. It includes Nadeem Nusrat from London, myself, Rauf Siddiqui, Farogh Naseem, Kanwar Naveed, Babar Ghauri, and three women including Nasrin Jalil, Kishwer Zehra and Khushbakht Shujaat. The last mentioned is not a hardcore member of the party; she is a lateral entry and was chosen by Altaf Hussain. This council is intended to run the party in a clean and democratic manner and allow for many minds to take political decisions. These nine people will take over the party and choose their leader.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order