September Issue 2015
The MQM’s Boomerang
On August 12, amid accusations of alleged foreign links, speculation about frictions developing within the party, and questions about the political future of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) decided to employ a new stratagem: its legislators resigned from both the National and Sindh Assemblies. The move engendered some back and forth negotiations, with the JUI’s Maulana Fazlur Rehman personally flying to Karachi to ‘convince’ the MQM to reconsider, as the Speaker of the House agreed to accept the resignations if he was convinced there was no duress on the MQM to call it quits.
While the MQM remains a formidable political entity in urban Sindh vis a vis its electoral strength, conspicuously lacking after the party’s newest line of action was the public reaction usually associated with every move it makes. If anything, the response was muted.
Interviews with party supremo, Altaf Hussain following the resignations, showed him feigning a relative casualness, even some mirth, and an unabashed ‘what is all the fuss about?’ demeanour.
He maintained he was open to negotiations, and unequivocally declared that he had no plans to quit the MQM leadership, and also that there was no divide within party ranks.
In an interview with Newsline, Amin-ul-Haq, a former parliamentarian and member of MQM’s coordination committee, reiterated his chief’s stance and categorically stated that any attempts to deprive the MQM of its founder and leader Altaf Hussain would not be tolerated. He also maintained that the across-the-board resignations of party legislators have clearly demonstrated that there are no schisms in party ranks.
Said Haq, “There are attempts to revive the discredited MQM-Haqiqi faction, but the people of Karachi understand that this is an attempt to initiate another brutal operation against the community by pitting Mohajir against Mohajir. Such moves were unsuccessful in the past, and they will be resisted in the days to come.”
Amin-ul-Haq, who had quit the party in 1992 and rejoined it in 2009, after living abroad for 16 years, is now heading the information department at the MQM headquarters. He claims he possesses the lists of those 40 deceased party workers who, he maintains, have been killed extra-judicially since the law-enforcement agencies’ operation was launched in September 2013, and all the details of the 50-plus missing party workers.
“Family members of the missing workers come to the party head office and rebuke us for doing nothing for getting them back. When their corpses surface, we have to muster the courage to face their parents, wives and kids,” he said.
On August 10, the body of Muhammad Hashim, an MQM worker, was recovered from Jamshoro. The bullet-riddled body was dumped there and buried by the Edhi foundation. Identified later, his remains were subsequently brought to his home in Liaquatabad.
“Hashim was a member of the MQM’s Liaquatabad unit and was part of the photography team that covered party events. He was arrested by the Rangers on May 6 on his way home from the party headquarters, and moved to an undisclosed location. Since then, his whereabouts were not known. His family filed a petition in the High Court against his abduction, and on July 28 the court asked the Police to register an FIR about his disappearance,” disclosed a member of the MQM information department.
When Hashim’s body was recovered, the MQM announced a strike call on August 11, but took it back when the Director General (DG) Rangers, Major General Bilal Akbar, announced that the incident would be investigated. It was the first time any Rangers official had responded to the recovery of a corpse allegedly linked to action by their personnel.
MQM lawmakers raised the issue on the Assembly floor and staged a protest against Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah in the Sindh Assembly.
In an interview with Newsline, head of the MQM fact-finding committee, Shakir Ali, talked about how party workers were plucked from their homes and party offices and incarcerated in distant police stations so they could not be easily located and the culpable Station Head Officers (SHOs) are not questioned about such breaches of citizens’ rights. Furthermore, he maintained, many party workers had been killed, their bodies dumped in remote areas, and when found, marks of the terrible torture inflicted on them were still visible. He cited one such incident: the corpse of Sohail, who was in charge of the MQM’s society unit, was dumped in Baldia Town on January 28. He had gone missing in December last year.
The MQM is not the only group that has expressed concern over the high-handedness and unlawful practices of the law-enforcement agencies. The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) too has asked for transparency in the law-enforcement agencies’ operation, and criticised the move to have FIRs registered against individuals purely for listening to Altaf Hussain’s speech criticising the armed forces.
A JUI-F official from District West lauded the MQM for raising its voice on behalf of its workers. He was even critical of his own leadership and other parties who, he said, only come to the public during elections, but do not stand with the people when they are on the receiving side of the law-enforcers’ brutality. He maintained “I don’t like the MQM, but at least it has the courage to raise its voice for party workers, even for these who have been detained for links to criminal activities. The MQM are not the only victims of the Rangers and police high-handedness. Baloch and Pashtun people are also routinely picked up on suspicion of links to the Peoples Aman Committee (PAC) and the Taliban. Hardly anyone raises a voice for them.”
Ejaz, a 14-year-old Pashtun boy who was working with a dentist, was picked up along with two brothers of deceased MQM worker, Ashraf Orakzai, and implicated in cases of alleged target killings on behalf of the MQM.
“The only reason for implicating him is the failure of Ejaz’s family members to pay the amount of Rs. 200,000 demanded by the low level officials of the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD)”, contended a resident of Farid Colony.
He added, “Initially they had demanded Rs 30,000, but the demand was raised to 200,000 when a CTD Officer, Usman Bajwa, referred to the arrest in a press conference, and the news was reported in the media.”
Meanwhile, JUI-F Chief, Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s mediation trip to the MQM headquarters, Nine Zero, and his support of the MQM’s demand of the government to constitute a monitoring committee, was not received well within his own party ranks. Rashid Mehmood Soomro, JUI-F Sindh general secretary and the son of a deceased party stalwart from Larkana, resigned from the party in protest, but Rehman was clearly not deterred, continuing to woo the MQM.
JUI-F enjoys support in some Pashtun localities of Karachi, as well as in a few conservative religious circles among other ethnicities. But it has to compete against the Awami National Party (ANP), the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) and the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), all of whom have voiced their antipathy for what they maintain is MQM’s dubious role in the country’s politics. Now these parties are likely to attack the JUI-F as well for being sympathetic to the MQM. Apparently unconcerned, the Maulana called on Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on August 19 and put the MQM’s explicit and implicit demands to him. These included, among others, that the MQM sector and unit officials be given permission to collect donations and sacrificial animal hides on the eve of Eid ul Azha. However, chances are the DG Rangers and Corps Commander, Karachi, on the frontline of the offensive in Karachi, are unlikely to approve this demand and the prime minister has to follow suit.
The MQM’s demand for the constitution of a monitoring committee too has faced strong opposition from the Rangers and the Chief Minister, Qaim Ali Shah, as was expressed by the DG Rangers in a meeting at the Governor’s House during Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s one-day visit to Karachi.
An MQM official disclosed that after their meeting with Maulana Fazlur Rehman, the MQM expected some progress regarding their demands. They also thought the prime minister would personally go to the hospital to see MQM lawmaker Rashid Godil, who survived an assassination attempt. None of these expectations materialised. Instead, Nawaz Sharif issued a strongly-worded statement in support of the ongoing operation in Karachi, and vowed to eliminate the armed wings of all political parties.
On the media front, Nabil Gabol’s statement about the MQM itself allegedly being involved in the attack on Rashid Godil got wide coverage. But Altaf Hussain also enjoyed airtime following the media debate on the party’s resignation. Thereafter, however, PEMRA issued a directive to Geo News (which was to play Hussain’s full-length interview on August 20) from airing that interview. At least in the near future, it is unlikely that the ban on live telecasts of Altaf Hussain’s speeches will be lifted.
For his part, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan seems unaffected by the new page in government-MQM relations. In a meeting with British High Commissioner, Philip Barton, in Islamabad on August 21, he raised the issue of MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s controversial speeches against Pakistan’s security institutions. Later, he had also hinted at a legal reference being submitted against the MQM chief in the near future.
With the denotification of the National Assembly Speaker, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, in effect the final arbiter with respect to the MQM legislators’ resignations, the relative indifference demonstrated by the government and the continuing crackdown against the party, the MQM’s political future hangs in the balance. So the party is currently looking inwards and seriously debating its options. The MQM’s announcement of a focus on welfare work through the Khidmat-e-Khalq Organisation (KKF) is seen as a move to get back to the grassroots and mohallah levels to launch their campaign for the upcoming local bodies election in Sindh — which were due to be held in September, but delayed for a month, and perhaps beyond, in the wake of the floods in Sindh. And Amin-ul-Haq emphatically avers that his party representatives will contest the local bodies’ election with force and not leave the political space open for their opponents. “We know all the pressure and intimidation aimed at the MQM is part of the establishment’s desire to replace our party with parties of their choice. They don’t realise that political engineering through duress and oppression will aggravate the situation further,” he said.
He was less emphatic about what the party would decide with regard to participation in the by-elections on the constituencies left vacant after their resignations from the assemblies. Said Haq, “The party has not yet reached a decision about this. We will soon announce our strategy in this regard,” implicitly stating thereby that the entire resignation issue is still open-ended.
As for the PTI’s inroads in its constituency, he stated, “at the time of the 2013 general election the PTI did appear a formidable political alternative, thanks to generous media coverage and support from some quarters, but today it is a discredited political party with a poor performance record in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and its confrontational politics at the national level. It is not a threat at all. Just compare the results of the NA-246 by-polls with the 2013 general elections. And wait to see the outcome of the local bodies’ polls.”
Criticising the PPP for its approach towards Karachi, he referred to various projects which have been left incomplete due to a lack of funds. Proposed city-government projects, such as a hospital in Baldia Town and another in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, he said, are just two cases in point.
“The way Karachi has been abandoned by the federal and provincial government these past few years, has turned the city into a mess — one big garbage dump. The Sindh government has taken away the powers of the local bodies’ government. In Karachi, they first took away the land allocation powers from the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) and handed them to the Sindh Building Control Authority (SCBA). Now solid waste management too has been handed over to the provincial authorities,” said Haq. “The Sindh government’s only interest in Karachi is in milking the resources of the city,” he maintained.
While there can be no arguing with the PPP’s shabby treatment of Sindh while under its belt, the MQM cannot absolve itself of the travails of this province either. And while they slug it out, the citizens of this beleaguered province will just continue to suffer.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s September 2015 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order