August Issue 2015
The MQM’s Last Hurrah?
At a seeming loss for ideas for the first time in his life, MQM chief Altaf Hussain looks determined to bring down everyone in his orbit — be it his allies, adversaries and even the political party he has been running with an iron fist for the last three decades.
After Pemra placed an embargo on live TV coverage of his speeches two months ago, the only audience for Altaf’s telephone addresses have been diehard members of the MQM. But his recent fulmination against Director General Rangers, Major General Bilal Akbar, went viral on social media, leading to the registration of FIRs against Altaf in cities across the country.
Included in the FIR registered with Gadap Town Police Station were the names of 24 party activists and 150 unidentified individuals for the crime of listening to Altaf’s allegedly offensive speech. This led to a Rangers’ raid on Nine Zero — the MQM headquarters — in the early hours of July 16. Two members of MQM’s Rabita Committee, Qamar Mansoor and Kaiful Warah, were detained for facilitating others who heard the speech. Warah was later released, but Mansoor was handed over to the Rangers by an anti-terrorism court on a 90-day remand to investigate allegations of facilitating hate speech.
A restaurant owned by Syed Ali Raza Abidi, an outspoken MQM MNA, was also raided by the Rangers who claimed to have arrested alleged target killers from there. Party stalwarts said Abidi had been targeted because of his social media campaigns in favour of the party and his diatribes against its adversaries.
A news report by Dawn, while quoting Abdul Rasheed Godil, MQM’s deputy parliamentary leader in the National Assembly, claimed that he and four other MQM MNAs had gone into hiding to avoid arrest. The others were parliamentary leaders Dr Farooq Sattar, Salman Mujahid Baloch, Mohammed Rehan Hashmi and Kishwar Zehra. The MQM later denied the claim in a press release. According to some party officials, another senior member of the MQM, Haider Abbas Rizvi, has been asked not to visit party headquarters as he may be arrested in cases of sectarian killings.
Altaf Hussain, meanwhile, believes MQM party representatives have failed to present the MQM’s stance, defend its position and raise their voice against the alleged brutalities committed against workers by the law-enforcement agencies. This time too, as in the past, Altaf Hussain suspended members of the party’s coordination committee, only to reappoint the same to their posts, or add a few new faces. But this time, he went a step further by establishing a ‘World Mohajir Congress,’ comprising community elders from across the world, to highlight state repression. He has also urged party officials to take their case to the UN and international human rights organisations.
This is not the first time the MQM has engaged in such a stand-off with security institutions. Nor are the charges levelled against the party anything new. What is different this time is the pressure the MQM is facing in the UK, where money laundering investigations and the probe into the murder of senior party leader, Dr Imran Farooq, are ongoing. Added to this is the report from the BBC alleging that the MQM was receiving funds from the Indian intelligence agency, RAW.
Apart from the infamous operations of the 1990s, the MQM had also faced a crackdown during the early days of Musharraf’s regime, when Altaf was critical of the army takeover and complained that the MQM had been pushed to the wall. In January 2000, he accused intelligence agencies of conspiring against Mohajirs and said that the government was promising to take action against those police officials who were involved in extra-judicial killings in the past, even as it was conferring awards on those very officials.And as he had done many times in the past, Altaf threatened to launch an armed struggle and seek support from a neighbouring country if the killings of Mohajirs did not stop.
Going by these old statements of his, none of Altaf’s recent remarks are surprising. This time, however, he does not have Dr Imran Farooq by his side to reassure everyone that the MQM will stick only to political activism and not embrace violence.
In the past, the MQM has always bounced back from its time in the wilderness, as it did in 2002 when it won most of the national and provincial assembly seats from Karachi and even joined Musharraf’s government.
What makes the situation so different today is the evidence of friction within the MQM’s ranks. A report by the online news agency hinted at a split within the MQM, saying a small faction would support Altaf, some may join Afaq Ahmed’s Haqiqi faction while the rest would drift towards Musharraf. Interestingly, Musharraf has used his frequent media platforms to urge restraint against the MQM and Altaf.
A further problem is that for the first time in over two decades, the MQM faces a credible democratic opponent too. In the last general elections, the PTI emerged as the second largest party in the city in terms of total vote count and it stands to benefit from the MQM’s woes. No longer can the party claim the metropolis as its sole domain.
Apparently out of sheer desperation, Altaf once again criticised party officials in a late-night speech on July 23, ordered all party offices be closed down and said he had dissolved the party. Predictably, he took back the action soon after, supposedly after pleas from party workers.
So what is in the offing for the MQM? Desperation is visible in the upper ranks of the party when they speak privately, but the lower ranks and diehard supporters maintain hope that the party will re-emerge and fight back against its enemies at the ballot box during the upcoming local government elections.
This article was originally published in Newsline’s August 2015 issue.
Ali Arqam main domain is Karachi: Its politics, security and law and order