April Issue 2016
“The recent fissures within the MQM could harm its organizational strength.” Zia ur Rahman
Is the emergence of Mustafa Kamal a repeat of the attempt to splinter the MQM in the ’90s — a Haqiqi part two?
It does not appear to be so. Unlike Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan in 1992, Mustafa Kamal and his entourage are looking to change the leadership within the MQM. It is for this reason that they have mainly been criticising Altaf Hussain and not the other leaders.
What are the similarities and differences between what is happening now and what happened during the ’90s?
There are many differences. In the 1990s, there was a full-fledged military operation code-named ‘Operation Clean Up’ conducted against the MQM after some MQM men were found to be involved in the abduction and torture of a serving army official. Meanwhile, two founding members of the MQM — Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan — formed a dissident group, the MQM-Haqiqi, which gained strength from the operation. At that time, a number of the party’s key district heads and sitting MNAs and MPAs had joined the MQM-H, bringing the neighbourboods of Landhi, Malir, Shah Faisal Colony, Lines Areas, and some pockets in Liaquatabad and New Karachi under their complete influence. Organisationally, the MQM had no presence in these areas, so they became no-go areas for them until 2003. Hundreds of workers from both sides were killed in violent armed clashes.
Now the situation in Karachi is totally different, especially after the Rangers-led ‘targeted’ operation began in September 2013 in the city. The latest operation, unlike the 1992 one, is mainly an intelligence-based operation, with information coming from within the MQM. According to the MQM’s own statistics, the number of its members who have been killed in the ongoing operation is less than 100. Most of its workers, who were arrested during the operation, have been released or granted bail. The number of its ‘missing’ members is around 300.
Do you think there will be more ruptures in the party and its vote bank?
It is premature to conjecture at this stage. Although the MQM’s vote bank and support on the streets is still intact, as indicated by the results of the recent local government polls and the NA-246 by-election, the ongoing operation has weakened the party’s ‘muscle’ group, following the arrest of members of the party’s armed group, which compelled them to go underground. For now, the strategy seems to be working. Earlier, the MQM had the ability to shut down the city within minutes. But now, when the MQM-H men, taking advantage of the operation, returned to their constituencies such as Landhi and the Lines Area, contested the polls and hoisted party flags on the main roundabouts, the MQM men could not stop them.
Similarly, leaders such as Mustafa Kamal, Anis Qaimkhani and others returned to the city after seeing the changing situation of the city. They are sure that, at least this time round, their lives will be safe.
The party’s organisational structure and its vote bank are two different things. I do not see the MQM losing its vote bank easily, especially among the lower-middle class Mohajir community. However, the recent fissures within the party could harm its organisational structure.
At the organisational level, Qaimkhani, who served as the party’s convener and ran its militant wing, has a certain measure of influence among the party’s sectors and units — the party’s original organisational grid which supervises the local activities of the party and is directly connected to the party’s key leadership. The Rabita Committee is, in fact, the public face of the party. It is believed that Qaimkhani could woo those who are in charge of some MQM sectors and units by persuading them to move away from the party’s militant past.
Do you think Afaq and his group could also benefit from this turn of events?
No. They have really weakened after 2003 when the MQM, under the Musharraf regime, was part of the federal and provincial governments, and used the state machinery to take control of the Haqiqi-dominated areas in the city. Several of its key leaders, including Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan, were arrested in the following years, and Haqiqi activists and their families were forced to leave the area. Then a split occurred within the MQM-H, after differences developed between Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan while they were in prison, leading to violent clashes between their supporters in Sherpao Colony, a Pashtun neighbourhood where most of their displaced workers were living with their families. Later, Aamir Khan and his colleagues rejoined the MQM in May 2011.
How do you view the future of the MQM and what impact will the current state of affairs and how they develop, have on the people of Karachi?
Again, I will say it is premature to predict anything at this stage. After a number of key leaders abandoned the party, the media reported that several key leaders, including the party’s parliamentary and deputy parliamentary leaders in the Sindh Assembly, had left the country. One thing is very clear. This time, unlike at the time of the emergence of the Haqiqi, we did not see any violent clashes between the two groups, at least not so far, which is a good sign for the residents of Karachi.
Has Mustafa Kamal been propped up by the security establishment, as is being alleged?
There is a common perception that Mustafa Kamal has been propped up by the security establishment, which has been exploiting the internal crisis within the MQM and supporting Mustafa Kamal and his team.
Will he be able to deliver what the Haqiqi couldn’t?
Since March 3, Mustafa Kamal and his colleagues have confined their activities to Kamal House in the DHA. Contrary to Kamal’s claims, he could not bring any member of the current Rabita Committee into his party’s fold nor did he start any party activities in the city, especially in the Mohajir-populated neighbourhoods. Incidentally, even Haqiqi has become irrelevant in today’s political arena. A Rangers-led targeted operation will not allow Kamal’s party to use ‘force,’ like the MQM and the Haqiqi did in the 1990s.
It is widely perceived that with the Rangers operation against the MQM in progress, there is a danger that all the party’s criminals will take refuge in Mustafa Kamal’s party. Do you agree?
Yes. It seems that Qaimkhani, who has served as the MQM’s key figure in dealing with the party’s original organisational grid, including the sectors and units that supervise the daily and local activities of the party, could try to woo those incharge of some of these sectors and units by persuading them to move away from their militant past by assuring that they would get amnesty from the government.
The MQM has survived many operations and splits within its ranks. Will it survive them this time too?
Yes. It will survive them this time round too. The MQM’s vote bank and support base at the street level in the low-income Mohajir communities are still intact. And this is mainly because of their round-the-clock activities at the neighbourhood level. Also, instead of tackling their rivals through violent means [as they did earlier], the MQM has changed its strategy and is using ‘soft’ techniques such as organising public rallies and running a city clean-up campaign, to consolidate its support base on the ground.
This interview was originally published in Newsline’s April 2016 issue.
Farieha Aziz is a Karachi-based journalist and teacher. She joined Newsline in 2007, rising to assistant editor. Farieha was awarded the APNS award for Best Investigative Report (Business/Economic) for the year 2007-2008. She is a co-founder and Director at Bolo Bhi, an advocacy forum of Digital Rights.