Whither MQM — a hope has been lost?

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Ali Ashraf Khan

Only days after the dramatic events that lead to the divorce between the Pakistani part of MQM from their London managers including Altaf bhai the shock these events cause seems to give way to a fierce struggle within the party and among its supporters. The demand for a ‘minus one’ formula has been longstanding and logical. For quite some time it had become more and more clear that Altaf Hussain and the London group had lost touch with Pakistani realties and a string of wrong policies emanating from London did embarrass the Karachi leadership if not the people on the ground in Pakistan.
As a political activist I had seen PNA leadership from very close because of my political association with then PML, which was a major component party of PNA, later Malik Qasim’s untiring efforts to organize a lawyer’s movement under the banner of “Lawyers Action Committee” that ultimately led to formation of MRD against Ziaul Haq regime. At that time we saw the emergence of MQM as a hope for the people of Karachi that led to our first meeting with Altaf Hussain, after his party’s landslide victory in Karachi Local Bodies elections. The meeting took place at the residence of Mr. Tariq Javed and after that we frequently kept meeting him at his 90 residence.
During one of our such meetings that lasted for more
than 12 hours, Malik Qasim had suggested him to call his party as “Mazloom Qaumi Movement” and not Mohajir Qaumi Movement to address all mazloom segments of society of all the provinces of Pakistan that will establish your role in mainstream politics of Pakistan instead of going in isolation at any point in time. Alas! If he had just understood such an honest advise! Azeem Ahmed Tariq, Dr. Imran Farooq and Akhtar Rizvi also were present and Mr. Amin-ul-Haq who used to look after his office can also vouch for it.
The famous saying that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely was what had led to the operation against MQM in Karachi in the 90s. Already at that time their involvement in heinous crimes of extortion and murders through their street power and trained criminals was alleged. How and why it was abandoned without following the process of law to satisfy the people that it was not a vindictive operation against a particular group or party, otherwise it was presumed to be done due to political requirements of PPP and PML (N) to use them as a stepping stone to come into power?
This act of our democratic parties claiming heavy mandate was a most undemocratic act that remained unchecked in the past and now the entire political system has become unacceptable for the thinking intelligentsia in Pakistan. The murder of Imran Farooq by his own fellow colleagues and the investigation in the case of money laundering of the London MQM leadership showed that not only had they lost touch with Pakistani realties on the ground but their exiled existence on the money that poor people from Pakistan were sending them made them into a real mafia with all the characteristics of the Sicilian model: corruption arson, extortion and blackmail as well as organised and paid for murder.
Though this was well-known to the Karachi leadership and parts of it may even have been involved in this kind of business they refused to detach themselves from London fearing for the survival of the political power and influence the party had, their seats in parliament and their political influence without the ‘roaring’ support of Altaf bhai. While he had gone verbally overboard many times his Aug 22 speech turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. His anti-Pakistan outburst seemed to prove all the hints and rumours that he and parts of the MQM leadership were on the Indian pay list which was unacceptable for MQM in Pakistan because it amounted to high treason. While Altaf bhai could spread his toxic from London where the authorities obviously close their eyes on him in Pakistan such speech threatens the existence of the party. In a way Altaf was rendering a service to MQM by making divorce possible or even inevitable.
Many political enemies of MQM first and foremost the ruling PPP took this opportunity to break up the Pakistani part of the party as well. The immediate clamp-down on hundreds of MQM offices and their physical destruction within days if not hours of the fatal (or liberating) speech demonstrates the carnal joy of being able to destroy the infrastructure of the hated party. What was surprising was that it all happened seemingly without any resistance from the party workers at the local level and sympathizers. They must have been shell-shocked by such an unbelievable event. But the backlash is coming: we read about banners threatening death to enemies of Altaf and we hear about violence and burning of vehicles in several places in town. ‘Unknown men’ burnt three buses in North Nazimabad, Lee Market and Labour Square in Landhi areas. A truck was also set ablaze in Federal B Area Block 6. Thus, the old parts of MQM have assembled and are trying to save the old ways of their power.
But those old ways of power that consisted in threats and killing and extortion are (hopefully) gone. For its political survival the MQM will have to reorganise itself based on non-violent commitment of its members and sympathisers. That will take time and some stubborn party members who are unwilling or unable to change will have to be shown the door. The surgical divorce has no doubt weakened the MQM as a political force. One of the first signs of this is the loss of PS-127 in the recent by-election though it may well be that the ruling party has used its administrative power to rig these elections in the face of a weakened MQM – an act that they would not have dared a month ago.
The Sindh government had posted their own presiding officers who have been misguiding the voters. Outside the polling booths some 40 to 50 goons reportedly have been threatening the voters. The voters’ list also were either manipulated intentionally or in a poor shape out of negligence of the election commission. Many voters complaint that their names were missing from the lists. Even those whose names were there in the list, their CNIC numbers were mentioned wrong or booth numbers have been changed. Many lists were destroyed when the MQM’s camp office was twice dismantled since morning. So the elections result may or may not reflect fairly the voice of the voters of PS-127.
In any case there needs to be a new beginning of MQM because as a party it has its merits: it is the only party representing lower middle class electorate with no feudal, big business or religious ‘piri’ and mullah influence that is the dominating force in PPP for instance. Its leadership is educated middle class dedicated to the party cause. Karachi without MQM would be orphaned and this reflects the failure of political institutions and system, because the party’s that ruled in the past had not tried to win confidence of Karachites, they only tried to use the MQM strength in Assembly by blackmail and city and civic requirements were compromised through corruption.
The infrastructure of Karachi and Hyderabad cities were allowed to deteriorate and public had no say in the affairs of these cities. But there are important decisions to be made and changes to be decided. Some of the old Karachi leadership may have to go to enable the party to kick-start its new life. There is the question of how to relate to PSP and Mustafa Kamal. The reasons for his departure from the party seem to be done away with and the two parties may find a way together. But these are future dreams that have to be given time and sorting.
In any case there is hope now that the past mistakes would be put right and a new path designed for Karachi, Sindh and Pakistan. The institutional collapse in Federal government and provinces needs to be checked, merit and law and order should not be compromised for strengthening the personal fiefdom of rulers and transparency and accountability be given due place in administration of Karachi. God bless Pakistan!
—The writer is a senior columnist based in Karachi.