Fight for Survival
MQM has fallen on hard times and its very survival is at stake.
The journey has been long - 23 years precisely. The pilots are also different. First it was Brig. Asif Haroon of the Pakistan Army. Now it is Owen Bennett-Jones of BBC-2.
It was in mid-1992 when the army launched Operation Clean Up (a.k.a. Blue Fox) against MQM, during Mian Nawaz Sharif’s first coming, that Brigadier Asif Haroon went public with the claim that the party was planning to break away from Pakistan and form a new state by the name of Jinnahpur.
Amazingly, however, he did not take any local media person into confidence but invited journalists from the Punjab to break the news. He held out a map of the alleged new state at which his guests looked with wide-jawed amazement. The brigadier claimed that the map of the proposed break-away state and other documents had been recovered from the MQM’s offices.
But on October 19, 1992, the media carried an ISPR press release, conveying the Army’s denial of the knowledge of the “Jinnahpur”Jinnahpur plan. The ISPR denied that the Army had any evidence concerning the so-called Plan. It also denounced the newspaper stories in that context as baseless and asserted that the Army had neither handed over to the government any document or map as reported, nor was it in the possession of any evidence regarding the alleged “Jinnahpur Plan.”
Seventeen years after the incident, the conscience of Brigadier (R) Imtiaz Billa and General (R) Naseer Akhtar who had played a pivotal role in the
1992 operation suddenly woke up and they confessed in a television programme that “Jinnahpur was nothing but a drama against the MQM,” adding the military had not found any maps.
Yet, far from making amends and tendering an apology to MQM, no one raised an eyebrow at Brig. Haroon for creating the Jinnahpur stunt exclusively before Punjab journalists, to the exclusion of the local media. Nor did the army institute any inquiry about the source of the Jinnahpur map which Haroon had displayed and take any disciplinary action against the errant brigadier for his malicious propaganda against the MQM.
At that time, as well, the army had made every effort to dismantle and destroy the Mohajir (now Muttaheda) Qaumi Movement. It had lured away a few of the party’s office bearers and sponsored a new party under the name of MQM (Haqiqi). The supporters of the original MQM were jailed in large numbers and many of them killed. Homes were raided and floors were dug up to recover imaginary caches of arms. As a result, the party convener Altaf Hussain went into self-exile in London.
This time, during the third coming of Mian Nawaz Sharif, the MQM is again in the eye of the storm. The operation is being conducted by the paramilitary rangers, with the army’s fullest backing. The end-game seems the same as before: breaking up the party or, at least, forcing Altaf Hussain out.
The Rangers claim they are acting indiscriminately against all lawless elements. But the MQM complains that the operation is “MQM-specific,” because its workers are being detained at random. The detained ones are seldom, if ever, brought before the courts. According to MQM sources, some of its workers have even disappeared. Meanwhile, Dawn has reported that since September 2013, when the Rangers started their operation, they arrested 10,353 suspects out of whom they have so far handed over 4,953 to the police. There is no information about the fate of the rest, nor of any further action with regard to those handed over to the police.
Altaf Hussain’s public addresses by telephone have been blocked. MQM workers who approach people for zakat and fitra donations are being hauled up. Even the party’s HQ at the famous Nine Zero has been raided. Yet, the morale of Altaf Hussain’s supporters remains unshaken as evident from the result of the by-election for NA-246, shortly after the raid on Nine Zero, when the MQM candidate routed his rival PTI candidate. At this juncture, as if to inject a heavy dose of adrenaline into the campaign against MQM, the BBC has taken a plunge with a special report alleging a nexus between the MQM and the Indian spy agency, RAW.
The BBC claimed it learnt from an authoritative Pakistani source that “officials in Pakistan's MQM party have told the UK authorities they received Indian government funds and that India has trained hundreds of MQM militants over the last 10 years. Taking the cue, some Pakistani TV channels aired a document purporting to be the statement of one MQM office-bearer, Tariq Mir, made before the London police. The statement alleges that the “MQM had been receiving funds from the Indian government since 1994 with only four top leaders kept in the loop.”
But, BBC Urdu reported that London Metropolitan Police denied that “a purported confession statement by Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Tariq Mir was an official document which had been leaked.“It quoted the Metropolitan Police spokesman, Alan Crockford as confirming that, “after reviewing the purported testimony carefully it was found that they were not official documents of record.”
Even otherwise, the authenticity of the document that was aired, appeared suspect, because, except the portions relating to MQM receiving funds from India, it was entirely blacked out.
Yet, it did not deter sections of the media from carrying further fantastic stories about the MQM-RAW connection. One report alleged that MQM cadres traveled from Pakistan to Bangkok. From there they went to the RAW training centre at Daryaganj in Delhi and after due training, returned home by the same route. But, what skills they were taught remains unknown because so far no MQM worker has given any demonstration of what he learned. Meanwhile, Indian authorities have dismissed all these allegations with contempt and ridicule, because, RAW is Pakistan’s traditional whipping boy.
However, Balochistan home minister, Sarfaraz Bugti, has given the clarion call to ban the MQM. Others were advising the MQM to go to the court to wash off the stain from its image, instead of seeking proof of the allegations against the party and treating it as innocent until its guilt was proved. But, MQM did not go to any court when Brig. Haroon made extremely defamatory charges against it. It just waited patiently till the clouds were blown away. That is what it seems to be doing now: bide the time.
The issue as to why the army remains dead bent upon uprooting the MQM, needs the attention of political analysts, particularly because the latter openly supports the army. For example, MQM was the only political party that took out a rally in support of Operation Zarb-e-Azb.
In certain quarters there is talk about letting the MQM function minus Altaf Hussain. But that is a fantasy. Altaf Hussain is the man who instilled dignity and self-esteem among the poorer and middle class sections of the Muhajirs. He gave them a distinct identity. Therefore, Altaf Hussain cannot be separated from the party. He has several times offered to retire but his followers would have none of it. He has also warned that any attempt to use force to remove him might have ugly consequences. Mr. Hussain is facing other problems as well - being a suspect in a money laundering case in London. But that has nothing to do with the MQM as a political party.
However, what remains to be seen is whether MQM will survive the present onslaught as it did the earlier one.
The end-game seems the same as before: breaking up the party or, at least, forcing Altaf Husain out.