Fight for Sur­vival

MQM has fallen on hard times and its very sur­vival is at stake.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By S.G. Ji­la­nee

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.

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