MQM: the bat­tle within

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Zahid Hus­sain

THERE is a sense of déjà vu as cracks in the MQM's ranks widen. Some among the old guard have al­ready joined the re­bel­lion and many more are ex­pected to fol­low. It is cer­tainly the most se­ri­ous chal­lenge to the party and its self­ex­iled supremo who had con­fronted this kind of sit­u­a­tion in the past too. It, how­ever, re­mains to be seen whether the dis­si­dents suc­ceed this time in break­ing Altaf Hus­sain's stran­gle­hold over the party and de­mol­ish his per­son­al­ity cult. Such at­tempts in the past had ended in a whim­per.

Al­though dis­con­tent in the party had been ev­i­dent for some time, it was the re­turn of Mustafa Ka­mal that pre­cip­i­tated the re­volt. Once a ris­ing star of the party, the ex-Karachi mayor had left the coun­try, af­ter fall­ing out of favour with the ' great leader'. He was, per­haps, the most un­likely chal­lenger.

Mustafa Ka­mal has never been in the party's top ech­e­lon. His com­ing to the front and throw­ing down the gaunt­let has taken most ob­servers by sur­prise. His well-chore­ographed resur­fac­ing may not have been pos­si­ble with­out some back­ing from the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment, which had long been try­ing to en­gi­neer a split in the party with­out much suc­cess. Can the for­mer party whiz kid de­liver what the heavy­weights failed to in the past?

The MQM has been the en­fant ter­ri­ble of Pak­istani pol­i­tics that has seen many ups and down since the party's in­cep­tion. The party owes its ini­tial rise to some ex­tent to the sup­port of the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment. But the fear of its get­ting too pow­er­ful and its mil­i­tant wing es­tab­lish­ing a reign of ter­ror led to fre­quent crack­downs against it. Iron­i­cally, the party that has been blamed for ev­ery­thing that has gone wrong in the coun­try's big­gest city and ac­cused of hav­ing links with the In­dian in­tel­li­gence agency, RAW has re­mained part of the coun­try's power struc­ture over al­most three decades.

It was dur­ing the 1992 op­er­a­tion that the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment cre­ated the Haqqiqi fac­tion led by Afaq Ahmed and Amir Khan. But the split could never present a se­ri­ous chal­lenge to the party. The MQM sur­vived a se­ries of op­er­a­tions to bounce back and re­gain its political base in Karachi and other ur­ban towns in Sindh. Al­though it had gen­uine mass sup­port among the Urdu-speak­ing middle and lower-middle classes, it was still ac­cused of us­ing ter­ror tac­tics to sub­due any op­po­si­tion. Many of those who dared to voice dis­sent met with a vi­o­lent end.

Such has been its reign of ter­ror that most of the po­lice of­fi­cers who were in­volved in the 1995 op­er­a­tion were elim­i­nated while the party was part of the Mushar­raf govern­ment. Political ex­pe­di­ency com­pelled the se­cu­rity es­tab­lish­ment and civil­ian gov­ern­ments to ig­nore the MQM's al­leged crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties. The party is now con­fronting yet an­other op­er­a­tion that has al­legedly killed scores of its ac­tivists in the 'en­coun­ters'.

Yet the party has not lost its mass sup­port base as was ev­i­dent from its suc­cess in the re­cent lo­cal govern­ment elec­tions in Karachi, Hyderabad and some other towns in Sindh. But Altaf Hus­sain's per­sonal charisma and au­thor­ity have ap­peared to be on the wane over the past few years. He is much more vul­ner­a­ble now than ever be­fore as he faces in­ves­ti­ga­tion by Scot­land Yard in the cases of money laun­der­ing and the mur­der of Imran Fa­rooq. A BBC re­port quot­ing Bri­tish in­ves­ti­ga­tors that al­leged he was re­ceiv­ing fi­nan­cial sup­port from the In­dian govern­ment has fur­ther dam­aged his po­si­tion. The con­fes­sional state­ment by Sar­fraz Mer­chant and Tariq Mir, two of his clos­est ad­vis­ers in Lon­don give cre­dence to the re­port.

It is, there­fore, not sur­pris­ing that the dis­si­dents have tar­geted the MQM lead­ers par­tic­u­larly for al­leged In­dian con­nec­tions ques­tion­ing his al­le­giance to this coun­try. Such charges have been lev­elled against the party in the past too, but the is­sue has be­come much more se­ri­ous this time with in­sid­ers spilling the beans.

Un­like in the past, the rebels are not in­ter­ested in cre­at­ing an­other fac­tion but seek a com­plete rup­ture and plan to form a new political party the name of which is not known as yet. While Mo­ha­jir alien­ation re­mains the buzz­word the rebels also seek to broaden their ap­peal to mo­bilise sup­port among other eth­nic groups as well. It makes sense given the new multi-eth­nic re­al­ity of Karachi whose pop­u­la­tion has al­most dou­bled over the past 20 years largely be­cause of mi­gra­tion from the northwest.

In­ter­est­ingly, it seems that many of those who are im­pli­cated in se­ri­ous crim­i­nal cases would find it op­por­tunis­tic to jump on the new band­wagon to buy pro­tec­tion. Anis Kaimkhani who was the first to join Mustafa Ka­mal is named in the Bal­dia Town fac­tory ar­son case. Sim­i­larly, Wasim Aftab too has crim­i­nal cases pend­ing against him. That raises ques­tions about the rebels claim to cleanse their ranks of crim­i­nals.

It is cer­tainly a dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tion from 1992 when Altaf Hus­sain had a much stronger hold on the party and the lead­er­ship was not so de­mor­alised as it is now. Be­ing out of the coun­try for so long and re­ports of his fail­ing health have also weak­ened his grip. But it is too early to write him off com­pletely. De­spite all the pres­sures and prob­lems, the MQM's vote bank has largely re­mained in­tact.

In fact, the feel­ing of be­ing vic­timised and dis­crim­i­nated against has ral­lied the Urdu-speak­ing middle class around the MQM, de­spite their se­ri­ous reser­va­tions about Altaf Hus­sain's lead­er­ship and the party's al­leged in­volve­ment in crime and vi­o­lence. This was very much ev­i­dent in the MQM's vic­tory late last year in the NA-246 by-elec­tion with a much larger mar­gin. Mustafa Ka­mal with his clean im­age and rep­u­ta­tion as an ef­fec­tive for­mer ad­min­is­tra­tor may find ap­peal among those dis­grun­tled mid­dle­class party sup­port­ers, but it will not be easy to de­mol­ish Altaf Hus­sain's cult among the lower-middle-class loy­al­ists.

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