Three months after the pre-dawn raid by the Rangers on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement headquarters Nine Zero, political prospects of the party appear to be bleak with the powers that be still fiercely opposed to the London-based chief.
On March 11, a heavy contingent of the paramilitary force cordoned off the Azizabad area, raided the residences of MQM chief Altaf Hussain and his sister, the MQM’s Khurshid Begum Secretariat and several other houses, arrested dozens of men, including some wanted suspects, and claimed seizure of arms, ammunition and explosives from the places.
Contrary to the common perception that the Rangers-led operation against the MQM has abated, if not ended, following its electoral triumph in the April 23 by-election on NA-246, almost all local offices of the MQM have been closed for months, its workers are being picked up by law-enforcement agencies on a daily basis and even its elected representatives — MNAs, MPAs and senators — are being routinely accosted at the airport, not only in the departure lounge but at the entrance to the airport by low-ranking officials no matter whether they are going abroad or travelling within the country.
Some leaders have been told that they cannot leave the city as they are under investigation, others have been urged to dissociate themselves from their supreme leader as “they do not know what he has done to them”.
Moreover, there is an unannounced ban on live telecast of speeches of MQM supremo Altaf Hussain.
Unaware of the exact reasons why the establishment turned its back on them, the MQM leadership is intentionally not making public such things — other than issuing statements to condemn ‘arbitrary arrests’ –– since it realises that a direct confrontation will not be in its best interest.
The MQM understands that although the powers that be do not want Mr Hussain, who also possesses British citizenship, to lead the party while sitting in his London abode, they cannot stop him from doing so as they actually do not have a clear-cut plan to have him replaced.
Many people believe that former Karachi nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, who practically left the MQM without making a formal announcement, or Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad Khan are the likely replacements of Mr Hussain. However, the MQM chief had the governor discredited when the MQM coordination committee held a press conference last month and demanded that Dr Ibad resign the office and come back to the MQM fold as a ‘worker’.
And a campaign against Mr Kamal has been going on for months in which workers and office-bearers are being told that whatever development he carried out in Karachi during his nazim days was actually the vision of Mr Hussain, and the MQM has thousands of potential Mustafa Kamals in it.
But the persistent action in Karachi and the ongoing investigations in London force Mr Hussain, who is currently on police bail till July in a money-laundering investigation, to seriously think about his own future.
Publicly, he has told his followers that he will never again say that he will quit the party leadership. But behind closed doors, he has formed a hand-picked team comprising about a dozen London- and Karachi-based MQM leaders to run the party in case of any eventuality.
Once a blue-eyed party of the establishment, the MQM now enjoys both open and tacit support of the parties ruling in Sindh and at the centre. However, it still believes that it is not the policy of any state institution to crush it as a political party.
“All democratic forces understand the importance of the MQM for the continuity of the current democratic dispensation,” says a senior MQM leader, asking not to be named. “We are a patriotic political party, which respects all institutions, but some powerful individuals are against us and labelling us as a criminal, extortionist, terrorist and anti-state group,” he says.
“Our victory in the NA-246 by-election as well as in the cantonment boards local government election further strengthened the democratic forces,” the leader says. “But we know their hands are tied and they are not able to stop the atrocities against us.”
Several MQM leaders are not sure whether they would be allowed to freely contest the upcoming local government election in the province.
“They are not allowing us to collect Zakat and Fitra for the Khidmat-i-Khalq Foundation and arresting our workers for just possessing the receipt books. I don’t know whether we will get a level-playing field in the LG election in September,” says another MQM leader
The MQM is pretty much convinced that a tougher phase for it is just around the corner and the ideal way to deal with it is to sit tight and let the wave pass over.
“From 1992 till 1996 we faced and survived worst state actions. We are ready to face another operation, which would not last too long,” the MQM leader declares.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2015