Altaf in the spotlight

Published March 5, 2016

A relatively dull news day was livened up on Thursday when former Karachi nazim Mustafa Kamal unleashed a salvo of bombastic ‘revelations’ during a news conference upon his return to the city from abroad.

Mr Kamal wasted little time in launching one devastating verbal attack after another targeted at his former leader, MQM supremo Altaf Hussain.

The emotional, high-voltage event was part-rant, part-confessional, part-political manifesto as the former nazim, along with another former top MQM man, Anis Kaimkhani, announced the launch of a new, as yet unnamed political party.

The press talk was filled with some very serious claims: that the MQM has allegedly received funds from Indian intelligence; that Mr Hussain has not been in his senses while addressing the party cadre; that the Muttahida supremo has amassed wealth and property through dubious means abroad.

A shell-shocked MQM responded with the line that this was part of a “conspiracy to divide” the party.

The former Karachi nazim’s mysterious arrival has unleashed a flood of speculation about why he has returned — and why now — and whether he was reading from a script written elsewhere.

After all, of recent the MQM has been on the wrong side of the security establishment, especially after the law-enforcement operation in Karachi picked up pace. Is Mr Kamal’s arrival another step towards implementing the ‘minus-Altaf’ formula to wean the Muttahida’s ‘non-militant’ cadre away from the London-based leader?

The establishment is believed to have engineered a split in the party in the past as well, when Afaq Ahmed broke away to form the Haqiqi.

However, today, the Haqiqi is a non-entity, while the MQM still dominates urban Sindh’s electoral landscape. Also, the alleged RAW link is an old one, often trotted out, though the state has still not proved this in court.

But what makes Thursday’s episode particularly damaging is that the allegations came from a former insider. Mustafa Kamal was no ordinary MQM worker.

He was one of the rising stars in the party, considered by many as a dynamic mayor who pushed his version of development in the Sindh capital with passion. And while at the city’s helm, he must have been privy to the MQM’s modus operandi, including its well-earned reputation for strong-arm tactics. So why the split?

While the establishment may or may not be behind this high drama, there is little doubt that internally the MQM is in a crisis.

Along with the party’s troubles with the state here, Altaf Hussain faces legal issues in the UK and is said to be in ill health.

Is the party prepared to address the serious allegations that continue to be made against it by various quarters, as well as undertake some soul-searching and dispel the image of being an organisation that tolerates violence?

The Muttahida leadership should furnish answers soon to its vote bank and to the public at large.

Published in Dawn, March 5th, 2016

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