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MQM in throes of power struggle

Updated August 24, 2016
MUTTAHIDA leader Dr Farooq Sattar addresses a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.—White Star
MUTTAHIDA leader Dr Farooq Sattar addresses a press conference at the Karachi Press Club on Tuesday.—White Star

KARACHI: A day after Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain’s diatribe against the country, the Pakistan-based leadership of the party on Tuesday distanced itself from his comments and decided to strip him of organisational powers for an indefinite period.

Mr Hussain has been running the day-to-day organisational affairs of the party over phone from the confines of his palatial London residence and the international secretariat for a long time, although he does not hold any office in the MQM, which is a political party registered with the Election Commission of Pakistan in the name of Dr Farooq Sattar.

Without condemning or criticising the MQM supremo, senior leader Dr Sattar, who was arrested on Monday night by Rangers and relea­sed on Tuesday, announced at a news conference at the Karachi Press Club that the party’s leadership in the country would solely run the show with full authority.


•Sattar disowns Altaf’s remarks •London-based leader says Altaf to continue endorsing decisions


“We have decided that [from now on] all decisions will be taken by the MQM-Pakis­tan,” he said. “If there’s ano­ther MQM which believes in Pakistan-bashing, then let us know so we can form an­­other party or take a new flag.”

While three leaders of the MQM — MNA Kanwar Na­ve­ed Jameel, Shahid Pasha and Qamar Mansoor — were arrested and remanded in police custody by an antiterrorism court, the release of Dr Sattar, Khawaja Izhar-ul-Hasan and Aamir Khan from Rangers custody lent credence to reports that the establishment was still not done with the MQM, as it wanted to implement what is known as the ‘minus-one formula’.

Sources said Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad remained busy the whole night between Monday and Tuesday persuading the powers that be — as well as influential Pakistan- and London-based leaders — to allow the MQM to carry on its political activities in Karachi. The sources said Mr Hussain’s apology came following Dr Ibad’s nightlong efforts. However, it is not clear whether he directly spoke to Mr Hussain or not.

Before holding the press conference and soon after getting released from Rangers custody, Dr Sattar spoke to party leaders, lawmakers, including some of those who were abroad, as well as the London-based members of the coordination committee, and communicated his decision to disown Mr Hussain’s statement and take over the MQM.

He got support from everyone, including most members of the MQM international secretariat.

Though not articulated in so many words, the message given by Dr Sattar along with Nasreen Jalil, Khawaja Izhar, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui and other leaders at the press conference was loud and clear: Mr Hussain will not be allowed, at least for the time being, to address a gathering of his followers in the same way he did on Monday.

“I want to assure the citizens of Pakistan that we won’t allow anyone to repeat what was said on Aug 22. We will also ensure that no matter the health or mental condition in which our Quaid speaks, we won’t let such a statement be repeated again,” said Dr Sattar at the press conference.

“Don’t suspect my integrity as a Pakistani. I speak for the workers and supporters of the MQM who should not be suspected of having anti-Pakistan sentiments.”

But he stopped short of condemning Mr Hussain, whom he referred to as MQM Quaid and Altaf Bhai throughout his press conference, when he said the MQM politically and legally defended his earlier statements but this “can’t be justified, as there’s no justification for making anti-Pakistan statements irrespective of emotional or mental stress”.

He went on to say that the MQM activists were well aware of the “ridicule” the workers had to go through because of “certain statements which are made through the MQM’s platform and we want to control the damage”.

Referring to Mr Hussain’s apology about raising anti-Pakistan slogans because he was under “immense mental stress”, he said: “If mental stress is at the core of Monday’s statement, then we have decided to address the issue itself.”

He categorically rejected the impression that he disowned Mr Hussain’s statement because of some “dictation”.

“We wanted to hold this press conference last night, but the way we were deprived of our democratic right is deplorable,” he said, referring to his arrest by the Rangers.

When asked whether he was trying to soften or justify Mr Hussain’s statement, Dr Sattar said: “All I’m saying is that from now onwards, decisions will be made in Pakistan. This message is for the London office as well as for Pakistan office-bearers; something which the Quaid won’t disagree with.”

He also apologised to the Karachi Union of Journalists, as well as the media houses that came under attack on Monday, for whatever happened and said that he firmly believed that those involved in the incident were not MQM workers.

Later in the evening, a gathering of elected union committee chairmen and vice chairman of the MQM was held in a community hall in PIB Colony, which has been made the temporary headquarters of the MQM, where Dr Sattar vowed that MQM candidates for mayor and deputy mayor of Karachi, Hyderabad and Mirpurkhas would emerge victorious in Wednesday’s elections.

However, Dr Sattar’s press conference was termed ‘eyewash’ by Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Syed Mustafa Kamal. He asked what was the guarantee that MQM chief Hussain would not influence the decisions of the MQM-Pakistan. “Has a ban been imposed on phone calls of Altaf Hussain? Will Farooq Sattar not take the phone call when he [Hussain] calls him?”

The damaging statement of Mr Hussain continued to cast a shadow on the MQM, as Dr Aamir Liaquat, who was present at the press conference, announced parting ways with the MQM on a live TV programme later in the evening.

In a choked voice and raising long live Pakistan slogans, he said that after being arrested from his office on Monday night he felt himself all alone. He said there was a lot of confusion even in the mind of Dr Sattar.

At the same TV show, London-based MQM leader Wasay Jalil said Dr Sattar had said nothing unusual in his press conference. “I am very clear, Altaf Bhai is my leader and he will continue to endorse the decision of the coordination committee,” he added.

It is worth remembering that it is not the first time that Mr Hussain has been practically sidelined by the Pakistan-based MQM leadership. In Dec 1992, Mr Hussain announced retirement from politics in favour of then MQM chairman Azeem Ahmed Tariq. However, about three months later, he became active again, formed a coordination committee and appointed the late Ishtiaq Azhar its convener. The Nine-Zero headquarters were opened again by Mr Azhar and later on Mr Tariq was assassinated in his Federal B Area home on May 1, 1993.

Published in Dawn, August 24th, 2016