TWENTY-FIVE years ago this month the dominance of Altaf Hussain’s Mohajir Qaumi Movement in the Sindh’s urban areas, particularly Karachi, was first challenged by a group of dissidents led by two young individuals — Afaq Ahmed and Amir Khan.
The duo along with others had developed differences with Mr Hussain and parted ways with him in late 1990. On June 19, 1992 they returned to Karachi under the full protection of the military establishment with only one objective: to close the chapter of Mr Hussain, who by then already left for the United Kingdom.
At that time, the MQM was not transformed into the present-day Muttahida Qaumi Movement and, therefore, the dissidents named their party the Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Haqiqi with Mr Ahmed as its chairman and Mr Khan its secretary general.
Today, a quarter century later, Mr Ahmed is struggling for his political survival, while his second-in-command Khan has long mended his ways with Mr Hussain and, after ditching him following his Aug 22 controversial speech, now holds the second most important office — the senior deputy convener – of the Muttahida’s coordination committee after convener Dr Farooq Sattar.
The emergence of a breakaway faction 25 years ago coincided with the launch of the army-led Operation Clean-up against Mr Hussain’s MQM. The MQM-Haqiqi was allowed to have so much control of Landhi, Korangi, Malir, Shah Faisal Colony, Lines Area and parts of Liaquatabad that its rival termed these Haqiqi’s strongholds ‘No-go areas’. Although the party lacked public support, which was evident with the results of three general elections in 1993, 1997 and 2002, its ‘control’ over the abovementioned areas remained firm for 10 years.
Mr Ahmed never left the politics of ethnicity and always talked specifically about the rights of the Mohajir community even when his nemesis changed the name of his party from the Mohajir Qaumi Movement to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to target people of other ethnic origins all over Pakistan.
But by the end of 2002, the party went out of favour with the establishment as then military dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf needed the support of Mr Hussain to stop Pakistan Peoples Party from forming its government in Sindh. As soon as a deal struck between Mr Hussain and the then military establishment, a crackdown was launched on the MQM-H.
As a result, the party’s Bait-ul-Hamza headquarters in Landhi was demolished in 2003; Mr Ahmed along with other leaders went underground and later in 2004 arrested only to spend next seven years in prison. By the time he got released in late 2011 the party he founded was already split.
Observers noticed that after being released from prison, Mr Ahmed, who had never expressed any remorse on parting ways with the Muttahida founder, chose not to indulge himself in the politics of confrontation anymore. Although he was on very good terms with then home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza, it was his deliberate decision to not join the Karachi City Alliance (KCA) formed in April 2012 against the Muttahida under the chairmanship of the chief of Peoples Amn Committee, Uzair Baloch, and comprising around two dozen parties and groups. A source close to Mr Ahmed said the MQM-H chief flatly refused Dr Mirza when the latter insisted him to come to an event hosted by Uzair. “He told him [Mirza] he would never shake hand with a person who had blood of innocent Mohajirs on his hands.” However, his detractors said Mr Afaq did not join the KCA or meet Uzair as he was smart enough to figure out even a minor handshake with the “gangster” would be political suicide for him.
Later in 2013 and 2015, his party went into the general and local government elections without making an alliance or having seat adjustments with any other “likeminded” party. It did not win a single seat.
People close to him said Mr Ahmed was no more the establishment’s blue-eyed boy as he had been defying the establishment ever since he came out of prison. They said he made it clear to them that he would face consequences but would not take dictation.
Though his stance against the MQM founder has not changed, he has adopted a conciliatory approach towards his nemesis. In May 2016 when Mr Hussain was still leading the Muttahida Qaumi Movement from London, he extended an olive branch to the MQM as he expressed willingness to pay a visit to the Nine Zero headquarters for the sake of Mohajirs.
Mr Ahmed has been very vocal against what he described at various forums as “dry-cleaning” of political activists via Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP). Insiders said he was asked to put an end to his Mohajir politics to follow in the footsteps of the PSP. However, he made it clear to the powers that be that he would not abandon the Mohajir identity. This did not go well and later one of his two vice chairmen quit the party and joined the PSP. Yet Mr Ahmed, who is known for his stubbornness, did not budge.
Despite opposition, he went to organise a public meeting for women in one of its traditional strongholds, RCD Ground in Malir, to show that he can mobilise even a good number of women for the sake of Mohajir politics.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2017