Altaf Hussain's arrest: Final nail in his political career?

"The British government seems to have finally acted on Pakistan’s complaints."
Updated Jun 12, 2019 11:25am

Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder Altaf Hussain — who went into exile in the early 1990s — was arrested in London earlier this morning.

Although it did not name Hussain in its statement, London's Metropolitan Police said it had arrested a man in his 60s "on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences contrary to Section 44 of the Serious Crime Act 2007," and "in connection with an investigation into a number of speeches made by an individual associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in Pakistan."

Prism talked to experts about the timing and consequences of the MQM-London leader's arrest, his influence on the MQM and Karachi's politics today and a legal perspective on the arrest.

"The end of whatever is called MQM-London"

—Zahid Hussain, senior journalist

I think it was long expected and finally the British government seems to have acted on Pakistan’s complaints. After Altaf Hussain made that infamous speech in 2016, his support base in Pakistan eroded and his comments provided an excuse to the security agencies to crack down on his supporters.

His party is already divided and most of the members have already left him. So as far as his political clout is concerned, it had already diminished and I think this arrest — whether he’s convicted or not — will be the final nail in his political career.

This is the end of whatever is called MQM-London group, but it's still to be seen what happens now.

I will not say who benefits from this, because we already saw in the last elections that the MQM — whatever was left of it and its dissident group — was hardly able to win a significant number of seats. It also depends on how the MQM-Pakistan, which already separated itself from Altaf Hussain, will be able to reorganise itself.

If it can’t, then it’ll open the door for other political parties, and that’s something we saw in the general elections; out of the blue, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) won most of the seats from Karachi.

In the past, Pakistan lost some claims with the British authorities, but Altaf's arrest is certainly a signal that the British government is taking Pakistan’s complaints much more seriously now.

It’s also a sign of a changing global political environment: decreasing tolerance for money laundering and anything related to terrorism or provoking people to resort to violence.

I don’t know whether Pakistan has complained about anyone else, but there are some elements of Baloch separatist groups based in London, and that’s one of the things Pakistan has always wanted: for the United Kingdom to extradite them, or at least expel them from Britain. But let’s see whether there is any progress on that.

"Increasing cooperation between both governments"

—Asad Rahim Khan, lawyer

There is no extradition agreement between Pakistan and the United Kingdom, but Section 194 of the UK Extradition Act, 2003, provides that special arrangements may be made for certain individuals.

This means that Pakistan’s government requests a citizen’s extradition from the British soil on a case-to-case basis. The request is, in turn, evaluated by UK's home secretary, who is allowed great discretion in arriving at any decision.

That said, we are seeing increasing cooperation between both governments, as was made clear when the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding last month regarding the extradition of Pakistan’s ex-finance minister over charges of money-laundering.

This also implies that the British government’s perspective of Pakistan’s human rights situation has improved, which has often been — irony aside — a bone of contention for Britain.

Per the London Metropolitan Police, Altaf Hussain has been arrested "on suspicion of intentionally encouraging or assisting offences" under the UK's Serious Crime Act, 2007, though the statement also explicitly mentions Hussain's speech of August 2016, and that the department investigating him is the Met's Counter Terrorism Command.

What remains to be seen is whether the case will be widened during the course of investigation, as well as factor in the rest of Pakistan's many charges.

"Altaf loyalists caught between a rock and a hard place"

—Ali Arqam, Karachi-based journalist and researcher.

In the short term, I don’t see any implications for the MQM as two of its breakaway factions have either dissociated themselves from Altaf Hussain, such as the MQM-P, or have taken an anti-Altaf Hussain line, like the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP).

Altaf Hussain loyalists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Most of them have either joined the PSP to save their skins, or they keep a low profile to avoid arrests. It's unlikely that the situation will be favourable for them.

In the long run, there is disillusionment among the MQM's support base. The low voter turnout during the last elections was a win-win situation for the MQM-London and new contenders, the PTI.

For the MQM-London, the low turnout was an indicator that people have endorsed their call for boycott, while the PTI emerged as the beneficiary as it secured maximum number of seats, both at the centre and in the province. The PSP was totally rejected by voters, while the MQM-P was punished for its poor performance on the local government front.

At the moment, Altaf's arrest has strengthened the PTI's stance. The MQM-P, on the other hand, may find itself in a difficult position: either they speak out against the treatment meted to Altaf, or remain silent.

"The timing of the arrest is certainly interesting"

– Zoha Waseem, PhD, King’s College London

I don't foresee the different fragments of the MQM aggressively reacting to this — they cannot. It is also unclear at the moment whether or not a bail application for Altaf Hussain will be granted and whether the UK authorities are satisfied with the evidence that the Pakistan's Federal Investigation Agency aims to present.

In the long term, the MQM groups will certainly have difficulties in getting their house in order. Structurally, they have been broken, and the new generation doesnt appear to have the same allegiance to the party as the old cadre. It's really about who is going to occupy the local political space ceded by the MQM(s). The Tehreek-i-Labbaik Pakistan may no longer be able to break vote banks and the PTI has little visibility in the city currently.

So while this arrest may not necessarily trigger chaos given that the Rangers are still operating under the framework of the Karachi operation, it might encourage relevant stakeholders to start strategising for the long run.

Altaf's influence has diminished over the past few years. This was obviously one of the major goals of the Karachi operation, but he also did himself and the MQM no favours by not listening to those around him and delivering those speeches, that too in such a heavily securitised environment. I believe at the moment his influence is limited to his loyalists who are only able to pass on his messages behind closed doors.

The timing is certainly interesting and the back-to-back series of arrests indicate a possibly coordinated effort by the state to over-police political opposition and dissent in Pakistan. The government and its patrons will claim this as another victory in their "war against corruption".

This is not to vindicate any individual who has been involved in corruption, but it strengthens this triangular relationship between anti-corruption, national security and patriotism in Pakistan which can be problematic in the long run.

Illustration by Rajaa Moini


The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (50) Closed

Ghani K
Jun 11, 2019 06:25pm
Let me remind you, readers he is the same Altaf Hussain who wrote an infamous letter to Tony Blair, ex-PM UK, "Give me a 5 days notice I can shut down Karachi".Gone are those days, Brits don't need his services anymore. Altaf Hussain is a spent cartridge.
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Iftikhar Khan
Jun 11, 2019 06:26pm
What a waste he has made of himself and his city. After getting the power to potentially do so much....
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Jun 11, 2019 06:57pm
If we take a random sample within any part of the country, it will be same ratio of good and bad individuals. So thinking beyond being prejudice each of us should correct ourselves and show real patriotism to be a true loving and caring "Pakistani" which is very rare for sure and almost all of us are very selfish and self centered. Correction starts from within ourselves instead fingre pointing and blaming.
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Uza Syed
Jun 11, 2019 07:35pm
Last nail in the coffin of his political career is a bit hackneyed and stale phrase now since his political career has been buried already a while ago. For those who think that the government in the UK is ever going to extradite him are wrong because they do not extradite anyone whose life is threatened and Altaf Husain is definitely a dead man as soo as he is sent to Pakistan. Don’t we all know that all his political nemesis here are braying for his blood in the name of justice.
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Ali S
Jun 11, 2019 07:41pm
MQM-P still has the local government of Karachi. If it has an iota of commonsense now it will completely dissociate itself from this nutcase in London and seek the PTI's support to empower its local government to serve Karachiiites.
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Jun 11, 2019 07:52pm
@SA, Very well said, SA. Thank you!
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Jun 11, 2019 08:54pm
Wishful thinking, Altaf bhai is a lion and will roar again soon.
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M. Emad
Jun 11, 2019 09:27pm
The inception and rise of the powerful 'Altal Hussain phenomenon' --- a mixture of politics and crime --- is an unifying force for Pakistan's Urdu-speaking Muhajir community in Urban Sindh and was born out of political under-representation for a long time. However, now it seems that Mr. Altaf Hussain has failed to solve those political problems and left his followers in a worse situation.
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Jun 11, 2019 09:27pm
@Ghani K, Baseless lie. Did you read a letter?
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Jun 11, 2019 09:38pm
This is a routine thing. Altaf is a British Asset. He will be out soon. He will never be handed over to Pakistan for any investigation. No matter how strong evidences given for his involvement.
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Jun 11, 2019 09:38pm
@Ghani K, Not to mention a bloated one!!
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Jun 11, 2019 09:39pm
@ExMohajirinUK, If hes not dead with all his health issues!
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Jun 11, 2019 10:27pm
The end of so called MQM London
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waleed Karachi
Jun 11, 2019 10:42pm
Altaf Bhai will release
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Jun 11, 2019 11:29pm
@ExMohajirinUK, You must be mistaking a hyena for a lion.
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Riaz Uddin
Jun 12, 2019 12:03am
Altaf Hussain on the reaquest of Pakistan govt was taken into.cutody for questioning for a brief interlude. He is back on the assurance of attending questioning session as and when required..Mr. Altaf is British national The British govt is investigating into serious allegation Pakistan govt levelled against him of its own. He can not be extradited to Pakistan even he is proved guilty.
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Ather Lodi
Jun 12, 2019 12:47am
He has destroyed this peaceful and fun loving city of Karachi. He could have done so much but his intentions were never sincere.
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S A Khan
Jun 12, 2019 01:36am
Arrest of Altaf Hussain, Zardari is good beginning for the country. UK police is independent of political influence of the political criminality of Pakistan
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Jun 12, 2019 05:33am
Gangsters have political careers? Awesome...
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Efaz Siddiqi
Jun 12, 2019 06:17am
Time will reveal everything. Wish full thinking!!!
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Jun 12, 2019 06:49am
Once upon a time had a strangle hold on Karachi,never again, now deserted by his blind Followers.
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Jun 12, 2019 06:51am
I’m from Karachi Urdu speaking non jamati, the damage he did for us, no one in the country can even get close what he did. G
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Jun 12, 2019 07:09am
What a waste of immense talent
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Jun 12, 2019 07:12am
@ExMohajirinUK, pipe dream
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Farouq Omaro
Jun 12, 2019 08:13am
They can lock him up, but his struggle will continue
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imtiaz faruqui
Jun 12, 2019 08:36am
The best he laugh who laugh last. Do not be so sure. ALTAF HUSSAIN is a man of 9-lives.
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Jun 12, 2019 09:36am
It is dirty politics, so long as he hold political influence in Pakistan, nothing will happen to him, they will keep him for some use in future--- he career and life will finish when he no more hold any influence in Pakistan.
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Aslam cheema
Jun 12, 2019 10:20am
@ExMohajirinUK, roar for what? fake speeches
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Chingez Khan
Jun 12, 2019 10:38am
Shame on you Altaf.
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Chingez Khan
Jun 12, 2019 10:40am
@ExMohajirinUK, keep dreaming ;)
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Dr Yousuf
Jun 12, 2019 10:56am
He is no longer useable for them now as he has no influence here whatsoever. This is also an eye opener for others. In past my city and country suffered a lot. They used to shut down everything even a mosquito bites anyone of them. Who doesn't knew he had links? But still due to criminal lethargy of our past rulers and the better interests of the British government he was free till yet. All kudos to the PM who has done it again. Ishaq Daar is next. Long live Pakistan.
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mazhar memon
Jun 12, 2019 11:41am
If MQM london perishes that will open up further opportunities for powers to be to manage politics in sindh via karachi, not good for sindh but who cares for it, dissenting voices are always suppressed and marginalized.
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Jun 12, 2019 11:43am
@ExMohajirinUK, that's quite an over fed lion you have there!
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Jun 12, 2019 12:21pm
Altaf Hussain even cannot come to Pakistan. How can he affect the politics of Pakistan now. Not a chance.
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Jun 12, 2019 12:43pm
Considering health conditions , govt undertaking a massive medical bill on their hands ... not bad to get free medical for AH .... political career???? Was there still one?
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Jun 12, 2019 12:43pm
Final nail in his political career, well I still believe that I'd today media was fully independent and AH was given 10 min of airtime then the person writing this article would have chew their words.
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Jun 12, 2019 01:06pm
I hope better days will come to Karachi after he gets what he did to this city and it’s people,
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Jun 12, 2019 01:08pm
Altaf Husain has done NOTHING to the welfare and position of the people migrated after partition to Sindh. He has sent his youngster followers to India for training against Pakistan. He is arrested at a suitable time when all other likes are in the jail.
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Jun 12, 2019 01:14pm
I remember being asked for “chanda” by one of his “die hard party worker” while leaving my bus at lucky star. I had just the fare in my pocket and nothing else. Not to mention thousands of those robbed from their mobile phones, “ Qurbani ki Khalain”, motor cycles, land etc, the proceeds which went to London in the form of “charity”.
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Ronald Koeman
Jun 12, 2019 01:30pm
Never write off bhai. He'll be back. Future Pakistan PM.
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Ghani K
Jun 12, 2019 01:31pm
@Truth , It is n't baseless lie. The letter was released under the freedom of information act, UK government was forced to release it ,the letter was sent to Tony Blair
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Asif jamil
Jun 12, 2019 01:31pm
@ExMohajirinUK, Brother you seem to be a mindless traitor. Just listen to some of Althaf’s speeches. Also, he speaks like a madman who is out of control. I too am in the UK and was born in British India.
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Jun 12, 2019 01:31pm
@Uza Syed, you are under influence of stablishment Narrative.
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Expat (usa)
Jun 12, 2019 01:43pm
Credit goes to Army Rangers for putting final nail in his political career and an end his gibberish speeches every TV network in Karachi was forced to broadcast.
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Jun 12, 2019 01:51pm
Dear Dawn authority,its very inappropiate of Dawn not accepting my comments.
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Jun 12, 2019 01:53pm
Altaf will rise :)
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Jun 12, 2019 02:52pm
Gangsters have political careers? Interesting.
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Jun 12, 2019 04:00pm
Very sad news indeed.
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Jun 12, 2019 05:57pm
Mr. Hussain will never be extradited, England will not do it.
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Zoraiz Zafar
Jun 12, 2019 07:53pm
Nonetheless, it is Qureshi's first diplomatic success across his two terms as Foreign Minister.
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