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Karachi remains calm despite Altaf’s arrest in London

June 12, 2019

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WHILE MQM strike calls once resulted in a complete shutdown of Karachi, as seen in this 2015 file photo, no such activity was witnessed on Tuesday in the wake of Altaf Hussain’s arrest.—White Star
WHILE MQM strike calls once resulted in a complete shutdown of Karachi, as seen in this 2015 file photo, no such activity was witnessed on Tuesday in the wake of Altaf Hussain’s arrest.—White Star

KARACHI: It was a similarly hot and humid afternoon of June 2014 when panic and fear gripped the metropolis shortly after TV channels aired news about the arrest of Altaf Hussain, the founder of then unified Muttahida Qaumi Movement, in London on suspicions of money laundering, sparking gunfire and arson attacks in different localities where more than a dozen vehicles were set on fire. But five years later, the same news hardly affected daily life in the metropolis on Tuesday.

In June 2014, Mr Hussain was arrested in connection with a money laundering investigation by the British authorities. The move had attracted a strong reaction in Karachi, where traffic system collapsed, stock market nosedived and streets of the city of over 20 million inhabitants wore a deserted look within no time.

On Tuesday morning, Mr Hussain — who has been living in self-exile for almost three decades — was taken into custody by the London Metropolitan Police in connection with an investigation into his alleged hate speeches, but there was not even a word from his former loyalists.

Analysts say the former MQM supremo retains support of lower middle class in city

‘Altaf’s support not yet over’

With so much change in the political landscape of Karachi over the past five years, political pundits and analysts believe that Mr Hussain retains his support base among the people of urban Sindh, but at the same time they hardly see any “space” for the 66-year-old leader in Pakistani politics in near future.

“There is a lower middle class in Karachi which still supports Altaf Hussain,” said Dr Jafar Ahmad, a former head of the Pakistan Study Centre at Karachi University. “They support him with all his narrative whether it’s extremist views, his diction and even his attire. He has definitely been excluded from the organisation successfully but his social support [has] not [been] erased yet.”

The reaction from the unified MQM in 2014 and now over Mr Hussain’s arrest is very much self-explanatory regarding the future of the party’s founder in Karachi politics.

By sunset on June 3, 2014, 13 vehicles were torched amid a sit-in by hundreds of workers and supporters of MQM at the Numaish traffic intersection. But today, it appears that Mr Hussain’s loyalists have turned their back on him.

But, the analysts believe that with so much “political engineering” already done by the “forces which matter the most” and split within the party during the past three years, the support among the people of urban Sindh mainly in Karachi for Mr Hussain cannot be replaced with an alternative leadership.

“It [support] would remain there and it demands substantial socioeconomic change to erase that. We should not be in the illusion that if the leadership is not on the scene, his support is over. But as far as his future in Karachi politics is concerned, I don’t see any such thing happening in the near future,” said Dr Ahmad.

Kamal vindicated?

Meanwhile, Pak Sarzameen Party chairman Mustafa Kamal held a press conference soon after Mr Hussain’s arrest.

He said: “I tried my best to convince Altaf Hussain for five consecutive years when he chose the wrong path.

“I parted ways with him to rescue the Mohajir community. Today, I am neither feeling happy nor sad over his arrest.”

PPP continues protest over Zardari’s arrest

Meanwhile, the Pakistan Peoples Party, the other major political player in Sindh, continued its protests in different parts of Karachi and in other areas of the province over the arrest of former president Asif Ali Zardari by the National Accountability Bureau.

In view of the situation, a security alert was issued in Sindh, where Pakistan Rangers and police carried out patrolling to maintain law and order.

Scores of PPP workers attended protests at Hasan Square and in Central district. Party leader Waqar Mehdi and Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani addressed the two demonstrations, respectively.

In their speeches, they termed the arrest of Mr Zardari by NAB a “biased” action and vendetta against the PPP and its leadership.

They warned that the party could paralyse the government if it was not allowed to hold peaceful protests in other parts of the country.

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2019