A DECADE after estranged MQM leader Imran Farooq was brutally bludgeoned to death in a quiet London neighbourhood, an antiterrorism court in Islamabad on Thursday sentenced three men to life in jail for the murder. Moreover, the court ruled that Muttahida supremo Altaf Hussain ordered the murder of the man once considered to be a close confidant of the party’s founder. Though the case had been weakened by a delayed investigation, the decision is important as it has established in a court of law what many had suspected for decades: that behind the veneer of politics, Mr Hussain was running the MQM as a criminal organisation, particularly showing no mercy to internal dissent. In the mid-1990s, Azeem Ahmed Tariq, chairman of the MQM, was mysteriously murdered. His killers have yet to be found, though it is widely believed he was neutralised because he posed a potential challenge to Mr Hussain’s leadership. Imran Farooq also had a reputation for ruthlessness and was at one time considered the MQM’s key ideologue, before he drifted away from Altaf and was reportedly considering forming his own political set-up.
The conviction also provides an unenviable denouement of the MQM story. At one time, the united Muttahida ruled over Karachi and the rest of urban Sindh with an iron fist. Altaf Hussain was the uncrowned king of Karachi, with the nation’s leading political parties, its establishment, as well as foreign forces wooing him and his party for their respective purposes. Its violent tactics were overlooked — such as during the May 12, 2007, riots — while it could shut down Pakistan’s economic heart within minutes on the flimsiest of pretexts. And along with brooking no internal dissent, political opponents and members of the media also suffered if they dared to criticise Altaf ‘bhai’ and his party. However, things started to change in 2015, when the Rangers raided Nine Zero, the party’s Karachi headquarters, while the final nail in the coffin came when Mr Hussain made an ill-advised speech in August 2016 in which he attacked the country itself. At this point, the powers that be had decided that enough was enough, and that Mr Hussain and his party had outlived their usefulness. In the aftermath of this controversial speech, the party was split into the loyalist London and mainstream Pakistan factions, the latter disavowing any links to the party founder.
There are lessons in MQM’s rise and fall. Indeed, the party sent members of Sindh’s urban middle class to the assemblies in a political landscape that had been dominated by the landed elite and members of traditional political families. Yet its penchant for criminality and violence proved to be its undoing, and now it appears to be a spent force. There is still a vacuum in urban Sindh, but anyone wishing to fill it will need to learn from the Muttahida’s hubris.
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2020