LONDON, May 14: The British media is wondering why Mr Altaf Hussain, a British citizen is being allowed by the UK government to run Karachi affairs, and that too through violent means.
“He has no plans to return to Pakistan,” said Daily Telegraph on Monday in a piece titled ‘Running Karachi from London’.
When the newspaper asked why Mr Hussain was not deported to Pakistan before he was granted citizenship, a British diplomat said: “He has not committed a crime on British soil.”
The newspaper said supporters of Mr Hussain, 53, whose Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) is allied to President (General) Pervez Musharraf’s government, were accused of playing a bloody part in clashes with opposition supporters.
“The man in-charge of Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, was at his usual command-and-control post at the weekend: a sofa in north London.
“As his fiefdom descended into brutal violence, with the deaths of at least 40 people reported amid the worst political bloodshed Pakistan has witnessed in years, Altaf Hussain directed his followers by telephone from a safe place, more than 5,000 miles away.
“His headquarters, or ‘international secretariat’, is not in the Pakistani port city but housed in a red-brick office block opposite a supermarket on Edgeware High Street,” the newspaper report continued. The newspaper quoted him as saying that he had called for peace.
“But as tens of thousands of his followers sat cross-legged in reverential silence as they listened to their leader’s telephonic address relayed by loudspeakers, in another street armed MQM activists fired directly into the crowds of opposition protesters.
“Mr Hussain has lived in Britain since arriving in 1992 for a ‘kidney operation’. He has since become a British citizen, while his party governs five cities and the populous Sindh province.
“Mr Hussain, who spent part of Sunday speaking on the telephone to Gen Musharraf, warned Pakistan’s leader not to make any deals with exiled leaders, such as his rival Miss Bhutto, that would see the military ruler resign from the army,” it added
“The situation in South Asia does not allow (General) Musharraf to take off his uniform, for without it he will have no power at all. Because of activities ... in Afghanistan as well as our own country, the Taliban (influence) is growing very strong,” Mr Hussain told the Daily Telegraph.
“He is doing his level best to fight these groups. (General) Musharraf is a very brave man. Only he can prevent the Talibanisation of Pakistan,” asserted Altaf in the interview.
“Unlike former prime ministers Nawaz Sharif and Miss Bhutto, Mr Hussain is an exile whose party has consolidated its grip. But Karachi remains tense.
“His political addresses by telephone have been known to last up to four hours, while a Western diplomat in Pakistan described the MQM as ‘something out of Chicago – nobody leaves the party’.
“While Mr Hussain promotes the party as a ‘secular’ cause and courts the middle-class vote, his supporters are known to extort a goonda tax from Karachi businesses.
“Mr Hussain, who once drove a taxi in Chicago for a living, micro-manages the MQM with acute attention to detail.
In the same newspaper another report titled ‘Violence as Musharraf’s power fades’ said in the (Karachi) city’s Jinnah Hospital yesterday, Adil Bashir, 23, was recovering from three bullet wounds after narrowly escaping a street execution.
“He said he had not taken part in the rally but was rounded up by armed, teenage MQM activists along with four others. He alleged that he and others were lined up against a wall before being sprayed with automatic gunfire. He and one other survived.
“The actions of the MQM may have been not so much a sign of support for the eight-year rule of Gen Musharraf, but a demonstration of its own power in what could be the first round of a new turf war in Karachi.
“Gen Musharraf’s options are becoming more and more limited as he struggles to have himself re-elected and to continue as army chief.
“His bargaining position for striking a possible power-sharing deal with the PPP leader, Benazir Bhutto, appears to be growing weaker.”