KARACHI: As had Zulfikar Mirza before him, Altaf Hussain also kept his party and the nation spellbound when he spoke at a press conference on Friday evening.
But Mr Hussain managed to do this without revealing explosive secrets or facts or announcing any major decisions. Instead, it was his performance that kept the audience enthralled.
He laughed, he talked, he cried and he sang — Indian songs with hand gestures and shrugs thrown in for good measure. Even when he stuck to prose, the delivery was declamatory, with words accented and stressed for dramatic effect.
There was little focus on content. Topics were touched and abandoned. History rubbed shoulders with polemic and conspiracy theories. A dash of religion was added now and then.
To add gravitas to the press conference, books and articles written by journalists and think-tanks and half-baked political analyses of little-known authors were quoted as well as shown to the audience – highlighted and marked with notes.
But their significance remained well hidden as it was difficult to follow the grand sweep of the narrator’s views.
The gist of the press conference was that Western powers were plotting the dismemberment of Pakistan, but the Muttahida had resolved to foil the design.
Repeated assurances were made to the armed forces, the Inter-Services Intelligence as well as the nation that the MQM was against conspiracies being hatched against the country.
Mr Hussain chose not to answer the serious allegations levelled by former Sindh home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza against him and his party over the past fortnight, parrying a number of questions by reporters.
He concentrated on showing documents, maps and reports from the international media to strengthen his contention that international powers were working for the break-up of Pakistan.
Although he refused to pinpoint the international powers he was referring to, an allusion left no doubt: “The country which has the biggest influence in Pakistan is behind such conspiracies”. The MQM cannot fight such powers alone, Mr Hussain added.
“There would have been no super power had the army, the ISI and the MQM got united.”
The MQM supremo accused the leadership of the Awami National Party of “misleading the Pukhtoons living in Karachi and Peshawar”.
He even went to the extent of claiming that the United States had given millions of dollars to Asfandyar Wali for contesting the 2008 general election.
He, however, said that he was the first who openly said in 1986 that Khan Ghaffar Khan was not a traitor.
The media did not emerge unscathed. Lashing out at news anchors, he said those who were unable to see dismembered bodies and torture cells were hypocrites.
Mr Hussain apologised to two television anchors whom former Karachi nazim Mustafa Kamal had termed ‘Yajuj Majooj” (Gog and Magog).
APPEAL TO HIGH-UPS Referring to the killings of Muhajirs, Mr Hussain appealed to the president, the prime minister, the army chief and the director general of the ISI to watch a video made by “criminals of Lyari Amn Committee” and try to understand why this brutality had befallen Muhajirs.. “If I were not the leader of the party I would have ventured out to the place and killed some people before sacrificing my life,” he said.
The Muttahida chief appealed to authorities concerned to arrest the killers, threatening to “unleash my workers if action is not taken”.
A large number of workers present in the press conference and outside the hall replied in the affirmative when Mr Hussain asked them whether they were ready to storm any place where Muhajirs were kept.
He said since he was facing death threats, he had called two members of his party from Pakistan to record “my will”.
In reply to a question about his potential successor, he said since the MQM was not a feudal party he had laid down a criteria for the purpose.
While the MQM chief criticised Nawaz Sharif, he termed President Asif Zardari his brother.
His reply was in the affirmative when asked whether the Pakistan People’s Party and the MQM could sit together again.
“No leniency must be shown to a criminal regardless of his party affiliation. The extortion racket should be curbed… if the PPP is ready to end such things then we would also think about going with the PPP. If they cannot do this then we will remain their friends but stay in the opposition.”
In reply to a question about a separate province for Muihajirs, he said although I cherished peaceful coexistence, “disillusioned workers could come up with any demand any time”.
But at the same time he urged Sindhis to consider him and other Urdu-speaking people as their brothers.
He alleged that the violence in Lyari had the government’s patronage and there were certain people who openly boasted that they were behind the criminals.
Altaf Hussain also clarified his position about the happenings on May 12, 2007, protesting that the MQM’s rally on that fateful day was not against Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry. “It was a conspiracy to which we were not a party.”
He claimed that both the PPP and the PML-N had maligned the Chief Justice in the charter of democracy without using his name.