MQM in the dock

Is Altaf Hussain the party's most valuable asset or its worst liability?

MQM in the dock
The fiery sermons of self-exiled leader of Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) have raised an interesting question – is he the most valued asset of the party or its worst liability?

The recent trouble Altaf Hussain and his loyalists face began with the murder investigation of Dr Imran Farooq, the former deputy convenor of the party and once closest aide to Mr Hussain.

When the Metropolitan Police, which is seemingly immune to political influence, conducted the investigations they found a large cache of unaccounted for cash from the MQM residences and offices. They, simultaneously, launched money-laundering investigation.

Meanwhile, a change of government took place in Islamabad as a result of 2013 general elections and soon after the baton of military command shifted to General Raheel Sharif. With initial bumps in civil-military relations, the political and military leaderships agreed to launch decisive action against miscreants in tribal areas and the country’s economic hub, Karachi. The dastardly attack on Army Public School, Peshawar, cemented their resolve.

Apparently, Mr Hussain used to be the biggest proponent of army’s role in Karachi’s law and order affairs. He showcased his support to military actions against the militants. The MQM was instructed to hold public rallies to support the armed forces. But things changed.

A senior MQM parliamentarian looked extremely dejected when approached for comment on the latest statements by Mr Hussain. “If you ask my comment on the record, I would say Altaf Bhai has been misquoted. And whatever he said he did not mean it. He was deeply frustrated to see the extra-judicial killings of his workers.”

However, he said, he did not really understand what he wanted them to do. “We made repeated requests to Altaf Bhai to take it easy for the time being. But he turned a deaf ear to our advice. We really don’t know what’s happening in his mind,” he said.

A federal minister said the government of Pakistan wanted the British government to punish Mr Hussain on money-laundering charges.
MQM held rallies to support the armed forces

“We wish to see him sentenced on account of money-laundering. Because it would prove to some extent the involvement of (Indian) RAW in Pakistan’s internal affairs,” he explained.

He said the vibes from London indicated that British authorities might avoid digging further into the money-laundering allegations fearing a backlash from the Indian lobbies. He said the British authorities were most likely to sentence Mr Hussain in Dr Imran Farooq murder case.

Dr Farooq Sattar, a senior MQM leader, refuted the rumours of a “Minus-One Formula” being considered by some key MQM leaders. “Altaf Bhai is indispensable for MQM. We cannot imagine the party without him. Let’s not forget we survived much more difficult situations in the past,” he stated.

Meanwhile, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan announced sending a reference to the British government against Altaf Hussain. Defence Minister Khawaja Asif upped the ante saying MQM’s Rabita Committee committed treason by endorsing anti-Pakistan statements by Mr Hussain.

In a couple of addresses to his party workers and leaders, Mr Hussain invited the UN, US and NATO troops to intervene in Karachi. He also mocked at India of staying silent over what he called the massacre of Urdu speaking Pakistanis.

Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf (PTI), which has a score to settle with the MQM, has been at the forefront to capitalise on the situation. Its leader Faisal Wada handed over “evidence” against Mr Hussain to Scotland Yard, and PTI legislators moved resolutions against the MQM chief in provincial and national assemblies.

Analyst Amir Zia says the best way for Mr Hussain is to avoid further controversies. “He should preferably go into a low profile. Otherwise, the MQM would implode into different factions,” he said.

Mr Hussain is a very popular leader, and for most members of the party, leaving MQM is not an option. Nabeel Gabol is the only example of his kind in the recent past. But he had not been in the party for long.

Mustafa Kamal left the party and never came back. Babar Ghauri is said to have left Pakistan with the intent of not returning any time soon. Same is the case with Khushbakht Shujaat. Haider Abbas Rizvi is maintaining a low profile. Several MQM MPAs are trying hard to stay away from party activities. Rabita Committee members do not trust each other.

The only person who can save the MQM from imploding is none other than Mr Hussain himself. How and when would he play such a role is the million-dollar question.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @OldPakistan_