MQM’s quandary

Is the worst yet to come?

MQM’s quandary
Altaf Hussain’s recent controversial comments about the army have incurred a severe reaction from the General Headquarters.

After allegations by a senior senior police officer in Karachi, Rao Anwar, that Indian intelligence agency RAW was training his party’s activists, the MQM leader lost his cool.

“He was emotional and got carried away,” a veteran MQM leader says. “He did not want to ridicule the armed forces, but whatever he said was a sorry chapter of this country’s history.”

Altaf Hussain retracted his statement soon after and tendered an apology. The political leadership rallied behind the armed forces and cursed him for defaming the soldiers. The people who used to ask questions about the role of the armed forces in the Fall of Dhaka were also castigating the MQM chief.

The military spokesman called the remarks “disgusting and unacceptable.” He said defaming the armed forces would not be tolerated. The military was especially offended by his statement that MQM workers must take military training for an hour every day and be prepared to defend themselves.

The breathing space the MQM was enjoying after their NA-246 victory proved short-lived. They were under the impression that their victory in the by-election would frustrate the moves of their adversaries. They were wrong on two counts.

Firstly, the victory in NA-246 was not surprising. Losing elections in Azizabad would mean the extinction of the party, which maintains a love-hate relationship with the people of Karachi for three decades. Assuming that winning back their most secure seat would offer permanent cure instead of temporary consolation was a wrong approach to begin with.

Secondly, despite their long experience dealing with every major and minor stakeholder in Pakistani politics, the MQM leaders failed to understand that they cannot take on state institutions with people’s mandate alone.
The respite after their NA-246 victory proved short-lived

Its adversaries argue that the MQM was created by the establishment to diminish the popularity of the People’s Party in urban Sindh during the dark era of Gen Zia. MQM leaders have always denied that allegation. After Gen Zia, the MQM colluded with successive governments to have its share in power. The party re-energized itself during the Gen Musharraf regime and got several thousands criminals cases against it quashed under the National Reconciliation Ordinance.

They were often accused of extortion and killing, but the recent, more serious allegations of connections with foreign intelligence agencies have raised new concerns. The Sindh government has no clue who authorized Rao Anwar to produce the alleged RAW agents before the media and demand a ban on MQM. Only a few top People’s Party leaders had been privy to the development.

Senior party leaders have advised Altaf Hussain to lay low and avoid making any further provocative statements. Facing too much heat from almost every quarter, they fear the party would suffer an irreparable damage if things do not get back to normal. The MQM leadership thinks this is a phase that will eventually pass, just like the operation against the party in 1992. “We have faced worse situations, and we have always stood vindicated,” said Farooq Sattar. “Take Jinnah Pur for example. The MQM came out clean against all previous allegations. We will succeed this time too.” But some say the party is underestimating the situation, and the worst is yet to come.

Shahzad Raza is an Islamabad-based journalist

Twitter: @shahzadrez