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Karachi’s political re-engineering

Karachi’s political re-engineering

His near-demonic hold over his followers may have loosened and an internal party coup has apparently dethroned him from leadership. Yet it is premature to write off Altaf Hussain whose name has been synonymous with the very existence of the MQM. From his base in London, he still maintains contact with his supporters in Pakistan and across the world.

Altaf Hussain may have been wounded but he has certainly survived any detonating of the ‘suicide vest’ as others describe it. It appears obvious that what happened on Aug 22 was part of an organised plan that boomeranged. The party leadership in Pakistan may have dissociated itself from him and removed his name from the party constitution as the supreme leader whose decision could not be challenged. But it is extremely difficult to destroy the cult that has been built around his personality for the past three decades

One fully empathises with Farooq Sattar who is walking a tightrope. Unsurprisingly, he dare not make a complete rupture and denounce his former leader publicly for his act of treason, for fear of breaking unity among the Muttahida leadership in Pakistan. There is also a fear of backlash from the militant wing that is directly controlled from London and that still pledges loyalty to the supreme leader, though it has been crippled by the ongoing operation.

Examine: Confronting MQM’s past

Interestingly, Altaf Hussain too has kept silent over the internal party revolt that claims to have stripped him of his undisputed authority reinforcing suspicion about a mutually agreed separation short of a divorce. It is, indeed, surprising that the entire Pakistani leadership overnight turned against their supreme leader whom they had defended even against the charges of an Indian connection. So what is the deal?

Many believe that while the party organisation in Pakistan would be allowed to operate independently, the London office would continue to control the overseas branches. They would maintain an aggressive stance to internationalise the issue of the alleged extra-judicial killing of MQM workers and their enforced disappearances. Altaf Hussain’s latest harangue through telephonic addresses to MQM workers in America and South Africa lends credence to these theories.

This arrangement was, perhaps, necessary to ensure the success of the party’s candidate for city mayor in the elections held a few days later. Waseem Akhtar, who was nominated with the approval of Altaf Hussain months ago, swept the polls easily with not a single MQM vote wasted. Any reaction from London against the decision of the Pakistan-based committee would have divided the party which could have caused it to lose control of the city government.

By separating the Karachi and London committees, the MQM has apparently escaped the possibility of being banned. Almost all the major political parties are opposed to any move that could lead to the disintegration of the party into splinters thus strengthening militancy.

For sure, the ongoing Rangers operation in Karachi has crippled the party’s militant wing and contained its capacity to bring the city to a halt as it did frequently in the past. But the party is still deeply entrenched in the city and its vote bank has remained intact as demonstrated in the local government polls and various by-elections.

The creation of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) led by Mustafa Kamal may have made some dents in the MQM but it has failed to make much of an impact on the city’s politics largely because of the perception of it being sponsored by the security establishment as part of a plan to re-engineer Karachi’s politics. The latest crisis in the MQM may result in PSP support for some more defectors, but there is little possibility of it making any inroads into the hard-core Urdu-speaking vote bank. Such political manipulations by the security agencies have failed in the past too.

In fact, the Rangers’ revenge action following Aug 22 has played into Altaf Hussain’s politics of victimhood so cleverly exploited by him in the past. Sealing and bulldozing MQM offices without legal sanction will certainly strengthen the hard-liners in the party. The spectacle of Farooq Sattar being dragged out of the Karachi Press Club by uniformed officers and forcibly taken to the Rangers headquarters is hard to rationalise.

Read: Key MQM leaders rounded up, party offices sealed, bulldozed

Similarly, the case of Asif Hasnain raises questions about the role of the security agencies in forcing defections. The MQM MNA from Landhi who was reportedly picked up by Rangers joined the PSP soon after his release. What has led to his sudden awakening of his conscience is anyone’s guess. The involvement of security agencies in political manipulation in Karachi invariably had the opposite effect.

For sure, there have been growing sentiments among senior members of the Pakistan-based leadership committee against Altaf Hussain and the coterie around him in London particularly after the murder of Imran Farooq and the money-laundering investigation against him by Scotland Yard. Most of them privately admit that Altaf Hussain had become a liability with his deteriorating mental condition. His long harangue came as an embarrassment for saner elements. The Aug 22 incident provided a trigger for an open revolt. But it is not easy for the rebels to cut off the umbilical cord that has joined them to the party for so long.

One major concern is that the disintegration of the MQM may further disenfranchise the city and the Urdu-speaking community in particular. The gap cannot be filled by any party sponsored by the security agencies. Such experiments have failed in the past and cannot work now.

Karachi’s complex problems cannot be resolved through political re-engineering. True, the security agencies must be commended for containing violence and crime in the city and the law must be enforced without discrimination. But involvement in political manipulation could further complicate the situation. Banning the party for the crime of one or a few persons among the leadership is not the solution. Altaf Hussain must be held accountable for his deeds, but questioning the patriotism of the entire party is despicable.

The writer is an author and journalist.

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Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2016

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