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The native set to return?

Imran Farooq’s murder, money-laundering charges and departure of some key leaders from the party... Critics link Altaf Hussain’s quest for a Pakistani passport with these developments

The native set to return?

Whether the Quaid of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Altaf Hussain, ends his long self-exile and returns to Pakistan remains a million dollar question, but he will certainly get his Pakistani passport in the next couple of weeks. This however may not end the crisis within the party which has deepened over the years with the departure of some of its key players.

“MQM could have been part of the federal government and an ally of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) had Altaf Hussain not made a hostile speech on May 19, 2013 where he criticised Nawaz Sharif,” said an MQM source. According to him, Sharif was about to get in touch with Hussain.

Hussain’s allegedly anti-Punjabi rhetoric made Sharif withhold that phone call. The situation did improve afterwards and both sides decided to respect each other. MQM demanded a level playing field and an assurance that no operation would be launched against the party.

MQM, since its birth in 1984, has faced major crises. The latest ones include Dr Zulfiqar Mirza’s onslaught against it during the PPP government in 2010, the murder of Dr Imran Farooq and the money laundering inquiry (both in London), the post-May 11, 2013 election scenario in which the party suffered political losses for which some members of Rabita Committee were blamed and finally the departure of the key leaders like Mustafa Kamal, Anis Qaimkhani and Saleem Shahzad.

The party is confident it would survive these crises, especially the one that emerged after Imran Farooq’s murder despite the report that two MQM workers are in the custody of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency for alleged involvement in the murder. MQM has denied its role in the murder and stated that it would welcome any investigation.

Critics of the party believe he wants to leave Britain due to some pending inquires including the investigation into the murder of Dr Imran Farooq.

So far there is no ban on Altaf Hussain’s travel. His name appeared only when his office was raided and thousands of pounds were recovered last year from there. Other than that he is not named in any inquiry.

The party is confident it would survive the crises…despite the report that two MQM workers are in the custody of Pakistan’s premier intelligence agency for alleged involvement in the murder of Imran Farooq.

Last week, I asked one of the close aides of Hussain as to why he wanted to revive his Pakistani nationality, which of course is his legal right, now? He said he is a Pakistani who has devoted his life to his country and his community. But is he planning to return, I asked. “No, the party has not taken a decision yet,” he said.

MQM legislators created a stir in the parliament this week over the government’s delay over issuance of a new Pakistani passport to Hussain. Altaf Hussain had surrendered his nationality a few years back and opted for British nationality.

“There is no bar, whatsoever, from British authorities over his travel. After Altaf Bhai gets the passport he can come whenever he wants, after consultation,” the source said. He did indicate that Hussain wants to return and during the government of former President, (retd) Gen. Pervez Musharraf, the party almost agreed on a brief visit for a week or two but then it was deferred for security reasons. Now they say they have learnt their lesson from Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.

Altaf Hussain does not follow a politics of legacy and the party claims it does not award tickets to family members. Yet MQM has had to confront serious problems which have deepened in the last few years. It was in the 2013 general elections that differences within the party surfaced. Despite denial from the leadership, it is clear that all is not well.

The question is what really went wrong? Is Altaf Hussain really disappointed with the party’s central command over its handling of the situation or is it the party leadership which is concerned about his health?

MQM leaders were disappointed with Hussain’s outburst against them on May 19, 2013. Some believe that they were humiliated at the hands of the workers despite the fact that the party retained its seats. “We should have celebrated the victory, instead we faced criticism,” said one leader on condition of anonymity.

Later, two strong party leaders — Syed Mustafa Kamal, the charismatic face in the party, and Anis Qaimkhani — quit the party. The most recent one to leave was Saleem Shahzad who, like Imran Farooq, was also among the founders. Even Dr Farooq Sattar was replaced as MQM parliamentary leader citing “some personal reasons”.

So the present party leadership comprises both old and new guards. Former chairman of its student wing, All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, who stood like a rock in the party in the worst of crises, is now the convener. Veterans Ahmad Saleem Siddiqui, Tariq Javed and Kishwar Zehra are also in the party since its early days of APMSO in the late 1970s.

Aamir Khan’s return did cause concern in the party because of his and Afaq Ahmad’s ‘controversial role’ in the 1992 and 1994 operations. However, some party leaders did create a ground for his return after he developed serious differences with Afaq Ahmad. Hussain finally endorsed Aamir’s return after he publicly apologised to the MQM workers and the family of deceased. He is now an integral part of MQM’s high command because of his organisational capabilities.

The fact remains that despite retaining its seats, MQM did lose support and a very large number of votes were cast against its candidates, even in their strong constituencies.

MQM workers are also frustrated as they now face difficulties in getting through to their Quaid. In the past, Hussain did keep a direct contact with the workers. “He was our major guide in times of crisis or operation, something which was missing when the recent operation was launched,” said one worker.

Since 1993, MQM has been run by the Coordination Committee, which has a convener, deputy convener, and Rabita Committee, both in Pakistan and London, with final confirmation coming from the party chief.

Whether Hussain returns to Pakistan or not, whether he gets Pakistani nationality or not, whether one agrees with his politics or not, no one can deny the fact that he is among those few politicians who has never contested an election nor were any of his family members ever awarded a ticket, something quite rare in our political culture.

But at the same time only he can decide about the party’s future. In this region, political romance with the leader often unites the party cadre but it harms the democratic character of the party. In India, Congress is facing the same crisis and so is the PPP since Benazir’s assassination. Neither Rahul nor Bilawal could revive the party.

I once asked Faisal Sabzwari, a central MQM leader, whether the party has ever thought about its structure if God forbid anything happens to Altaf Hussain. He said, “No, it’s very difficult for us to even think of such a situation.”

Knowing Altaf Hussain since his university days in the mid 1970s, I can say for sure this must be in his mind and he may guide the party, sooner or later.

Mazhar Abbas

mazhar abbas
The author is a senior journalist and former secretary general of the Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.

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