Mustafa Kamal’s live press conferences have taken a back seat on the news channels. As the press conferences became few and far between, the people joining his Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) were often ‘nobodies’ by the mainstream media because their faces did not appear regularly on television talk shows.
On April 12, 2016, one such press conference took place. Waheed uz Zaman, a former chairman of Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) student wing All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO) joined Mustafa Kamal with dozens of others.
The event may not seem as crucial as the defection of a known MQM leader, but the development signals at the long and meticulous work Mustafa Kamal’s party is engaged with and the nature of threat it poses to Altaf Hussain’s party.
It is becoming increasingly evident that the PSP is bent on building a party structure on the lines of MQM. The new party is following in the footsteps of Altaf Hussain and other founders of the MQM when they began their political journey.
The defection of Waheed uz Zaman was somewhat expected but its repercussion is difficult to estimate. Zaman was the longest serving chairman of APMSO after Faisal Sabzwari. He led the organisation for around three and a half years and was one of the most powerful chairmen the organisation ever had. Such mid-level defections go on to show that for the MQM the hovering challenge posed by the defectors is far from over.
The PSP is fighting the battle on a front that no outside political party e.g. Pakistan Tehreek–e-Insaf or Jamaat-e-Islami can think of — the airtight grassroots level internal political structure of the MQM, which is sewed with decades of hard work.
However, it is important to note here that Mustafa Kamal has not managed to put a discernible dent on his former party as yet — as the MQM’s landslide victory in the recent by-polls in NA 245 and PS-115 clearly showed.
But Kamal isn’t giving up. His PSP is busy preparing for the grand rally he promised to organise on April 24 near Mazar-i-Quaid. All eyes are set on that date. As a former mayor of Karachi, he promised to show his “massive strength.”
For now, the new political party recruits are busy proselytising the MQM workers to join their fold. “The work is going on at every other chai dhaba of Karachi,” says one MQM worker.
And APMSO’s workers are the prime targets.
To understand the significance of APMSO, one has to take a look at the perpetual role it played in the political evolution of MQM and in the politics of Karachi in the larger picture.
Founded in 1978 by Altaf Hussain and Azeem Tariq in the Karachi University as a group for the marginalised Mohajir youth, APMSO has since been the nursery for the political cadres the MQM produced over the decades.
Unlike MQM’s nefarious militant wing members who are mostly recruited from the lower-middle class neighbourhoods of Karachi, the APMSO is known for producing educated, articulate young men and women from the government universities.
They are trained to take leadership positions in the party. Khalid Maqbool Siddqui, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Faisal Sabzwari, Rehan Hashmi and dozens of others who held important positions in the MQM are all products of the APMSO. Presently, the student organisation has an approximately 2,500 registered members recruited from various universities from across the country.
The APMSO insiders say that a sense of cynicism runs through the cadres. Because Waheed uz Zaman, who was rusticated from the organisation in 2010, had massively reshuffled the structure of APMSO, placing “his own men” in important positions, who further brought in more ‘like-minded’ people creating a lobby of sorts within the APMSO, which continues to bear its mark in the organisation.
One former APMSO worker estimates that four to five hundred members are likely to jump ships. Though active, these student workers were naturally sidelined after Zaman’s exit as they were seen as ‘Zaman’s men’.
“Our workers are being lured with jobs and senior positions by Kamal and company,” says Mohammad Haseeb Qureshi, secretary information APMSO and a former student of the Karachi University. “But we know for a fact what these men were up to. They abused their positions. When in power, they were involved in massive corruptions and Zaman was also involved in a gang rape case, following which he was suspended from his position.”
But such allegations are not hindering PSP’s recruitment drive within the MQM. The party continues to woo workers at unit and sector level too, mobilising as many for the show down on April 24. What amazes many hardline MQM workers is the smooth pace at which Kamal is mobilising the members of his former party.
On Monday, hours after Waheed uz Zaman announced joining Mustafa Kamal, unknown men fired at his residence in North Karachi. The incident was hardly reported. But one can take it as a shuddering glimpse of the future — a harbinger of ruthless violence in store for the city as the tug of war between the MQM and PSP becomes fiercer.