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A movement called MQM

The journey of a student organisation to a political party. How much can cult figure Altaf Hussain be blamed for the rise and fall of MQM?

A movement called MQM

Altaf Hussain’s Honda-50 parked inside his house, 90 Azizabad, became the symbol of the movement called Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM). The headquarter of MQM, 90 Azizabad, which is commonly referred to as Nine Zero, spread over 120 square yards, was sealed on August 22, 2016.

Since then, the narrative of mohajir politics and the fate of various factions within the MQM have remained uncertain. Does this connote the end of mohajir politics in Karachi or will a new narrative take birth; only time will tell.

No doubt, the 2018 elections will be crucial for politics in Karachi and urban Sindh. The next election will determine whether the party is over or still holds appeal among its voters.

Let’s take a close look at the mohajir politics from 1987 to 2013 – how the party has evolved over the last 40 years; where did Altaf Hussain go wrong; and why does militancy and bhatta culture overshadow issues on the basis of which millions voted for the MQM.

Hussain opted for the ‘minus Altaf’ formula, making one blunder after another, particularly through his speeches, which were finally banned in print and electronic media. .

The journey of MQM started on March 18, 1978. What started from Aziz Bhatti Park, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Karachi, with the formation of Student Action Committee, has travelled a long distance. In the last four decades, motorcycle Honda-50 and Nine Zero have symbolised one person – Altaf Hussain.

MQM traces its roots back to the All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organisation (APMSO), which was formed in the Pharmacy department of the Karachi University in 1978. This student organisation was converted into a political party in 1984, and in only four years became the country’s third largest party, second largest in Sindh and the sole representative of Karachi.

MQM is the outcome of Karachi’s politics that began with the candidature of Mohtarma Fatima Ali Jinnah in the presidential race, whom the Urdu-speaking symbolised as their main leader after the assassination of Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan.

Mohajir politics were based on a few points which included: the concept of a fifth nationality, mohajir subah; a separate identity for mohajirs; abolishing the quota system in admission; and 60-40 per cent job shares between rural and urban Sindh.

The ‘violent’ character of MQM has been a cause of much damage in Karachi. It has resulted in three major operations in the city, and has led to massive killings of mohajirs due to intra-party rivalries. Thousands of its members have been killed, including MQM’s co-founders, Azeem Ahmad Tariq and Dr Imran Farooq.

In fact, at the time when APMSO became MQM, Altaf Hussain was living in the US. It was Azeem Tariq and Dr Imran along with a few other workers who laid the foundation of MQM – but with the consent of Altaf Hussain.

Honda motorcycles used by most of the party leaders and the 120 square yards of 90 Azizabad symbolise the politics of the middle-class. It attracted the vast majority of the Urdu-speaking population, particularly in urban Sindh. In a short span of five years, it emerged as the new liberal, secular party.

Had violence not become part of the MQM culture and the Movement not converted into the Party, the MQM would not be facing the present crisis.

Soon after its rise, militancy began to dominate MQM’s political philosophy and organisational network that was charted out mainly by Azeem Ahmad Tariq and Dr Imran Farooq.

Initially, it had units and council, which later changed into zones, units and sectors.

While on paper MQM looked strong, cracks within the party surfaced just three years after its formation when the party’s Hyderabad and interior Sindh in-charge, Shabbir Ashraf, revolted against the leadership. However, MQM leaders managed to overcome the crisis and expelled him from the party.

It was the revolt in 1991, led by Afaq Ahmad and Aamir Khan, which resulted in one of the worst intra-party killings. The tension between the two groups really flared up as they controlled the party’s alleged militant wing and two zones.

Some of the party’s veteran leaders say that Hussain got so scared of Ahmad and Khan’s rising control over the party that he asked them to go to the US and later had them sacked, along with 300 others, by accusing them of corruption and criminal activities. A year later in 1992, they formed MQM-Haqiqi.

The same year, MQM Chairman Azeem Ahmad Tariq developed differences with Altaf Hussain over organisational matters. An unknown assailant killed Tariq on May 1, 1993. Hussain’s opponents accused him of getting Tariq killed – which Hussain denied.


Belonging to a lower-middle class family, Altaf Hussain started his political career as a student leader, who campaigned against the quota system and a separate identity for mohajirs. He participated in the anti-Bhutto campaign led by the workers of the Pakistan National Alliance in 1977.

His supporters considered him their spiritual leader, pir sahib. It’s such a dilemma that Hussain fell victim to his own creation, which not only stands divided today but is also devoid of most of its founding members.

Altaf Hussain has been living in the UK since 1992, and is a British national. At home and in the UK, he faces some of the most serious charges, including the murder of one of the co-founders of MQM, Dr Imran Farooq.

Oath and loyalty to Quaid-e-Tehreek, Altaf Hussain, became the hallmark of MQM’s organisational network. The first such oath was administered at Aziz Bhatti Park, in 1978.

In 1984, the APMSO gave birth to a political movement called Muhajir Qaumi Movement which later converted into Muttahida Qaumi Movement in 1997. Altaf Hussain was declared its ‘Quaid’, the undisputed leader, and therefore it was decided that he would neither contest elections nor be a part of any organisational setup but would have the final authority and veto power. It would have a full setup – from chairman to the level of Central Executive Committee. But, after the 1992 Operation, the Rabita Committee replaced the Central Committee with convener and deputy convener.

MQM sent young students between ages of 18 to 20 to local bodies, got them elected as area councillors, mayors and deputy mayors in 1987, and a year later took them to the National Assembly, Senate and Sindh Assembly.

How MQM mobilised the middle-class into mainstream politics is commendable. Even the Jamaat-e-Islami failed in getting the electoral support of the middle-class to that extent.

I vividly remember the day MQM won its first local bodies elections in 1987. Many of its elected councillors did not even know how to get to the KMC Building for oath taking. Very few had their own cars.

Sadly, MQM failed to continue with this culture of participatory middle-class politics.


On March 18, 2018, when MQM celebrates its 40th Foundation Day, the party will stand divided. At least three factions will observe the day from their respective platform – MQM-London, MQM-PIB and MQM-Badahurabad, not to mention MQM-Haqiqi and Pak Sarzameen Party.

The writing is on the wall for all factions of MQM, unless they choose to ignore it. No political party or group has lost as many leaders and workers as MQM. Chairman Azeem Ahmad Tariq was killed in 1993 and Secretary General Dr Imran Farooq in 2010.

The party could have survived as a strong political group had it learnt from its own mistakes. They were given a chance to recover and reform after General Pervez Musharraf came to power. He advised Altaf Hussain to return and his era was easily the most comfortable period in MQM’s history. With Musharraf’s support, they even received funds to develop Karachi. Whatever Mustafa Kamal acheived owed itself credit to Musharraf.

But Musharraf is alleged to have allowed MQM’s militancy to grow, and used it to his advantage on May 12, 2007. This perhaps was Musharraf’s worst disservice to the mohajir party, and Altaf Hussain’s decision to not return to Pakistan during Musharraf’s era was probably his biggest political folly.

Despite its ethnic outlook, the MQM attracted the liberal and secular class because of its position on certain national issues. It brought a large number of women and was successful in defeating the Jamaat-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan.

Altaf Hussain’s decision to go into exile in 1992 and to make Britain his second home was the beginning of the end to his personal and MQM politics. Though, the party has been in and out of power, the MQM founder has always remained away and has run the party from London. And, so far, at least, the party has been unable to shun its violent tag, and is considered both accused and victim.


As a student of the Karachi University in late 1970s, I saw the rise of APMSO. It was amazing to see how within just a year it made the Islami Jamiat Talaba (IJT) nervous. To block the growth of APMSO, IJT veterans floated another group, Muhajir Student Organisation, which failed in no time. The IJT even employed violent tactics to counter the APMSO.

Azeem Ahmad Tariq once told me that the Jamiat decision to throw them out of the campus with violent means gave birth to the MQM, “as mohajirs asked us to form a political party to counter Jamaat-e-Islami”.

Besides Altaf Hussain and Azeem Tariq, another person behind MQM’s political and organisational structure was Akhtar Rizvi. A middle-class politician, he was once an active member of the National Awami Party (NAP). He was later side-lined because of differences over the developing violent character of the party. He was Hussain’s first choice for mayor of Karachi in 1987. While Rizvi was in jail, Hussain wrote a letter to the Central Committee to nominate Rizvi as the mayor but instead they gave the position to Dr Farooq Sattar.

Rizvi had played a key role in bringing Altaf Hussain and G.M. Syed close. The two of them had agreed to fight a joint struggle for the rights of Sindhis. But the mysterious killings of Mohajirs and Sindhis between 1988-89 damaged their relations. The massacre in Hyderabad on September 30, 1988 and in Karachi the following day killed around 250 people. This practically polarised Sindh along ethnic lines. The election results of 1988 politically divided the province even further.

Although the MQM swept the three elections between 1987 and 1990, and remained unbeaten in the 2013 elections, still there were allegations from its opponents against the use of violent means and bogus votes. The party however denied these charges.

Looking back at its history and transformation, I believe the party lost its direction when it opted for militancy, initially to counter Islami Jamiat Talaba. In later years, militancy became a trait, not required in the party that thrived on popular support.

Further, Altaf Hussain’s decision to run his party from London removed him from the ground realities of Karachi and MQM. He could have kept the party intact had he been in Pakistan during the nine years of Pervez Musharraf. His absence led to corruption within the party and some of its leaders faced heavy criticism.

Altaf Hussain and Dr Imran Farooq knew that if Afaq Ahmad and Aamir Khan remained in control of sectors and units, the party would not work. Thus, they disbanded all sectors and units, sacked some 200 hardcore activists along with Ahmad and Khan.

Azeem Tariq wanted a patch-up. He knew it would lead to a series of killings as both groups were well armed. As a result, hundreds of activists of both the sides became victims of target killings. This also led to the first army operation in Karachi in June 1992.

The biggest mistake the then military establishment made was that instead of launching an operation against militancy, they became selective and this went in favour of Altaf Hussain.

More recently, Hussain opted for the ‘minus Altaf’ formula, making one blunder after another, particularly through his speeches, which were finally banned in print and electronic media. Many termed his post-August 22, 2016, speech against the military establishment and the state the “last nail in the coffin”.

MQM’s famous song or tarana, “mazloomo ka sathi hay Altaf Hussain”, has not been heard since August 22. One wonders if it will be heard again any time soon – unless, of course, something dramatic happens. He and some of his comrades in London must blame themselves for what has happened in the last three years.

Hussain would always be given credit for giving mohajirs an identity. He became a victim of his own personality cult. Besides, he belongs to a class that has a tendency of being ambitious and then moving on.

The army establishment and the premier intelligence agencies were given an opportunity to eradicate militancy from Sindh, including Karachi and Hyderabad, during the 1992 operation. But, instead, they politicised the operation and allegedly armed MQM’s rivals to counter Altaf Hussain’s militants. Later, other groups, such as the religious ones were also allegedly armed.

The first break-up within the party did not come in the form of a splinter group but with the disillusionment of mohajir intellectuals and youth. Even those progressive mohajirs who had supported the MQM because of its middle-class and secular outlook were soon disappointed; they termed ‘cult politics’ a reflection of feudal tendency.

They say absolute power corrupts absolutely. As the party started compromising on its main objectives and played in the hands of the establishment, it became more vulnerable to corrupt practices and started to use muscle tactic, sometime on its own and at times on getting ‘line’ from the establishment.

The MQM certainly could have done much better had it retained its basic philosophy of making Sindh a better place to live through better working relationship with the main stakeholder of Sindh, the PPP.

The establishment’s role in all these years has been negative, and it only added to the problem, till General Raheel Sharif, the then army cheif,  finally drew the line between crime and politics.

Politics is the art of the possible and MQM has already missed too many possibilities. I doubt if the movement called MQM would ever return to assemblies in large numbers.

As for Altaf Hussain, he became a victim of his own creation and style. Let history judge him.

Mazhar Abbas

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


  • A very well balanced article in line with ground realities. But I beleive Altaf Bhai has failed to lead party on correct lines because of his distance from the political grounds and his party leaders in Pakistan and UK. They made violence and corruptions for their own benefits and put the benefits of whole urdu speaking community on stake. Altaf bhai may have many personal weaknesses and he may still be living in politics of 1990s but he has charisma and he is a brand of urdu speaking politic. He may get a chance again if he can adjust himself to modern politics in line with no corruption no violence and loyalty to state ismain essence.

  • Altaf chapter is over. Since 1992 he is playing with karachi. He only wants resources of karachi. He remained in every government. Tell me what he had done for karachi. 2013 tak karachi ka bura haal ho gaya. Mayor mqm ka tha mager safai ka bura haal. Kahan jata raha paisa aur funds. Target killing, bori band dead bodies, extortion aur kiya diya hey iss Altafi MQM nay karachi ko

  • Jamil Soomro, New York City

    A very good article on MQM.What impressed me the most about Mr.Mazhar Abbas
    as a Writer is his honesty and boldness which he has shown by stating,”The MQM
    certainly could have done better had it retained its basic philosophy of making Sindh
    a better place to live through better working relationship with the main stakeholder
    of Sindh,the PPP”.He is so right.We could have avoided all the chaos and turmoil of
    of the years gone by.

  • Well structured by Mazhar Saheb, The game is over or remains. The issues are faced by citizens of Karachi, they are suffering in between. There is no potable water, poor healthcare, education is not affordable, worst sold waste and sewerage systems, open dumping and burning of waste, uncontrolled traffic and the most important is haphazard sprawl of Karachi. Who will think about these? Muhammad Toheed, Urban Planner, NED

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