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MQM’s dilemma

In view of the changing fortunes of MQM, is it time for Altaf Hussain to name his successor?

MQM’s dilemma
— Photo by Rizwan Tabassum / AFP

When Altaf Hussain started his political journey on Honda 70 as a student from a lower middle class background in late 1970s, no one could imagine him as one of the most powerful politicians of the country in future. Today, he is facing the dilemma of naming his successor — to keep the Mohajir-dominated Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) intact.

He knows the party better than anyone else. But is it the best time to take such a decision? He will perhaps wait for some more time.

There are reasons to believe why MQM chief is still reluctant to name his successor despite his repeated pleas to the general workers meeting to take charge of running the party in his absence. The party has rejected his pleas. As a veteran politician, he knows there is every possibility of cracks in the party after he quits. Therefore, he wants to make sure that the team he leaves behind keeps the party together.

In the last twenty years, MQM lost two of its top leaders — Azeem Ahmad Tariq and Dr Imran Farooq. Killed under totally different circumstances, they left behind a major vacuum in leadership. They were not only among the founders of the party, they also had a firm grip on politics till 1992.

Although there is no visible power struggle in MQM at the moment, cracks have appeared in the party’s organisational structure in the last two years. Within the MQM, there have been issues amongst the units, sectors and the Rabita Committee. Once these sectors and units were very strong and used to oversee the performance of the ministers, MNAs and MPAs and would report directly to Altaf Hussain.

With the passage of time Rabita Committee, which is MQM’s policy making body, started becoming more prominent. The sectors also lost control over MNAs, MPAs and ministers which may have given a sigh of relief to the elected representatives but put pressure on the erstwhile strong MQM sectors.

 The developments of last few weeks have raised some serious questions about the intra-party differences.

After the May 2013 general elections, these differences almost came in public view. MQM workers felt that the Rabita Committee did not perform well while the Tanzeemi Committee was blamed for not doing much prior to the polls.

The developments of last few weeks have raised some serious questions about the intra-party differences. Altaf Hussain almost expressed no-confidence on both the Tanzeemi Committee and the Rabita Committee. In fact, he wanted to disband both but that would have created a serious crisis. Therefore, he has disbanded the Tanzeemi Committee but put Rabita Committee under scrutiny.

So much distrust in the party has made Altaf Hussain’s job more and more difficult, especially if he is searching for his successor.

The murder of Dr Imran Farooq in London in September 2010 put the party in a state of shock. London police which was investigating the case also searched the MQM Secretariat and Altaf Hussain’s residence. Hussain was questioned for hours by the police but he was neither arrested nor did the police level any serious charge on the MQM chief.

Also read: Worrying times in store for MQM

The speculations that Imran Farooq was planning a revolt against Altaf Hussain or had a plan to form a new party do not carry much weight considering the party structure. Imran Farooq clearly knew that Altaf Hussain had a firm grip on party and its workers.

Altaf Hussain still has a strong team of loyal workers but the level of trust is not as strong as it was in the 1990s. Among the founding members of MQM, Altaf Hussain has people like Aminul Haq, Ahmad Saleem Siddiqui, Tariq Javed, Kishwar Zehra and a few others. Saleem Shahzad, who till last year was very much part of the organisation, was sidelined for breaking the party’s code of conduct.

In the second tier, Altaf Hussain has high profile people like Dr Farooq Sattar, Dr Ishrat ul Ibad, Mohammad Anwar, Aamir Khan, Haider Abbas Rizvi and some other veteran leaders. There are some unsung heroes in the MQM as well who have always remained low key but are as dedicated to the party.

Altaf Hussain is disturbed about the infighting in the party, the cases against him in London and his tense relationship with the post-Musharraf establishment. On the political front too, MQM has lost its bargaining position. But it is still a force to reckon with particularly in urban Sindh.

The party needs drastic changes, both in political approach as well organisation. After the last general elections, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf emerged as a strong challenger but MQM still maintained its seats both in national and provincial assemblies. After Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s government opted for a policy of political reconciliation and let the majority parties in the provinces to form their own governments, MQM’s bargaining position got weaker.

Sharif did the right thing by not replacing Dr Ishratul Ibad as Governor but did not include MQM in the federal cabinet.

With local government elections unlikely to take place any time soon, the MQM decided to join the Sindh government after the election but merely got two ministries.

Related article: Actions and politics of MQM

Last year, when Karachi Operation was launched against the terrorists to make Karachi a weapons-free city, MQM supported the operation like they did in 1992. Initially, MQM thought the operation was against Taliban. Now they fear that after the crackdown against the Lyari gang, the Rangers have shifted action towards MQM.

MQM today has tense relations with the establishment and fears a major crackdown in the coming weeks and months. On the other hand, the party’s internal organisational situation is also causing all sorts of problems for Altaf Hussain. With two cases and one inquiry pending in London including the murder of Dr Imran Farooq and money laundering, MQM simply can’t afford to face a crackdown.

This could be one reason why Altaf Hussain has decided to take on the Rangers. Unlike in 1992, when MQM decided to go underground and not fight back, MQM chief has indicated that if another operation is launched against his party, the establishment may not find them defensive. All this can add to the problems both for the federal and Sindh governments.

MQM is all set to revive its Mohajir politics in case of a major operation. Altaf Hussain has already hinted towards it during his speeches and statements. He has once again taken over the responsibility of reorganisation. However, Hussain, who celebrated his 61st birthday on September 17, is fighting on many fronts including his own health, organisation of the party and cases in London.

An anchor of a private tv channel who met him in London recently believes that he is still in high spirits. “I was really surprised when I met him. He never looked like a man with so much pressure and health issues. He can still talk to you for hours,” she said.

Altaf Hussain, who still holds the key to the destiny of urban Sindh, has to make a decision as to how his party would be run in his absence. In the situation prevailing within the party, it looks as if he does not want to name the successor. He knows the problems which are likely to emerge in case he names his successor or the future team to run this most organised and powerful political force of urban Sindh.

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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