by Zia Sarhadi (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 45, No. 2, Jumada' al-Akhirah, 1437)
The shenanigans of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Karachi-based “political” party, have dominated news in Pakistan for several weeks now. With its leader, Altaf Husain in self-imposed exile in London, England, facing money laundering and murder charges, deep fissures have emerged in the party at home. Altaf Husain’s situation is further complicated by the fact that some party members have accused him of receiving money from India’s intelligence agency RAW (Research and Analysis Wing). He is also accused of ordering the murder of Imran Farooq, a dissident party leader.
Two of Altaf Husain’s close advisors in London — Sarfraz Merchant and Tariq Mir — have said in their confessional statements to Scotland Yard (the British police investigation branch) that RAW was providing funds to the MQM head honcho. Even a BBC report quoted British investigators as saying he was receiving financial support from the Indian government. If true, this would spell the death knell of Husain since any Pakistani politician tainted with conniving with archenemy India can say goodbye to politics, if not life itself.
Based on these reports, Lord Nazir Ahmed, the first Muslim member of the British House of Lords (upper house) and a man of great integrity, has pursued the allegations against Husain with the British authorities. On February 9, 2016, Lord Ahmed wrote to the British Home Secretary Theresa May as well as the Attorney General asking about the outcome of the one-year-long police inquiry into money-laundering charges against Husain (Crescent International has obtained copies of both letters). He also inquired as to how the MQM leader was granted bail and whether Scotland Yard had shared the results of their inquiry with the prosecution. Lord Ahmed also inquired whether the Indian government had made any representation to the British government not to divulge information about RAW’s payments to the MQM.
The Attorney General’s office acknowledged Lord Ahmed’s letter on February 19 but gave a bland reply without providing any details. When he received no response from the Home Secretary, Lord Ahmed sent another letter to Ms. May last month inquiring as to when he might expect a reply to his queries. At the time of compiling this report, the British Home Secretary had not responded to him. Could it be that the British Muslim peer has touched a raw nerve in British policy where decisions are made based not on the rule of law but on political expediency? The British government’s silence also raises the question whether Altaf Husain is working for British intelligence as well. After all, he has been granted British citizenship despite facing murder charges in Pakistan. Strange are the ways of British politics.
Equally strange are Pakistani politics that are never dull even if the vast majority of politicians are thoroughly corrupt and totally despicable characters. Perhaps, no party comes close in such lowly conduct as the MQM that emerged in the 1980s as the nationalist and secessionist Muhajir Qaumi Movement (muhajir meaning immigrant) despite the fact the overwhelming majority of those who became its members were born in Pakistan. The “muhajir” reference is to people that had migrated to Pakistan from India at the time of partition in 1947.
Since its inception, Altaf Husain, a one-time taxi driver in Chicago, has dominated the party. How he came to acquire such vast powers over party affairs and members is part of the sordid tale of Pakistani politics. The MQM was created by the General Zia ul-Haq military — euphemistically referred to as the “security establishment” in the Pakistani media — in order to undermine then military nemesis the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) whose founder Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was hanged on April 4, 1979.
Initially, the MQM performed the role for which it was created, well. The PPP was undermined in its stronghold of Sindh province but as with most such projects, things started to go wrong when the MQM became more than a party. It quickly evolved into a cabal of gangsters who began to indulge in extortion (called bhatta in Pakistani parlance). Since Karachi is a city of traders and merchants, this became a lucrative business for the party accruing vast sums. This is how Altaf Husain amassed the “seed capital” for his personal fortune (the British do not easily open their doors for poor people — just look at their policy for accepting refugees — Husain is obviously a multi-millionaire or billionaire). It also attracted the attention of foreign intelligence agencies that fish in Pakistan’s troubled waters. The Indian intelligence agency RAW was ahead of others but both the American CIA and British MI6 are also known to patronize the MQM.
The MQM gained notoriety for running torture cells where opponents as well as party dissidents were mercilessly tortured. Drilling holes in the bones of victims was their favorite technique sending shudders down the spines of would-be opponents. Dissidents preferred to flee the country than to face the wrath of the godfather. In 1992, an attempt was made to form a dissident group within the party, called the Haqiqis, but it did not get very far.
Now, a new group has emerged led by an unlikely candidate, Mustafa Kamal who has challenged Husain’s leadership. Kamal was one-time mayor of Karachi and while not very high up on the party totem pole, he seems to have attracted a number of party stalwarts that are beginning to speak out against the London-based don. Those who have joined Kamal include Raza Haroon, Anis Kaimkhani, Dr. Sagheer, Iftikhar Alam, Waseem Aftab and Advocate Anis Ahmed Khan.
At a press conference in Karachi on March 23, Kamal flanked by his new members announced the formation of a new party, the Pak Sarzameen Party (Pak Sarzameen means pure land, in reference to Pakistan and is taken from the first line in the Pakistani national anthem). He also said the new party will hold a rally in Karachi on April 13. Interestingly, when Kamal returned to Pakistan from exile in Dubai on March 3, a number of senior MQM members left the country. These included Haider Abbas Rizvi, Faisal Sabzwari, Khushkbakht Shujaat and Khwaja Izharul Hassan. Their departure has led to wild speculation but no one can say with certainty the reason for their departure. Perhaps, these members are weighing their options before making a move.
What is certain is that Altaf Husain does not have the kind of grip on the party he did before. The charge of being on RAW’s payroll is a serious blow reinforced by money-laundering and murder charges in London. It is also interesting to note that the dissidents are not trying to take over the party from within but are making a clean break from it. Perhaps this time they may be more successful.
Will they clean up the party from its gangster and extortion past is the big question. Given the nature of Pakistani politics, this may be expecting too much.