MQM in disarray
By Asif Haroon Raja
The foundations of MQM was laid by mercurial and firebrand Altaf Hussain in 1984 on the pillars of violence, terrorism and fascism. The facade of a political party of middle and lower middle class was built as a smokescreen to hide the crimes of party leadership and to build the image of Altaf Hussain, popularly called as ‘Altaf Bhai’, as an icon and a hero. In order to gain full control over the port city of Karachi, the cosmopolitan city was divided into sectors. A militant wing was created under Tanzeemi Committee and Labor Division, which administered sector and unit commanders. Khidmat-e-Khalq Foundation was created to look after the welfare of Mohajirs, but in reality it was a money earning organization to collect funds for the party through animal hides, charity and donations. Mafias extorted money and grabbed land. All militant and political activities were supervised by Rabita Committee, while Nine Zero at Azizabad became the nerve centre (GHQ) where Altaf resided, and was out of bound for all. Extortion, kidnappings for ransom, target killings, murders, robberies and street crimes were organized by sector and unit commanders. Police and civil administration were politicized and monopolized and media terrorized.
The party including its Supremo was controlled by RAW which provided funds, training facilities to the target killers in Dera Dun (India), worked out strategies and assigned targets for target killing or to foment ethnicity and sectarianism. The pattern and tactics were the same as had been employed in former East Pakistan where Mujibur Rahman had been cultivated by India and Mukti Bahini was created to make Bangladesh. MQM was assigned the objective of creating Jinnahpur for Urdu speaking people in Pakistan which encompassed whole of urban Sindh.
The US and UK had evinced interest in Karachi and its seacoast way back in 1982 and had contemplated making Karachi port a commercial free zone port similar to Hong Kong whose 99 years lease was terminating in 1997. Geo-strategically, Karachi seaport was ideally located to meet the strategic interests of USA since it overlooked Iran, Middle East, Central Asia and China. The imperialist powers found the well-educated and secular people of Karachi matching their temperament and most suited to serve their interests. Altaf readily gave his consent to do the bidding of USA and UK.
RAW started making inroads in interior Sindh in 1973 and abetted Sindhu Desh movement led by GM Sayyad. Later on, when PPP’s Movement for Restoration of Democracy (MRD) gained momentum in 1983 while Benazir was in exile in London, Indian Lok Sabha passed a resolution similar to the one passed in March 1971 in support of Bengalis after the military crackdown on March 25, 1971. This time, Indira Gandhi pledged support to the Sindhis. In this regard, ‘All Sindhis World Conference’ was held in New Delhi in 1983, which was chaired by Indira. Although the MRD was crushed by security forces, but it impelled Gen Ziaul Haq to find a countervailing political force to checkmate Sindhi nationalism. It is widely believed that he was behind the creation of MQM.
Besides instigating the Sindhis, RAW also kept provoking the Mohajirs against the Sindhis with a view to creating bad blood between the old and new Sindhis. All Pakistan Mohajir Organization (APSMO) under Karachi University student Altaf Hussain came into being in 1978 on the pattern of East Pakistan Student League in Dacca University, who were trained to use firearms. The MQM was hijacked by RAW soon after its inception and it had a big hand in creating a wide gulf between rural and urban Sindh. By 1986, RAW helped MQM in forming a militant wing and a carbon copy of Bangladesh model was handed over to Altaf. He embarked upon a guided militant program to terrorize the people of Karachi and make them submit to his dictates. He brooked no dissent, and criticism of his policies was not tolerated. The insolent were cruelly bumped off.
Torture cells were opened in each district of Karachi under sector commanders where dissidents were tortured to make them toe the line of Altaf and none else. Strong arm tactics were applied mostly on Urdu speaking people to force them to pledge blind allegiance to Altaf and accept him as a sole leader and savior of Mohajirs. Sack filled dead bodies, Bhatta (extortion), kidnappings, bank robberies, strikes, arson and closing the city became a norm. No-go areas were created in Karachi under the guise of providing security to the vulnerable Mohajirs but it was another step towards gaining control over the city.
Media team of MQM lionized Altaf as a spiritual leader, and built his image as a demagogue, a go-getter and the only hope of Mohajirs who could redress their socio-economic grievances and restore their prestige that had been badly mauled by the Punjabis, Pathans, Sindhis and Baloch living in cosmopolitan city. Suffering from identity crisis and humiliation, they initially placed their trust in Liaqat Ali Khan who had coaxed them in 1949 to leave India and shift to Karachi and help in building Pakistan. Sindhis welcomed them but when the new settlers transgressed and became demanding, conciliation gave way to bitterness. After Liaqat Ali’s murder in October 1951, the Mohajirs shifted their gaze toward Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. Her defeat in elections in 1965 against FM Ayub Khan, gravitated the Mohajirs towards Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JuP). Their grievances intensified during ZA Bhutto rule when he declared Sindhi as a compulsory subject in Sindh and introduced quota system for jobs. Resentful Mohajirs took active part in the PNA movement against Bhutto in 1977 under the wings of religious parties. They might have stayed on with JI and JuP had Gen Zia not ditched the two religious parties in 1985 party-less elections. Their next refuge was MQM under Altaf to seek redressal of real or perceived grievances.
Altaf became popular among the Mohajirs on account of his oratory and fiery speeches. His rabble-rousing style enflamed Mohajir nationalism. He infused aggression into the hearts and minds of docile Mohajirs and provoked them to fight their alleged oppressors tenaciously. He brought them out of their mode of timidity and docility and instilled in them the spirit of fighting. He egged on the Mohajir youth to adopt combativeness as a way of life to protect themselves and their families from the predators that had denied them their due rights and had humiliated them. Making full use of power of gun and bullying tactics, the MQM managed to sweep the local bodies in 1987 and repeated its performance in 1988 general elections in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpur Khas and Sukhar. There on the MQM became a force to reckon with both at Sindh and at federal levels and assumed the role of a kingmaker and a blackmailer.
On taking over power in end 1988, Benazir Bhutto released hundreds of Al-Zulfiqar militants and issued arms licenses to them and other PPP activists liberally. Altaf also armed the MQM activists under the plea of self-protection. By 1991, the MQM had created a state-within-a-state in Karachi and nothing moved without the instructions of Altaf and his kitchen cabinet. The city stood to a standstill on his one call. He turned into a cold blooded monster and got rid of the disobedient or those becoming a threat to him without any sense of remorse. He never groomed his heir successor or let any other leader become popular within the party ranks. Life of a human had no value for him. His life in the company of sycophants revolved around money, power, women, drinks and fame.
It was owing to Altaf’s arrogance and despotic style of running the party affairs which impelled MQM leaders Afaq Ahmad and Amir Khan to breakaway and form MQM Haqiqi (H) in 1991. Besides the issue of despotism, the other issues were Altaf’s refusal to share details of finances and his quest to make a separate homeland for the Mohajirs. By that time, new-Sindhis-old Sindhis animus had peaked and several bloody clashes had taken place and Sindh was seen as a wounded province because of MQM militancy in Karachi-Hyderabad and dacoity in interior Sindh. Dacoits living in Katcha and Katcho no-go areas were patronized by Waderas and Patharidars. Sindhi-Punjabi-Pashhtun alliance came into being to be able to confront growing MQM belligerency.
To check the ever growing aggressiveness of MQM in urban Sindh, as well as to end dacoit Raj in interior Sindh, Operation Cleanup was launched by the Army under Gen Asif Nawaz Janjua in May 1992 which initially started in interior Sindh and then in Karachi-Hyderabad. It resulted in mass exodus of MQM leaders including Altaf to London where they sought political asylum. The key fugitives were M. Anwar, Nadim, Nusrat, Tariq Mir, Wasey Jalil and Mustafa Azizabadi. Dr. Imran Farooq joined them in 1999. Welcomed by the British government and MI-6, they were given British residency and passport, extended all possible assistance to settle down in posh area of Edgeware, hire luxury apartments and services of Scotland Yard for security, open their London Secretariat and live a lord’s life. Expenditure was to be borne by foreign agencies and Rabita Committee in Karachi. Destabilization of Pakistan’s economic hub centre was the agenda given to Altaf.
The military operation could have cut the militant power of MQM to size but Nawaz Sharif (NS) came to its rescue and called off the operation midway. Courts didn’t convict a single militant arrested by the military.
Once PPP government returned to power in 1994, it ordered a police operation under Maj Gen Naseerullah Babar, which continued till its dismissal in November 1996. The operation cracked the back of MQM militant wing, forcing many of the target killers to seek refuge in South Africa and make it their future base of operation in addition to London and Thailand. The MQM having changed its initials from ‘Mohajir’ to ‘Mutahida’ was made a coalition partner in the centre and in Sindh by PML-N govt in February 1997, but NS had to part with it in October 1998 after the murder of illustrious Hakim Said. Thereon the MQM remained in doldrums till it was once again resurrected in 2002 by Gen Musharraf who seized power on October 12, 1999 through a military coup.
During the nine years rule of Musharraf, the MQM was politically and militarily strengthened beyond all proportions. MQM (H) was nearly obliterated and all legal and illegal demands of Altaf were met in return for political support of the MQM. The infamous incident of May 12, 2007 at Karachi in which over 50 political activists were killed, was executed by the MQM goons at the behest of Musharraf and under the patronage of Home Minister Waseem Akhtar, the current mayor of Karachi.
Once PPP and MQM were dry cleaned by the NRO machine in October 2007, which enabled PPP to form a government in March 2008, it made MQM and ANP as its coalition partners in Sindh and in the Centre. PPP-MQM jointly plundered and bloodied Karachi for next five years unchecked. The daily dead count in Karachi was 10-12. Lyari gang sponsored by PPP Home Minister Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza and other banned militant groups joined the fray. Port & Shipping Ministry held by MQM Minister Babar Ghori since 2002 facilitated supply of weapons of all hues to the MQM by making use of the missing NATO containers, while Zulfiqar Mirza issued arms licenses to Lyari gangsters freely. Karachi, the economic lifeline of Pakistan began to die a slow economic death. Not a single killer or corrupt was punished.
Altaf’s fortunes began to plunge after the murder of one of his founding party leader Dr. Imran Farooq at London on September 16, 2010. Burning of Baldia town factory in which 289 workers were burnt to death in 2012 was the handiwork of MQM sector commander Bhola and his accomplices. Money laundering case was registered against Altaf and others after the raid of Metropolitan Police at their residences/offices in London on December 7, 2012, recovering 500,000 pounds sterling cash. Altaf, Safaraz merchant, Tariq Mir and M. Anwar were involved. It came to light that RAW was providing funds and arms to them for carrying out terrorism in Karachi. This was ascertained from the list of weapons and explosives recovered from Altaf’s house. The list matched with the weapons recovered by Rangers from Azizabad.
Disturbed by PTI’s activism in Karachi, Altaf incited his followers to resort to violence against PTI supporters. One of PTI’s political activist Dr. Zahra was killed by MQM killer Kaleem in May 2013. Large numbers of complaints were made to the London Police by Pakistanis and extreme pressure was exerted on UK government to restrain Altaf. Case of inciting violence was registered against him in London.
June 2013 elections added to the woes of Altaf because of PTI gaining political space in Karachi. For the first time MQM’s heartland was breached. MQM got another jolt when it was not accepted as a coalition partner by PPP in Sindh and PML-N in the Centre.
Altaf and five co-accused were arrested on June 3, 2014 on money laundering charges but were given bail. After prolonged investigations, the case before reaching the court was abruptly closed on the plea of insufficient evidence. What more evidence was required after recovering hand written list of weapons? Hand writing resembled that of a London based senior MQM leader. Sarfaraz, Anwar and Tariq had admitted before London Police that money was received from RAW for purchase of weapons. Oddly, iIt was ruled that the case will never be re-opened.
Altaf’s conviction would have brought disrepute to RAW, which was unacceptable to India. Nothing has come out of Dr. Imran murder case in spite of the fact that Pakistan arrested the murderers Mohsin and Kashif, and their handlers Moazam and Shamim. It became crystal clear that UK was an involved party and Altaf was its asset.
Initiation of Rangers operation in Karachi in September 2013 further vexed Altaf and he started crying that it was MQM specific. Raid on Nine Zero in March 2015 and again in July and arrest of several notorious target killers made him go berserk. Apart from flinging fabricated allegations, he openly threatened the Rangers. Two MQM activists arrested by SSP Rao Anwar on April 30, 2015 revealed before the media that MQM activists had been going to India via Bangkok to receive training from RAW and were handled by runaway Javed Langra who had fled to India in 1992. Revelations made by Saulat Mirza in May 2015 before his hanging and by arrested hardcore MQM militants exposed the dirty work of MQM. After his earlier outburst in March, Altaf again flared up in July that year and appealed to the US, India, RAW and the UN to intervene in Karachi and save the Mohajirs from persecution and elimination. MQM’s deep rooted connection with RAW since 1980s came to light after the arrest of Kalbushan Jhadav in March 2016.
Altaf received another blow when Mustafa Kamal, once his apple of the eye and Mayor of Karachi, along with another MQM stalwart Anis Qaimkhani announced their detachment from Altaf and decided to form their own party ‘Pakistan-Sarzamin Party’ (PSP) in March 2016. Kamal provided more details about MQM terrorism and connection with RAW. Further details were given by British columnist Bennet Jones, BBC video, ex RAW chief in his interview and JIT probe. According to Shehryar Niazi, Altaf confessed to British authorities of his linkage with RAW. Indian national M. Anwar, a key figure in London Secretariat was the linchpin connecting MQM with RAW.
Altaf’s madness climaxed on August 22, 2016 when during his telephonic speech to the MQM robots, he not only chanted anti-Pakistan slogans and fired salvos of hate against Pakistan institutions, he also once again requested the outside powers to intervene, and instructed his activists to resort to violence against anti-MQM media channels. His speech proved beyond doubt that Altaf had all along been pursuing a dangerous agenda against the integrity of Pakistan.
His vitriolic speech dug the last nail in his coffin, and it led to birth of another party MQM (Pakistan) from within MQM ranks under Altaf’s most trusted lieutenant Farooq Sattar, who had been heading Rabita Committee for a long time. A ban was imposed on Altaf’s telephonic speeches and he was isolated. An effort was made to get him back for trials through the Interpol but the British government didn’t cooperate. Altaf and his London team have continued to indulge in anti-Pakistan rhetoric, but for unknown reasons they have so far not been declared traitors and charge-sheeted in absentia. MQM (H) merged in Sattar’s faction.
Since August 22, 2017, fortunes of three factions of MQM, one in London, and two in Karachi, are constantly sliding downwards. MQM (P) and PSP have failed to reconcile and merge due to clash of personality between Kamal and Sattar, both vying to take the place of Altaf. Major impediment in their merger is the Altaf vote bank, which is still the heaviest and till recent, Altaf’s fans have remained in two minds which faction to support. They were hopeful that the split was temporary and secretly both Mustafa and particularly Sattar were aligned with Altaf. They are of the view that no one else has the capacity to fill Altaf’s vacuum and attain the same kind of monopoly.
Altaf who is suffering from multiple diseases including psychic disorder, has lost his respect in the eyes of Pakistanis who view him as a RAW agent and a traitor. Mustafa openly censures Altaf but has welcomed all the disreputable target killers and sector/unit commanders of MQM in his party. Although he has carried out grass-root levels reorganization but very few MQM MNAs, MPAs and senators have joined him. Sattar has an edge over his rival since most of legislators and senators are in his party. But this edge seem to have slipped out of his hands on account of differences over names finalized for Senate elections due on March 3, and tiff between Sattar and other leading lights led by Amir Khan. The party has split into two after Sattar was dethroned from Chairman Rabita Committee seat. PPP, PTI, PML-N, JI and ANP in the meanwhile are busy trying to seek political benefits out of the disarray in MQM factions, hoping to capture few seats in urban Sindh.
The MQM under Altaf that had reigned supreme in Karachi for the last 30 years has virtually collapsed with little possibility of regaining its old clout. Altaf’s call for shutter down were ignored by the people and business community. He has cooked his goose due to his own misdoings. The people of Karachi having suffered a great deal at the hands of MQM hoodlums are feeling relieved and are happy to see lights returning to Karachi after a very long time and shudder at the thought of Altaf’s return to power. Although Sindh Assembly passed a resolution in September 2016 to try Altaf under Article 6, Bilawal Bhutto called him ‘uncle’ and gave him a clean chit. Altaf’s politics has caused incalculable harm to the youth of Urdu speaking community in Karachi, which had left studies in late 1980s and opted for violence and easy money.
People of Karachi are feeling uneasy and are fearful that Kamal or Sattar may not restart the politics of violence and agitation particularly after seeing that instead of cleansing their respective parties of the killers of Altaf and opting for crime free members believing in pure politics, they have greeted all the old crooks and criminals. Hands of all the electable in both factions are soaked in blood. Karachiites will no more tolerate bloodletting and criminal activities or another NRO for the criminals and would like them to be punished. At the same time, it is high time for the old and new Sindhis to learn lessons, shun bitterness, infighting and immoral practices, reconcile and co-exist harmoniously and jointly work to keep the port city peaceful and develop Sindh.
Unity among the state institutions and provinces has become all the more vital in the wake of very grave threat posed by Indo-US-Afghan-Israeli nexus. The US is partnering India to impose the latter’s hegemony in South Asia and this threat has now become menacing. Faced with such peril, patriotic people should bury their differences, shun negativism and parochialism, start thinking as Pakistanis and form a united front. This is not the time to destabilize the government without thinking as to what will follow. Enemies are trying hard to create a political logjam and chaos. It is also not the time to demonize the Army and ISI, or to create distrust between the military, the government and the judiciary. Promoting ethnic, parochial and religious divisions and strife is the work of the enemy as is undermining morale of the people by casting doubts and misgivings, spreading untruths and rumors.
The writer is a retired Brig, defence analyst, columnist and author of five books. firstname.lastname@example.org