Of Muttahida Quami Movement

Gautam Sen
Pakistan’s Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) – the party of Mohajirs ie. the Muslims and their ancestors from pre-partition areas forming part of basically northern India, is in apparent turmoil. The MQM, lead by its charismatic and maverick leader, Altaf Hussain – who incidentally does not hold a formal  position in the Party and is presently a UK citizen, since 1984, has been in the eye of a political storm after his recent 23rd August dia tribe against the Pakistani state and its power establishment, when he described Pakistan as “a cancer of the entire world” and the “epicentre of terrorism “. Thereafter, the MQM is reported to be moving towards a split, after a rebel MQM leader and a former Senator from the party , Mustafa Kamal threatened to take over organisational control of the party from Altaf Hussain, and operate the MQM at headquarters from Pakistan instead of London where the international secretariat under the dominance of the latter, is located. Mustafa Kamal has also condemned Altaf Hussain invective against Pakistan.
It will be interesting to see how this controversy  created by Altaf Hussain and the manoeuvrings by Mustafa Kamal and a few other MQM dissidents, probably at the behest of the Pakistan Army and the supporting Pakistani political establishment, play out. The  latest outburst of Altaf Hussain may be viewed in the backdrop of mounting political oppression by the Pakistani establishment against the MQM, a strident  campaign by a section of the media against his Party, assassination of of many of the MQM Party activists and even threats posed to his life by the Pakistan Taliban, constrictions on its political mobilisational efforts within Sindh province and in the Karachi urban agglomeration in particular.However, if Mustafa Kamal and the other dissidents are able to make a dent in Altaf Hussain ‘s support base, then the Pakistani power elite would have achieved a major breakthrough towards undermining the MQM as a major political entity.
Mustafa Kamal, the rebel MQM leader,has an interesting track record. He has been the Mayor of Karachi during (2005-10) as a Party Councillor, an MQM Senator later, but resigned in 2015, then quietly left Pakistan and ended up in Dubai. Kamal however, returned to Pakistan in March this year and claims that he did so consequent on what he terms as a “call of conscience”. Could it be that, the Pakistani establishment was grooming him to subvert the MQM and take on Altaf Hussain? Altaf Hussain already has an array of opponents lined up against him, from the Pakistan Army and the ISI to Imran Khan and  his Tehrik -i-  Insaf Party, apart from traditional adversaries like the Pakistan Muslim  League (Nawaz Sharif faction). The Pakistan Peoples’ Party dominated by the Bhutto family , may also have a vested interest in bringing about an erosion in the political strength of the MQM, considering that both have at times competed for allegiance of the Mohajirs.
Altaf Hussain had become a virtual political phenomenon in Pakistan rather than just a political leader in the traditional sense.
This only explains the fact that, despite being in exile in Britain and away from the Pakistani political scene for the past 24 years, he still continues to draw grassroot and near-hysterical support in that country in the traditional MQM support -base areas. While Altaf Hussain has ensured that his MQM remains a player in Pakistan ‘s parliamentary scene with 24 National Assembly members and eight Senators with the status of third and fourth largest Party in these two bodies respectively,he has successfully wielded extra-Constitutional means through the MQM armed cadres in the populous and financially significant Karachi zone, to maintain political space in Pakistan .
It is also to be reckoned that the MQM has always been in the Pakistani mainstream and maintained a degree of modus vivendi  with that countries major political Parties, while simultaneously espousing the cause of the Mohajirs. This is unlike the case of Baluchis and sections of Kyber Paktunwa,who  have voiced their grievances regarding backwardness, autonomy and protection of their ethnic interests in their respective regions buttressed on their own mobilisational efforts. Though a demand for so-called ‘Mohajirstan’ was raised by the MQM, it was never pursued with fervour and within a logical framework of action.
In the above-mentioned backdrop, it appears that the MQM will continue to fester in Pakistan’s political milieu in the mainstream regions of Sindh and Punjab. Altaf Hussain may also lose his grip on the MQM, but will in all provability retain sufficient political and destructive material resources to disturb civic life and socio-economic harmony within Pakistan.To that extent Altaf  Hussain and his MQM – even if he does not remain the sole unquestioned leader of that outfit, will have their relevance to external and internal forces having a stake in the governance of Pakistan.
(The author  was an Additional Chief Secretary-level Adviser to a State Govt.)