Altaf Hussain is incorrigible. He has got into the obnoxious habit of abusing and threatening anyone who dares cross him. He gets away with it because the MQM death squads that blindly answer to his will instill fear in everyone high or low. No media dare expose him and no witness testify against him because of the fear of violent reprisals. Indeed, no one within the party dare criticise, much less challenge Altaf for much the same reason.
But his reign of terror is coming to an end. He has brought the MQM to the brink of disrepair and the country is united as never before in opposing Altaf Hussain’s blackmailing and terrorizing tactics. The military establishment under General Raheel Sharif, in particular, which once allied with him politically under Generals Zia, Aslam Beg, Musharraf and Kayani, has finally woken up to the threat he poses to state and society and decided to cut him down to size. This is the critical new factor in the MQM’s latest situation.
Former COAS General Asif Nawaz was the first one in 1991-92 to tackle the MQM, compelling Altaf Hussain to flee to the UK. Then in 1994 Benazir Bhutto unleashed the Rangers under Gen Naseerullah Babar when she too couldn’t stomach his blackmailing and murderous ways. Nawaz Sharif tried to do business with him but gave up in frustration and anger. However, General Musharraf undid the good work done by his immediate military predecessors and rehabilitated Altaf for politically expedient reasons. The Altaf Hussain MQM used the space and clout of the Musharraf decade to entrench itself in Karachi and Hyderabad by an indiscriminate use of armed might. The terrorist rank and file of AHMQM swelled and Altaf Hussain became Lord and Master in exile. All dissent in Pakistan and the UK was violently quashed. The PPP in Sindh became hostage to its armed might. The “Pearl of the East”, Karachi, became an ungovernable nightmare.
But the decline of AHMQM, not the MQM constituency, was foretold some time ago owing to the unsustainable policies of its mentor. Just as Azeem Tariq’s murder in 1993 set the stage for Altaf Hussain’s rise to unchallenged power, the murder of Imran Farooq in London has become a millstone around Altaf Hussain’s neck. It has compelled the British government to open investigations into charges of murder, money laundering and incitement to violence against him, denting his “invincibility”. In Pakistan, the “alliance” with the PPP has collapsed despite Asif Zardari’s deal-making expertise. PM Nawaz Sharif and COAS Gen Raheel Sharif are the last nails in AHMQM’s coffin. The flight of dissenters from the rank and file of AHMQM is palpable. First it was Mustafa Kamal and Co who fled to Dubai. Then a host of others bolted to South Africa or the USA or just slunk away into nooks and crannies in Pakistan. Sindh Governor Ishrat ul Ibad was next to cut the umbilical chord. The return of Mustafa Kamal to found a new mohajir party in Karachi under the aegis of the military establishment marks a turning point in the fate of AHMQM not because it poses a serious challenge to it electorally as demonstrated by jailbird Wasim Akhtar’s elevation to the Mayorship of Karachi, but because it signals an end to the politics of fear in Karachi. It is this desperation that has both provoked Altaf Hussain to cross the red line in Karachi vis a vis the military establishment but also, ironically enough, given Farooq Sattar and the Rabita Committee the courage to stand up, however haltingly, to tell Altaf Hussain to gave them space to breathe and survive.
This is not yet Minus-One Moment for the AHMQM. But the process is unmistakable. Farooq Sattar is crying in the wilderness into which Altaf Hussain has shoved him and the Rabita Committee. He is pleading and begging Altaf Hussain to cut him some political space in Karachi, with the military establishment fuming at Altaf’s outrageous “anti-Pakistan” and “anti-Raheel Sharif” tirades. This is a temporary reprieve. Altaf Hussain has retreated tactically as he has done so often in the past. His “apology” is contrived and meaningless. He is a desperate man given to desperate measures. He wont give up the reins of power to anyone in London or Karachi, not even if he is imprisoned in the UK or repatriated to Pakistan. Farooq Sattar’s drama reflects the dilemma of his personal frustration and political anguish at being pushed into an indefensible corner by his leader.
We haven’t seen the back of Altaf Hussain yet. But we can see the beginning of the end of AHMQM’s politics of fear, blackmail and terror. The civil-military establishment of Pakistan has taken an irrevocable decision and the rank and file of the MQM will not risk life or limb for Altaf anymore even though they may still vote for those MQM politicians who vow to protect “Mohajir” rights.