The News

The present animosity between the Altaf-led MQM and the Sharif-led PML has more to do with the October 1998 murder of former Sindh governor Hakim Mohammad Said and the subsequent imposition of the GovernorĂ*s Rule in the province by the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif, rather than the 1992 operation clean-up, following which the two parties had mended fences and joined hands to form coalition governments in Sindh and at the federal level.

The MQM is swinging between the PML and the PPP since the restoration of democracy in Pakistan in 1988, by joining almost every ruling coalition in Sindh. Having joined hands with then prime minister Benazir Bhutto after the 1988 elections, the MQM walked out of the PPP-led coalition in Sindh and at the centre in 1989. After the 1990 elections, the MQM teamed up with the Sharif-led PML, but left the coalition in 1992. After the dismissal of the second Benazir government in November 1996 and the subsequent holding of the 1997 general elections, Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain had again joined forces against their common rival PPP.

On February 21, 1997, the MQM leadership signed a power sharing accord with new prime minister Nawaz Sharif and joined the coalition government at the federal level and in Sindh. As per the accord, Nawaz Sharif had agreed to hold a judicial probe into the deaths of ìhundreds of MQM workers in police custody or fake encounters besides granting compensation to the families of the deceasedî. Interestingly, the PML-MQM did not mention the 1992 military operation, for which the MQM now blames the PML.

The first major development that followed the PML-MQM reunion was the Sindh High CourtĂ*s February 1997 decision to acquit Altaf Hussain and his 18 co-accused in the kidnapping and torture case of Major Kaleemuddin of the Field Intelligence Unit (FIU) of the Pakistan Army. The acquittal only became possible after Advocate General Sindh Shaukat Zuberi had submitted before the court that numerous omissions and contradictions had been made during the trial and that he would not support the convictions of the accused by a special court for suppression of terrorist activities.

On April 1, 1997, the PML-MQM coalition government in Sindh announced the formation of a compensation committee to pay compensation to the members of the affected families and their legal heirs ìwho had suffered during the period October 1993 to November 1997î. Once again, there was no mention of the year 1992 when the infamous operation clean up was launched by the Pakistan Army in Sindh. This was despite the fact that the operation clean-up had started in the rural areas of Sindh on May 23, 1992 and in the urban areas of the province on June 19, 1992. The operation had cost the government over Rs 4 billion since 45,000 military and para-military troops of the Corps V were deployed in Sindh to assist the civil administration in restoring peace.

As a follow up to the PML-MQM power sharing accord of February 21, 1997, the Sharif government subsequently paid a hefty amount of Rs 500 million from the federal kitty as compensation to the families of 711 MQM activists who had either been killed or left disabled. However, the London-based MQM leadership now claims that around 15,000 MQM workers and supporters had lost their lives in the aftermath of the 1992 operation clean up. Interestingly, the MQM workers were not the only ones to have been compensated by the then Sharif government.

A sum of Rs 200 million was also distributed as compensation money amongst 634 bereaved families of the Army, Rangers and the Police Jawans who had lost their lives between May 1992 and April 1998 in ìanti-terrorist operationsî carried out in Sindh.

To the amazement of many, the families of those killed (MQM-A workers) and those who had been blamed for their deaths (law enforcement agencies) were paid an equal compensation amount of Rs 300,000 each by the Sharif government. While the widows and other dependents of the army, rangers and police Jawans were given compensation money because they had lost their lives ìfighting terrorismî, the family members of the MQM-A workers were compensated for their ìextra-judicial killings by the law enforcement agencies.î But the most astonishing aspect of the whole episode was that the army had claimed a head money reward of Rs 5 million from the Sindh government for killing 368 desperados during the 1992 operation clean-up, including several MQM-A activists whose families had to be paid compensation money eventually.

The PML-MQM coalition went smooth afterwards for almost a year, before some serious differences erupted between the two partners, making the MQM to quit the federal and Sindh governments in August 1998. Yet on September 20, 1998, the MQM resumed support to the PML government at federal level and in Sindh, but without joining the cabinets.

However, their alliance came to an abrupt end following the October 17, 1998 murder of the former Sindh governor Hakim Mohammad Said, who was allegedly assassinated by MQM activists in Karachi. The main accused in the murder case was Zulfiqar Haider, a serving MPA of the MQM from the Sindh Assembly.

On October 28, 1998, ten days after the murder and having received the initial inquiry report from the authorities, Nawaz Sharif accused the MQM legislator and seven other party activists of involvement in the Hakim Said murder and set a three-day deadline for Altaf Hussain to handover the killers, including the MPA, failing which he threatened to call-off the PML-MQM alliance.

On October 31, 1998, following the MQM leadershipĂ*s refusal to meet the deadline, the then prime minister Nawaz Sharif imposed federal rule in Sindh, which was followed by a massive crackdown by the security agencies against the MQM, which led to a fresh round of hostilities between the two political parties whose leadership is at daggers drawn against each other even today