MQM, Violence and Political Expediency

Karachi, the principal city of Pakistan, is home to every ethnic group and rightly called a mini Pakistan. It also hosts a fair number of immigrants from South Asian countries. Despite having a large polyglot population, the communal peace, for the most part, prevailed in the city until the early nineteen eighties mid eighties, and then the scene of civility changed to omnipresent violence. What happened?

The demographic changes, cultural and economic differences between ethnic groups are often reasons for division and tussle for supremacy and control of the urban constituency.  In attempt to control political and economic life, confrontation and violent contestation become the only options imaginable to feuding ethnic groups. However, demographic changes, cultural and economic differences were always in play in Karachi, as in any large multi ethnic city, but notable political and ethnic violence was absent from the city streets; the city for the greater part remained peaceful and ethnic relations were more than cordial.

If we examine closely we will note that a vicious cycle of violence erupted in Karachi only after the ethnic party Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) emerged on the city political scene.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s execution in 1979 (or as claimed by many, judicially murdered under the directives of the then military ruler General Ziaul Haq), aggravated the feelings of national deprivation among the Sindhi populace and gave a new impetus to the Sindh-based nationalist movement. To counter the Sindhi nationalist movement’s opposition to his rule, General Zia, in his ill-considered and selfish intent, fanned the politics of Sindh on ethnic and linguistic lines; he patronized Mohajir population of Sindh and helped form Mohajir Quami Mahaz (Mohajir National Front), as a political response to Sindhi nationalism. People who moved from India and settled in Pakistan, mostly in Karachi, at the time of partition in 1947 are called Mohajir (refugees).

In 1997, the term Mohajir was dropped from the party’s name and replaced with Muttahida (United). The change in the name was made in an attempt to shed the parochial and ethnic image and give the group an inclusive and national appearance.

The MQM, despite a change in its nomenclature from Mohajir to Muttahida, remains in all respects, an ethnically inclined, ethnically led party of the Mohajirs for the Mohajirs, with no following outside the urban Sindh. 

Since its power base is limited to the Mohajir community of the urban Sindh, and even there, votes come through intimidation and courtesy of the secret agencies, MQM’s political interests, naturally, lie in increasing or, at least, maintaining the Mohajir population’s numerical strength. After Mohajir, Pashtun are the second largest group in Karachi in terms of sheer number. The Pashtun community is taken by the ethnic MQM as its rival in political leadership; MQM understands that an increase in Pashtun population cuts into its only and narrow power base –” Karachi. It is for this reason, MQM in a selfish and hostile manner opposes the settlement in Karachi of Pashtun displaced from the war zone in the Northern Pakistan.

Farooq Sattar, a leader of MQM, described the Pashtun settlers as “strangers in Sindh”, as if Pashtun are not Pakistanis and Karachi is not a part of Pakistan. This mindset is not newly acquired; this shallow and selfish nature is part of MQM political psyche since its inception. Party’s supremo Altaf Hussain in one of his early speeches told the migrating Pashtun and other nationalities coming to Karachi, "There are also Lahore and Faisalabad in the way. These too are Pakistani cities". How strange! MQM is a party of immigrants who when came to Karachi in search of a home were themselves strangers in Sindh.

Pakistan has dozens of regional, religious, national, and ethnic based political parties, and none may be wholesome and incorrupt in its character, however, no political party has been accused of employing terror tactics, including torture and killing, as its political modus operandi, this distinction entirely belongs to MQM. The torture and killing is not reserved for only political opponents; party dissidents and members of faction groups are also terrorized in the same brutal manner, they are tortured, killed and eliminated.

MQM’s proclivity for anarchy and violence can be seen from Altaf Hussain’s famous exhortation to his men to sell TV, VCRs and buy guns and ammunitions, and his calling to party activists  “to snatch their rights.” Violent incitements like this from the party’s top leadership have created the militarist and violent frame of mind, which is commonly displayed by the MQM activists to subdue the opponents to their arrogant supremacy.

According to a paper submitted by Sindh Democratic Group in the Supreme Court of Pakistan, “The internecine war between the 2 factions of MQM has become a byword in sheer brutality and heartlessness. Members of either faction are picked up by the rival faction and murdered after inflicting inhuman torture, like drilling holes, pulling nails, breaking bones and shooting limbs before ending their lives.” Such horrific and unspeakable crimes were completely unheard of before the birth of the MQM. The horrible crimes perpetrated by MQM show the extent to which it can go to fight anyone who dared encroach upon its perceived turf.

Its politics of terror and intimidation, its use of violence as a means to control Karachi, its pursuit of murder and extortion as an art of conducting politics is too well known a fact for MQM to get away with it. No protestations of innocence from the MQM can possibly change the estimate formed by those who live in MQM constituencies and witness these crimes committed by its workers on a regular basis.

The NRO list of beneficiaries affirms the criminal character of the MQM; it contains the top names of MQM leaders, including the party chief Altaf Hussain, as well rank and files who were involved and charged with gruesome crimes of murders and kidnappings. According to the NAB sources, MQM politicians including Altaf Hussain, Farooq Sattar, Ishratul Ibad, among others, had been charged with cases of 68 murders, 30 attempted murders, and 10 kidnappings cases.

MQM owns another exclusive distinction; it is the only political party whose leadership decries Pakistan and questions the wisdom of country’s existence and that is while being part of the ruling coalition and, moreover, raises the treacherous pronouncement on the soil of Pakistan’s archenemy. Its supreme leader Altaf Hussain during his visit to India in 2004 made the infamous statement, “idea of Pakistan was dead at its inception” and “The division of the subcontinent was the biggest blunder”. Meaning the making of Pakistan was the colossal mistake. He did not stop there, in the next breath he traitorously begged India to “forgive the people who left and let them return”. Altaf’s speech in India had Indian intelligence agency RAW’s signature all over it. The speech along with the confessions of MQM’s activist Ajmal Pahari about his terror training in India gives factual support to the allegation that MQM has connection with RAW and serving its anti Pakistani interests.

Despite of the well-known criminal activities, not only that the MQM remains spared from media censure and scrutiny, it receives generally favorable coverage. The media’s kind and congenial relations with MQM is little to do with its secular politics endearing to Pakistan’s liberal media, it is more out of the fear of the MQM’s militant wing; MQM has a reputation of eliminating journalists for their unfavorable reporting of MQM’s politics and activities. Muhammad Salahuddin, editor of a weekly magazine Takbeer, in 1994 and Wali Khan Babar, Geo’s reporter in 2011, paid the ultimate price for being critical of MQM. And, many journalists in between suffered bloody retribution at the hands of MQM for their critical writing and reporting.

Paris based Reporters Without Borders has expressed concern over MQM’s threatening stance against Pakistani journalists. After May 12, 2007, violence in Karachi in which dozens of people lost their lives, The Mojahir Rabita Council (MRC), an affiliate of MQM, issued a statement threatening to some 20 journalists it described as “chauvinist” and “cruel elements” and hostile to their movement. One of the journalists threatened told Reporters Without Borders that he was scared because “having your name on the list means that the MRC wants to eliminate you.” 

Why MQM, given its absolute criminal behavior and oppressive regimen of terror, has survived and tolerated on the political scene for so long? The answer lies in the Pakistani politics of expediency and communal polarization played by, both, military dictators and civilian rulers to strengthen and prolong their grip on power. Since General Zia, who midwifed the political birth of ethnic MQM in 1980’s, to the present rulers all wooed and used MQM for political opportunism, sacrificing principles and national interests.

Pakistan’s both major political parties, PPP and PML-N, at one time or the other labeled MQM as a terrorist organization, and yet at other times sought its political and electoral support to form government, and also often to destabilize the rule of the opponent party or weaken the opposition. When MQM provides the needed electoral strength in the Parliament to form the government, it want pound of flesh and wring every drop of blood from the confederacy; the obliged rulers in Islamabad and Karachi must look the other way on the illegal and criminal activities and abuse of power by MQM. The unprincipled politics of selfish interests has come to define the political elite of Pakistan.

Pakistan Peoples Party is often in clash with the MQM and calls it a “terrorist outfit”. Yet, when in need it does not shy away from politically allying itself with the “terrorist outfit”. In 1988, the PPP joined hands with the MQM to form the national government and provincial in Sindh. Again, in 1993, PPP was in partnership with the MQM in the Sindh government. The present PPP government in Islamabad and Karachi, once again, has MQM as its major coalition partner.

Nawaz Sharif’s PML is no different from the PPP when it comes to political expediency. It has dubbed MQM as a terrorist entity but embraced it when circumstances dictated. In 1989, PML wooed the MQM to support it in the no-confidence motion against the PPP government. In 1997, the PML with only 14 seats in a house of 109 joined hands with the MQM to deny the PPP, the largest party in Sindh Assembly, to form government. It took the brutal murder of Hakim Mohammad Said for Nawaz Sharif in 1998 to withdraw his government’s patronization and protection of an ally that has long lost control over the militant armed elements in its rank.

After it ouster from power in 1998 on murder charges based on the “credible and inconvertible” evidences, the entire MQM leadership went in hiding and remained out of sight until General Musharraf took over power in October 1999. General Musharraf’s military government not only revived the declining MQM but also gave it a free hand to renew its politics of violence and terror. The May 12, 2007 carnage in Karachi is a glaring example of impunity of crime and freedom of violence the MQM enjoyed in return for its political support for the military regime.

Before the emergence of MQM, people of all the ethnic groups co-existed amicably and peacefully. It is only after the appearance of the MQM that Karachi became synonymous with target killings, abduction, and extortion. MQM activists treat Karachi as if it was their own personal fiefdom and they are born to rule and nobody should question their authority or power, and people of all the other ethnic group would have to capitulate to their rule. If we critically examine and analyze the Karachi’s crime scene, we will find all evidences point to MQM as a major culprit and perpetrator of the savagery.

A true law and order cannot be restored in Karachi, unless the politicians stop sacrificing the national interests and good governance at the altar of political expediency. Lawlessness will remain the order of the day as long political patronage is giving to terror forces masquerading as political party in return for its support.

Do politicians care enough about the sanctity of honor, life, and property of common citizens to say no to political and electoral support of MQM?