The surprise announcement by MQM lawmaker Farooq Sattar that the party will now be run from Pakistan and not from London, where party founder Altaf Hussain has lived in self-exile for 24 years, has been welcomed by many quarters.
It has been welcomed most of all by MQM cadres, who at times have found it difficult to defend the actions and speeches of Hussain, who stirred up a storm on Monday by describing Pakistan as a “cancer for the entire world” during a speech.
In the past, Hussain’s speeches, in which he threatened other politicians and abused the military high command, resulted in a court order under which his speeches were no longer permitted to be aired live on television.
Despite this ban, Hussain’s speech on Monday, which led to MQM workers attacking the offices of two TV channels and destroying public and private property, suggests he continues to hold sway over the party faithful in the financial hub of Karachi.
Keeping this in mind, the announcement by Sattar is being seen as a compromise reached between the MQM and the army high command.
Political analysts say that despite being boycotted by all major political parties in the country as well as confronting the Pakistan Army, the MQM’s political fortunes have only brightened.
The voters of Karachi continue to turn out in droves to vote for the MQM, which mainly draws support from Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India, as the party is seen as championing their rights.
A move by the army to introduce an alternate leadership in the form of former MQM mayor Mustafa Kamal failed miserably. Kamal’s Pak Sar Zameen Party has been unable to draw crowds and has been dismissed as a non-starter.
Given the hold that the MQM has over Karachi’s electorate, talk of banning the party because of the anti-Pakistan comments by Hussain in Monday’s speech, and repeated by his supporters soon after, seem to have now died down. While a case of treason has been registered against Hussain, this does not amount to much because he is not in Pakistan and several such cases remain pending against him.
Banning the MQM would have also brought the army in direct confrontation with the party and this would have led to a long and troubled time for Karachi, where the bulk of MQM supporters live. This is the last thing the army wants.
De-linking Hussain from the MQM for the time being helps save face for all sides. But that does not mean Hussain is not in charge of the party. “There is only one leader and that is Altaf Hussain,” was the chant that went up outside the Karachi Press Club after the announcement by Sattar that there would be no dictation from London.
Talk of MQM splitting up or a crisis in the party’s leadership too seems far-fetched at this stage.
The real challenge that came to Hussain was neither from the MQM nor from political forces in Pakistan. It was the case related to the 2010 murder in London of his former colleague, Imran Farooq – in which UK authorities were at one time pointing to him as a suspect – that caused much fear for him.
Sitting in the UK as a Britsih citizen, Hussain remains safe from the reach of the ISI and the army high command. If and when he is forced to return to Pakistan, there would be a real challenge to him and to his party. Till then, the MQM continues.