Authorities cracked down on the most powerful political party in the financial hub of Karachi and filed a treason case against its leader Altaf Hussain on Tuesday after he described Pakistan as a “cancer for the entire world”.
Hussain apologised for his remarks but the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) appeared divided. The party leadership said the MQM will operate from “Pakistan alone”, a reference Hussain, who lives in self-exile in London. MQM leader Farooq Sattar said “there is a problem”, adding Hussain’s frequent apologies after incendiary statements is an issue that needs to be resolved.
Nine MQM leaders were detained on Monday night and the party’s headquarters was sealed after party workers, reportedly incited by a speech by Hussain, attacked two TV news channels, resulting in the death of one person and injuries to several others.
Sindh Police chief AD Khawaja said a treason case was registered against Hussain for his speech. “Two cases have been registered against the MQM. One case pertains to treason for his anti-state speech…and the other case pertains to the incident following his remarks which saw some media houses being attacked by MQM activists,” he said.
The trouble began shortly after Hussain addressed MQM workers protesting outside Karachi Press Club against “enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings” of their colleagues. Hussain spoke over phone, and videos featuring the audio of his speech went viral on social media.
“Pakistan is a cancer for the entire world,” Hussain can be heard saying in the videos. “Pakistan is a curse for the world. Pakistan is the epicentre of terrorism for the world…Who says long live Pakistan, it’s down with Pakistan.”
He also shouted slogans against Pakistan and castigated the media for not giving coverage to MQM workers.
On Tuesday, Hussain apologised to the military establishment, including army chief Gen Raheel Sharif and Pakistan Rangers official Maj Gen Bilal Akber.
“From the depth of my heart, I beg pardon from my remarks against Pakistan, the establishment, including Gen Raheel Sharif and DG Rangers,” he said in a statement issued by the MQM.
Hussain, who is facing charges of money laundering in Britain, said he was under severe mental stress over extrajudicial arrests and the condition of MQM workers who were on a hunger strike. “Being a Pakistani, I assure the Pakistani people, establishment, army, ISI, all higher authorities and leaders that I will never use such words again,” he said in the statement.
MQM leader Farooq Sattar distanced the party from Hussain’s remarks at a news conference. “Slogans were raised yesterday regarding the state of Pakistan which should not have been raised at any cost,” Sattar said soon after he was released after an overnight detention.
The MQM’s policy is to unite people on one platform and it could not “think about adopting an anti-state policy”, he said. “This party wants the supremacy and rule of Constitution. However, there was some talk against Pakistan and I can assure you that every supporter of the party denounces this act,” he added.
Shortly after Hussain completed his speech on Monday, MQM activists ransacked the offices of ARY News and Samaa TV and clashed with police, leaving one person dead and more than half a dozen injured. The violence was condemned by all political parties and prompted action by the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers.
Television footage showed dozens of men and women barging into ARY’s office, smashing doors, windows and equipment with rods and batons and setting fire to vehicles. Staffers of Neo TV station, whose office is located in the same building as ARY, were also beaten up.
On the streets, MQM activists clashed with police who tried to stop them, sparking volleys of gunshots and teargas at several places across Karachi. Rioters set fire to vehicles, including a police van.
Hussain and the MQM, which draws support from Urdu-speaking people who migrated from India, were close to the army during the tenure of former military dictator Pervez Musharraf. In recent years, relations between the military and the MQM have been strained.
The MQM has accused the army of using an anti-terror drive to crack down on its workers.