By Ayaz Amir
June 26, 2015
Recall that famous speech of Altaf Hussain’s in which he exhorted his community to sell their TV sets and buy arms. The MQM was never a political party in the accepted sense of the word. Beneath its surface lurked the spectres of violence and terror.
The Taliban, who arrived on the national scene much later, were able to terrorise the tribal areas along the Pak-Afghan border. Altaf Hussain’s success was more spectacular. He terrorised and held in his iron fist Pakistan’s largest city and only port, its commercial and business capital, the exit and entry point of all its exports and imports. For well over three decades he was the unchallenged king – the less charitable would say the don – of Karachi and much of urban Sindh.
No martial law could compete with the hold the MQM exercised over the Karachi media – no media house, no TV channel, no newspaper, daring to go against the whims and wishes of this self-proclaimed ‘secular and liberal’ party. Just as in days gone by, newspapers would not name the ISI; much of the national media would refer to the MQM in an oblique and roundabout manner.
And when Altaf Hussain got it into his mind to deliver another of his interminable telephonic addresses, he could go on for hours – yes, hours – and his rambling, often punch-drunk discourses would be carried live by all TV channels. This was the extent of his power, and this the glory.
Now it hasn’t gone but it is under unprecedented threat, with an ongoing murder investigation and money laundering charges not before a Pakistani court – which would have been easy to settle – but before the London authorities. The MQM also faces internal pressures. The over-touted former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kemal, has embraced the safer shoreline of Dubai. The MQM coordinating committee has been shuffled and reshuffled in recent months. And two suspects in the Imran Farooq murder case are in the custody of the authorities, awaiting the recording of their testimony.
If all this was not enough, we now have the BBC story about the MQM receiving money from India. A charge long directed at the MQM it now comes covered in the mantle of the BBC’s authority. BOL TV would never have been harmed by a Pakistani story. It’s the Declan Walsh piece in the New York Times which proved its undoing. Owen Bennett-Jones of the BBC has performed a similar service as regards the MQM.
This is the long arm of destiny, what in Urdu we dub ‘Muqafat-i-Amal’. Benevolence cannot last forever. How could terror and violence of the MQM kind last forever?
But fate works its purpose in strange ways. The MQM’s mounting troubles begin from that one event of Imran Farooq’s murder. Who in Altaf Hussain’s inner circle could have imagined way back in December 2010 that this would come to haunt the party?
For if this murder had not happened, the London Metropolitan Police would have had no cause to look closely at Altaf Hussain and his activities. His house and offices would not have been raided. The sizeable quantity of cash seized from there would not have been discovered. There would have been no money-laundering charge, no probe into income tax evasion. And the two suspects who fled London soon after the murder and flew to Colombo and then to Karachi would not have been taken into custody – on a tipoff from somewhere, as it is believed – on their arrival.
Altaf Hussain was more than a match for anything happening to him in Pakistan. He could bring Karachi to a standstill at a moment’s notice. Such was the extent of his clout, even from a distance. It’s the London angle which is proving too much for him. And the murder investigation is still hovering over his head and the two suspects have yet to be grilled by the UK authorities. It looks likely that if they were not ready to sing, they would not have been brought in from the cold.
There were other causes of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto’s downfall. But the screw used to nail him was the murder of Ahmed Raza Kasuri’s father. The MQM’s troubles were piling up but the nail in this case was Imran Farooq’s murder. Does anyone think that the Model Town murders will vanish into thin air leaving no mark behind? It is a ticking time bomb whose time will come.
What did the great Sahir say? “Zulm Phir Zulm Hai, Barhta Hai To Mit Jaata Hai…Khoon Phir Khoon Hai, Tapke Ga To Jam Jaaye Ga.”
There’s a pattern emerging. Its outlines are dim but are getting clearer. Consider not just the travails of the MQM but connect all the dots. There is the army turning its back on the past – a past it did much to create – and at long last taking on the forces of religion-coated militancy and extremism. There is the cleansing operation in Karachi against extortion and violence, which is sparing no one and has come close even to the hitherto secure confines of Bilawal House. (And Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur have lost little time in decamping to London…even as Karachi remains in the grip of the worst heat-wave crisis in living memory.)
The MQM was untouchable. Bilawal House was untouchable. If the civilians had anything to do with it, the Taliban would have remained untouchable. Not the army of Musharraf and Kayani but the present army has taken on these untouchables. As a result, new winds are blowing across the landscape. The temple dedicated to loot and plunder stands, but by calling into question what were certainties cast in stone until yesterday, the pillars of the temple are being shaken.
Were this process to stop now, if through expedience or fear or fatigue a halt was called to its momentum, then at least in the lifetime of my generation – the first post-Partition generation – we can say goodbye to the promise and hope of change and reform. This is a turning point or it can prove to be a turning point, if those touching the untouchables, taking on the holy cows of yesterday, remain steadfast and do not falter.
Such a chance does not come every day. Such a tide does not flow every moonlit night. We have the Bard’s word for it that such a tide if taken at the flood can lead to fortune. “Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries.” The next words are enough to shake the ghosts in their sleep: “On such a full sea are we now afloat…”
Do we have the courage of our circumstances? Or will this remain a half-cocked affair, things touched but not pulled up by the roots, as our condition demands?
The fear is being voiced that what is happening across Pakistan should not come to be seen as a Punjabi enterprise – the army moving decisively elsewhere but Punjab remaining untouched. For this shaking of the pillars to carry across-the-board conviction, no one should be spared…not Punjab, and not even the army.
There are cases against ex generals – the NLC case for one – which are pending. There should be some movement on those. And Gen Musharraf should be called to account…not for treason which was a bogus, vendetta-fuelled case from the word go but for his links with the MQM. He threw the MQM a lifeline when in power. Shouldn’t that be looked into?
But the bottom line remains: now or never. We make the most of our present circumstances or we bid farewell to what remains of the Pakistani dream.