On May 26, 2011, in Azizabad’s Lal Qila Ground Altaf Hussain was speaking over the telephone to MQM supporters and families of “martyred” party workers from London. He wanted to know if they would forgive excommunicated party leader Amir Khan. Their response cracked open the air as it streamed forth from the giant speakers in one unified beam: “Yeeeessss, we forgive him.”
The reality back on the ground, however, was far from it. People sitting in the last rows of the crowd could hear the families of lost workers mumbling angrily. They kept saying, ‘How could we forgive him? He killed our fathers and sons. He deceived us once; he’ll do it again.’
And they were right. For much blood had been shed after Amir had revolted against the Altaf Hussain nearly two decades earlier. He had then joined another party defector, Afaq Ahmed, who had started his own faction of the MQM with the hyphenated Haqeeqi, a party that was formed when the army launched an operation against the original MQM in 1992.
But by 2011 Amir was taken back into the party fold. Altaf Hussain had been advised by a group within the MQM to publicly forgive him.
Eight years since that day, much history has been written. Altaf Hussain can no longer broadcast speeches in Karachi and his MQM has been reined in by law enforcement and the courts. As the party came legally and politically under pressure during these changes, it had to split into MQM-A and MQM-Pakistan with the latter only being allowed to formally operate in Pakistan under a different set of leaders. The A stood for Altaf. But some recent changes have led many party workers to feel the same way they did in 2011. MQM-A is still here but it is no longer MQM-Altaf. It’s MQM-Amir.
A senior leader of the party claimed that Amir Khan, by now the senior deputy convener, holds the control of MQM-Pakistan.
“A group has taken over the entire party,” the party leader said on condition of anonymity. “Dr Khalid Maqbool is the convener of the party,” he said, but Amir Khan is running party affairs. “Most of the MNAs, MPAs, Karachi mayor and DMC chairmen directly report to Amir Khan instead of convener Khalid Maqbool.”
The MQM, which had controlled urban Sindh with an iron fist for over three decades, is not even a shadow of itself.
Three years ago, on August 22, 2016, the party disassociated itself from London-based founder Altaf Hussain and his MQM after he made an incendiary speech against national institutions and the country. The London leaders provide the explanation that Altaf Hussain had been disturbed over the alleged extra-judicial murders of his workers in a Karachi operation which began in 2013 and hasn’t been formally called off. The next day, a new MQM was formed, MQM-Pakistan. Soon, the party’s constitution was amended to exclude its founder’s name.
Just a month after that, the Sindh Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution against the MQM supremo. MQM leader Khawaja Izharul Hassan, who was then Leader of the Opposition in Sindh, was a joint signatory to the resolution. The resolution sought for a case of treason against those responsible for shouting anti-Pakistan slogans on August 22.
In July 2017, the party contested its first election (the PS-114 by-poll) without the party founder and the result was as expected: It lost the provincial assembly seat that it had won once before in 2008.
The party failed to recover and learn from this loss and continued on a downward spiral. Internal rifts, coupled with pressure from the outside further weakened the MQM, or whatever was left of it in Pakistan.
Dr Farooq Sattar, a MQM heavyweight who took over command of the ‘reformed’ MQM after Altaf Hussain, was shown the door, and expelled from the party after he developed differences with Amir Khan.
In the 2018 elections, the MQM managed to win just six national assembly seats from urban Sindh. This was a far cry from the 26 NA seats that it had in 2013.
MQM-P’s performance on the provincial front was not much different. In the Sindh Assembly, the party has 21 seats, including five reserved ones. After 2013, the MQM had 51 MPAs, making it the second largest party in the province.
The party’s performance in the recent past still reminds its workers and supporters of him. They blame the current leadership and its infighting for the ruin of the party.
“They are the incompetent children of a very competent leader,” said an MQM joint sector in-charge who has been working with the party for over three decades.
“They are cosmetic leaders,” the MQM office-bearer said, referring to the current party leaders. “The MQM is no longer above the surface. It has sunk into the ground.”
The younger party lot is also not much impressed by the efforts leaders are making in Karachi. They blame senior leaders for the party’s downfall. “We are not happy with the MQM’s performance,” said a young worker.
“The people who had revolted against their own leader can’t be loyal to their people.”
The party has no future if its leaders don’t rectify their mistakes, said a senior worker.
Wasim Akhter disagrees. He is serving as Karachi’s mayor. He claims that they reformed the party after August 22 and the MQM today is “truly a democratic party”.
“There were loopholes in the party and we are trying to fix them,” he said. He feels that the workers are happy with the party’s performance. His use of the word “loopholes” is telling—a euphemism perhaps for much bigger schisms.