First Published in Economic Affairs - Islamabad based Magazine (Pakistan) / Aug 2013
BY Afrah Jamal
‘What was it for?' The BBC Two anchor asks Farooq Sattar (MQM’s Deputy Convener and Parliamentary leader) with an impassive face, referring to the stash of pounds found after a raid on Altaf Hussain’s London pad.
‘Whatever it was for’, he answers, at his inarticulate best.
The word ‘body bags’ ominously flashes on the screen, Mr. Sattar changes tactics; ‘we were all laughing’, dismissing it as a joke.
The savvy anchor runs more damning clips.
‘It is out of context’, Farooq declares. ‘There is no reference to context’, he adds helpfully.
But your own SC took notice…
‘o’ that’, ‘mere emotional outburst.’
Farooq Sattar on his famous denying spree is not news. But the BBC documentary aired in July 2013 that has taken on a party with the power to bring an entire city to a complete standstill, or turn it into a battlefield depending on its mood, is talk of the town.
MQM, notwithstanding its controversial design is a survivor and has weathered many storms. Its benevolent front is offset by a ruthless core allowing it to maintain its stranglehold. Granted, this is not the only party with affinity for an arms bearing faction but the militant wing is reportedly used as much to keep opposition in check as it is to keep its own people in line and a city of millions in fear. Now that their chief is in a legal bind, the future of the organization is called under question.
A few months ago, a talk show host wondered if they had prepared a post-Bhai contingency. Do children sit around the house preparing for a future where their father pops off, came the strange reply. If there was a contingency, it was clearly not open for discussion. Several things have happened since then. The Committee members were roughed up by their own workers and the setup has been overhauled; its erstwhile head stepped down for 2 seconds and is now under investigation. And the ‘bhatta’ (extortion) culture which they have developed to an art form, and land grabbing was put on hold – officially.
Since the British government’s involvement, the local rumor mill has gone into overdrive and citizens have been taking bets on when and if the London based leader/speechmaker will be arrested and the nature of the ripple effects on Pakistan’s financial hub. A party that describes itself as a ‘liberal’ organization, that believes in ‘realism practicalism’ and has taken three decades to put down roots is unlikely to fizzle out should that happen. Karachi, always a hair trigger away from violence can expect blowback from the arrest. Once a beneficiary of the infamous NRO (National Reconciliation Ordinance) 2007 that gave a ‘get out of jail free card’ to the top tier leadership charged with ‘68 murders, 30 attempted murders, 10 kidnappings and 70 balwa (rioting) cases', MQM’s sliding credibility is due in part to their own heavy handed approach, and careless talk about weaponry. Even ardent supporters look sheepish and flinch at the bosses’ obviously damaged speech mode.
An ill advised letter sent to Tony Blair that offered ‘intel’ on Taliban sanctuaries among other things and asked for help in disbanding the ISI could be one reason for MQM’s prolonged lifespan. For whatever reason, Altaf Hussain’s status has been downgraded from asset to liability and without the safety net of an NRO or a justice system that can be swayed, the coming days could spell a change for its political setup. Some believe this could be pressure tactics from Britain’s side to get MQM to ‘do more’ perhaps? Or maybe they no longer find them relevant with the imminent rise of PTI. Either way, the time may have come to start thinking of re-branding the outfit and stop playing games with Pakistan’s economic heart.
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