Aamir Ghauri


LONDON: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement founder and leader Altaf Hussain has said it would be wrong to term the political grievances of urban Sindh and its expression of the same as 'terrorism' and has urged the present Pakistani government and authorities to understand the issues involved.

In a detailed interview with The News at the MQM's International Secretariat at Edgware, London, a candid Altaf said the people of urban Sindh have genuine political grievances, which should not be suppressed by force. But he was less than confidant whether the government would listen to this argument. "The authorities are trying to divert the attention of the people of Pakistan and the international community by saying that terrorism is going on in Karachi while people are being victimised and discriminated through brute state force". He said that actual terrorism was, in fact, going on in Punjab, which could prove fatal not only for Pakistan's international relations but also for the security of the state. "Different Punjab-based religious groups, with foreign affiliations are fighting each other and the on-going Shia-Sunni clashes have caused regional and international consequences."

He said this confrontation has gone beyond Punjab and has engaged other regional forces, affecting Pakistan's relationships with neighbouring countries as well as the international community. "This is a matter which should attract the government rather than killing its own innocent citizens".

Altaf, who started his political carrier some two decades ago with the founding of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO), blamed Nawaz Sharif for the present political mess in Karachi. "The present government of Nawaz Sharif is responsible for everything happening in Karachi or elsewhere in the country".

He said Nawaz Sharif is trying to establish a one-party dictatorial rule in the country and trying to make Pakistan a part of his "Raiwind fiefdom". He added: "The Sharif government is taking actions which are entirely against democratic norms and the constitution of the land".

He alleged that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was trying to force a reluctant Army to take action in Karachi. "It was Nawaz Sharif who used the armed forces against the Mohajir community in 1992; but it has become clear now during the present operation that the army has not come on the streets of Karachi, while Nawaz Sharif has".

Altaf accused the prime minister of creating a gulf between the army and the Mohajir community. "Nawaz Sharif was the one who said in front of me and my colleagues that the army started the 1992 operation against the MQM and Mohajirs on their own and that his government did not give the army the mandate for such an operation."

The MQM leader added: "Mohajir as a community have never ever thought negatively about the armed forces. They were the well-wishers of the Pakistan army, but Nawaz Sharif has created hatred between the two of them." He said if the Punjabis or Pakhtoons or Balochis are targeted in a manner in which Mohajirs were being treated, their reaction would have been the same.

Clad in his traditional kurta-pajama, Altaf Hussain said the MQM will never accept the federal government's attempts to run Karachi from Islamabad. "We would never allow the government to run Karachi as a federal territory after capturing it to establish PML rule here".

He said ever since the MQM joined the coalition in February 1997, Islamabad was interfering in Sindh. "The chief minister was never authorised full powers. Federal ministers would come regularly to interfere and when these ministers failed in their attempts they started blaming the MQM".

He said the government might declare Karachi a federal territory but warned that such a decision would be the first step towards the 'breaking up and disintegration of the country" and added that the government should focus on giving full autonomy to smaller provinces who are feeling frustrated with the way federal government is behaving.

He said the MQM faced "charges of a very serious nature including planning for the creation of Jinnahpur" but people did not believe them and the party continued to win in Karachi and as a separate province and also about urban and rural Sindhi provinces, but what the MQM demands is that the people's mandate should be honoured and trusted," he added.

Altaf said the Nawaz Sharif government was trying to force the armed forces into action by fabricating charges, which are not true. The government is accusing the MQM of Hakim Saeed's murder but, in fact, Nawaz Sharif would have coined some other charges to start the operation if there was not this murder, he said. "Nawaz Sharif known that the MQM is the only hurdle in his way to become the king of Pakistan. His present policies show this dictatorial mentality".

The MQM founder requested the armed forces to keep themselves from the 'ill-intentions' of the prime minister as any action against a particular community would not be in the larger interest of the country. When asked as to why the MQM falls short of naming 'certain agencies' behind the Karachi mess, Altaf said these involve the military and civil agencies like the Inter Services Intelligence, Military Intelligence, Intelligence Bureau etc. but added that the majority of these agencies' personnel are not to blame as they carry out orders of their 'masters' who are in turn in league with the ruling feudal elite and part of the corrupt feudal oligarchy. "They serve each other's interests and protect each other too".

As to why these agencies are against the MQM in particular, Altaf Hussain said: "Because the MQM is a threat, not to the security of Pakistan, not to the interests of Pakistan and no to the interests of the people of Pakistan, but to the prevailing corrupt political culture and system in Pakistan". He said if another party with a similar political philosophy emerges, it will be targeted in a similar fashion as the MQM is being targeted.

Like many other Pakistani opposition leaders, Altaf predicted a revolution with no specific time frame. "The country is moving towards a revolution but this will not come today or tomorrow as the awareness is spreading all over the country and there is a widespread resentment in all sections of the society, even in the rank and file of the armed forces. The time is not far when the corrupt will be brought to book".

Although frustrated against the present government of Nawaz Sharif, he justifies his party's alliances in the past with the Pakistan People's Party or the Pakistan Muslim League saying: "We had no choice at all because unfortunately we have a two-party system in the country under the medieval feudal oligarchy, and these parties made promises and repeatedly broke them as well". He said the alliances were necessary to survive in a political setup, which was dominated by a few families "since the inception of the country".

Altaf thinks the country cannot survive unless the "98 per cent poor, downtrodden, oppressed middle class people get rid of the two per cent feudal elite to establish true democratic rule".

But he did not completely rule out a future possibility of rejoining the PPP or the PML in a political alliance. "I can't say" whether the MQM would make an alliance with Benazir Bhutto or Nawaz Sharif "because all matters are decided by consensus of the central coordination committee as they have the authority to decide on such issues", he said.

Answering a question, the MQM leader, whose charisma continues to hold the majority of Mohajirs in Sindh, admitted very frankly that the country lacks a leader of national stature. "Unfortunately we do not have any national leadership and one nation concept. All the leadership is confined to this part of the country or that." But he went on to assert that his party can fill the vacuum as it purely consists of middle class leadership, a point of pride other political parties cannot claim. He said even if the MQM is not the sole remedy for Pakistan's political problems, "its political philosophy can be a cure for the present crisis".

Altaf asked the youngsters in Punjab and other provinces to create a new leadership from the middle class cadres and give them a chance to lead Pakistan as the feudal elite, which has ruled Pakistan for five decades, has failed. "If you think that the MQM is not the true representative of the middle classes in the middle class and form groups and parties and let the alliance of these newly created parties lead Pakistan".

Altaf denied that his party was created by any general, "including the late General Zia ul Haq", saying such stories are part of a campaign to malign the MQM's image in "the eyes of the people of Pakistan and internationally". He said had the MQM been a creation of the army, he would not have been jailed for nine months for demanding the repatriation of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh in front of Mazar-e-Quaid in 1979. "The martial law authorities had offered to release me if I accepted their offers, which I turned down and served the whole nine months' rigorous imprisonment for not breaking any law".

The self-exiled leader also denied that the MQM extorted money or accepted any deal from various governments. "I strongly deny that the MQM was involved in extorting money from anyone including businessmen or industrialists and the people know that the MQM is against al sorts of corruption. Similarly the MQM has neither accepted money from governments in deals nor have its members made money when they held government offices. If someone was involved in this kind of activity, he or she has done it in a personal capacity for which the party cannot be blamed.

As to how the MQM is maintaining its international secretariat in London and the cost of MQM leaders in exile, the party founder said: "All expenses are covered by subscription and donations from party members and supporters".

On the possibility of his return to Pakistan and not leading the "third largest political party" from London, Altaf said he would love to go back to Karachi but was in exile on the insistence of his partymen. "The members of my party have fears in their minds that if I returned to Pakistan I would be assassinated". Concluding, the MQM founder sad peace would never return to Karachi "unless and until the people's problems are properly diagnosed and cured, because you can treat a pain with a pain killer for a limited time. But pain killers are not a longer lasting remedy".