MQM: The International phenomenon
The report didn't introduce any new information nor did it provide any solid evidence admissible in court.
Let’s discuss what took place early Thursday morning on BBC’s Newsnight with Jeremy Paxman. The show reported that Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) Chief Altaf Hussain was being investigated for money laundering worth at least 400,000 pounds as well as for provocation of violence, the penalties of which are 14 years’ incarceration and life imprisonment respectively.
The news report by Owen Bennett Jones featured video clips of Hussain making statements mentioning 'body bags' and 'abdomens'. It also showed an outline of the assassination of MQM leader Imran Farooq and a number of interviews including a former MQM member, Naim Ahmed, and a former Pakistani policeman, both of whom accused the party of violence and murder. Moreover, it unveiled a document that shed some light on the arrangements that led to Hussain seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.
My immediate reaction to this report was,
‘Oh my god! What just happened!?’
This was primarily owing to how emotional Karachiites get with regard to the MQM, but rationality soon sunk in once I realised that most of the revelations that had already been made by other news agencies and that neither did the report introduce any new information nor did it provide any conclusive evidence admissible in court.
The symbolic value of this report though cannot be ignored.
The fact that the wrongdoings of a Pakistani political party were highlighted by international media, Paxman went as far as referring to the MQM as one of the most feared political organisations in Pakistan, does not paint a very pretty picture, especially since this party in question is the most dominant in the largest city and economic hub of Pakistan, Karachi, and is the fourth largest party of Pakistan in terms of individual votes cast.
Also, considering the arrangement due to which Hussain was able to move to London, the sharing of human intelligence regarding Jihadi networks in Pakistan with the UK, one could even speculate that these recent actions of Scotland Yard and BBC are pressure tactics connected to negotiations between the British government and Hussain that the public might not be aware of. But certainly, this is one of many conspiracy theories.
On the issue of video clips of Hussain’s speeches, it is worthwhile to mention here that these particularly turbulent times for Hussain on British soil commenced principally because of a speech he made while addressing protestors at Teen Talwar in Karachi. His words went on to inspire a movement across Pakistan and thousands of phone calls were made to the Metropolitan Police lodging complaints against the MQM Chief accusing him of inciting violence against innocent and unarmed protestors. The unfortunate and tragic death of Zahra Shahid Hussain that took place a week or so later was also connected with the same words uttered addressing Teen Talwar, but nothing was concluded on this case either.
The Teen Talwar speech and those mentioned in the Newsnight report are not out of the ordinary. Most public speeches that have been made by Hussain, from talks of Quaide Azam’s passport to threatening journalists, have been in poor taste and such words do not do justice to all that MQM and he have achieved.
Moreover, Farooq Sattar responded to Paxman by categorically denying that Hussain could have said what was being portrayed by the report and argued that his words were being quoted out of context.
The question though is how often can his words be considered out of context?
Even Barrister Ali Naseem Bajwa, who was interviewed for the report, felt that Hussain’s speeches could potentially be considered terrorist in nature since they tend to threaten the use of force, are made for political cause and are intended to influence the government.
A second go-to MQM defence is instinctively accusing the opposition of being influenced by pro-Taliban and extremist forces and arguing that they were being victimised since they are the only remaining sane voice against terrorism and Talibanisation of Pakistan. Sattar used the same line of defence during Newsnight also, but failed to establish correlation of this with accusation of money laundering and hate speech inciting violence. Also, important to point out here that MQM’s former coalition partners from the last government, Pakistan People’s Party and Awami National Party, both have similar stances with regard to the Taliban and radicalism.
Sattar otherwise was on point as he stated that this issue should not be transformed into a “media trial” and that since the investigation was still in process and no charges had been framed, all accusations were just speculation. Later news even suggests that MQM might file defamation charges against the BBC; they do have the right to do so if they deem fit, but let’s not forget that these accusations and claims against the MQM highlighted by Newsnight have been made previously by Pakistani journalists and news anchors as well.
What Newsnight failed to mention though is how MQM have historically protested unlike any other party. For instance, they were able to shut down the city of Karachi within minutes. It might be claimed that the city chooses to shut down and not do business during a “day of mourning”, but it is also claimed at the same time that business owners are pressured to shut down through force by unknown assailants more commonly known as the ‘Na Maaloom Afraad.’
This sets a harmful precedent as it further blurs the line between politics and militancy, not to mention the major economic drawbacks of losing a workday for the largest city and economic hub of Pakistan, especially for the daily wage earners who quite possibly won’t be able to afford dinner at the end of the day because they were not able to work and get paid.
MQM has a lot to offer, from middle class leadership and role models to their secular philosophy in a time when majority of the population is clearly closer to the right, but it has a lot to prove to sustain its support and admiration. Especially with the rise of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in their strongholds, that may prove to be a worthy alternate come 2018.
MQM has Karachi’s mandate; what it needs to prove now is that it deserves it and look past another particularly turbulent phase in their timeline by indulging in decisive, invariable politics focusing on good governance. MQM needs to do its part in ensuring that the government invests enough in law enforcement and education and provides the citizens of Karachi with the sense of stability and security that they merit and long for. That and only that will guarantee MQM success and a prosperous future in an increasingly politically conscious and democratic Karachi and Pakistan.
Read more by Shahryar here, or follow him on Twitter @Shahryar92