KARACHI: More than a year after breaking off from his party founder, Dr Farooq Sattar, spearhead of the breakaway Pakistan faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is still struggling to run the party. He does not enjoy the same iron control party chief Altaf Hussain had over the party's leaders, elected and selected representatives in the local bodies, assemblies and Senate and workers on the ground.
A glimpse of his fragile grip was witnessed recently when MQM Senator Mian Ateeq voted against party policy in favour of the controversial Election Reforms Bill, 2017 in the Senate, paving the way for ousted prime minister Nawaz Sharif to head his party despite being disqualified by the Supreme Court.
"Yes, apparently I am still struggling," Sattar told The Express Tribune. He said he hopes to overcome the challenges he has faced since August 22, 2016 when the authorities decided to launch a crackdown against the MQM for its founder's incendiary speech against the country and incitement of party workers to resort to violence over his apparent frustration on a media ban slapped on him by the Lahore High Court.
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"It was one of the hardest decisions to make," Sattar, who started his political career with the MQM in the 1980s, said. "It had become inevitable that a line had to be drawn. Our political struggle of over four decades was at stake and it was a now or never kind of situation," he said, describing the motives behind making a decision that could have seen him killed in a violent way had the party's infamous militant teeth not been removed by the military in the ongoing targeted operation in Karachi.
Sattar and another MQM leader, Khawaja Izharul Hasan, were whisked away by the Rangers when they made it to the Karachi Press Club on the night of August 22 to hold a briefing over the violently eventful preceding evening. They were released hours later after intervention from then interior minister Chaudhry Nisar and army chief General (retd) Raheel Sharif, sources said.
Disbelief still persists that Sattar spoke his own words the day following his release. And he knows that. "It looked artificial because we were just coming out of the Rangers' custody. Many felt that we were reading from a script handed to us," he said. "But it was not like that at all. Our stance would have been the same if we were given the opportunity to speak that night."
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About his brief detention, Sattar said that he was convincing the paramilitary force and military officials about his stance but they were sceptical about it. And they had reason to be, he added, referring to previous instances when similar speeches and comments were delivered by the MQM founder and party leaders were left to defend them. "We were then released just to see what we would do," he explained.
Sattar believes that Altaf has no future in the MQM. Sharing some highlights of the campaigns at assemblies and grounds the party has organized since its split, Sattar appeared hopeful of securing considerable seats from Karachi, Hyderabad and other urban centres in the province.
"Though there are schemes to divide the urban centres' mandate, we will continue with our mission," he said, refuting talk about forming an umbrella organisation or alliance of Karachi-centric political parties like the Muhajir Qaumi Movement - Haqiqi and Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) that are also factions of the once mighty MQM.
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Recently, MQM-Pakistan appealed to its inactive and suspended workers to establish contact and resume work again. "Dozens of workers have contacted us since then and have resumed their political duties," the party's coordination committee member Aminul Haq said. "There are many others from PSP who also want to come back to us," he claimed.
According to Haq, the inactive workers had similar reservations. "They were all interested in knowing where the tilt will be in the near future," he said, referring to the likely results of the 2018 election in Karachi when the MQM may not be a good position facing competition from the people that were once within its own ranks.
Though on the same page with Sattar over his August 23 policy, some leaders and workers of the party are not happy with new additions to their ranks. Kamran Tessori is said to be one of these additions. Tessori, a businessman, was previously associated with the Pakistan Muslim League - Functional and joined MQM-Pakistan in February. Soon after that he was inducted in the party's coordination committee and was then elevated to the post of deputy convener.
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A source within MQM-Pakistan said that Tessori and some other people were taken into the party on the directions of a segment of the country's 'establishment'. "They wanted their people present in meetings behind closed doors, so space for Tessori was created in the coordination committee."
Reports suggest that some leaders have created a bloc within the party against Tessori's elevation to the post of deputy convener in a party that claims to follow merit in appointing office bearers and awarding tickets. "It is as wrong as in the case of Mehfooz Yar Khan and others. They did not deserve the tickets like him," criticised a senior leader of the party who wished to remain anonymous. "It sends a negative message to the workers who sweat blood on the streets while campaigning for the party."