It was one of the few press conferences Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain has addressed since his self-imposed exile in London, and one that few will forget.
Hussain made no explosive statements, but one was fairly telling of how the next few months may look for Karachi.
Referring to the number of Urdu-speaking community members who have been killed in Karachi in the past few months, Hussain warned that “if action is not taken, I will take back the appeal for calm issued to MQM workers.”
“Are you scared of going into the areas where they have killed Mohajirs?” he asked, addressing his party.
Hussain repeated the comment during the question and answer session, and said that if the MQM workers are free, they are free to make whatever demands they want.
The MQM leader repeatedly addressed many of the allegations made against the party in recent years, but chose not to refer to the ones made by former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza in the past couple of weeks.
He repeatedly addressed President Asif Ali Zardari, who he referred to as a brother, as well as Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani, the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP), Chief of Army Staff General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani and Inter-Services Intelligence head Lt Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha.
“Where are you, Chief Justice sahib? Where are you, COAS sahib?” he said, questioning why no one had taken the issue of Mohajirs being killed on the basis of their ethnicity seriously.
The MQM chief also referred to the ongoing operation in Karachi by the Rangers and police. “Truckloads of Mohajirs were taken away from Baldia Town, Liaquatabad and Yousaf Plaza (in the Federal B area). We did not protest.”
He made it clear that if anyone belonging to the MQM was found guilty of being involved in violence in Karachi, they expected law enforcement agencies to deal with them.
Hussain spoke out against Lyari’s Peoples Amn Committee, alleging that its members had terrorised Lyari’s residents and were involved in the brutal torture and killings of Mohajirs. “We are not against the people of Lyari. Water supply came to Lyari because of the MQM, not the Pakistan Peoples Party.” Videos showing alleged violence by militants in Lyari were screened for the media before Hussain’s address began.
(Read: Political dance of death)
Much of his criticism was directed towards Nawaz Sharif, the head of his own faction of the Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N). Hussain questioned why, as a signatory to the Charter of Democracy (CoD), Sharif had supported and campaigned for the restoration of the CJP when it contravened the CoD. He also questioned the leadership of the Awami National Party (ANP), who he said was misleading Pathans in Peshawar and Karachi. He also claimed that the US had paid ANP leader Asfandyar Wali Khan millions of dollars to win the last general elections.
He answered, in a veiled way, the allegation that the MQM was involved in violence targeting Pathans. “Why would I be an enemy of Pathans that I have never met, heard or seen?”
He also made a veiled reference to human rights organisation leaders who had “crushed human rights”.
Hussain said he believed his life was under threat. “I will speak freely today because I do not know if I will be alive tomorrow to say this.”
The MQM leader answered the accusations made against the party for its alleged role in the May 12, 2007 violence, and directly addressing the CJP, implored that the MQM’s rally that day was neither in favour, nor against him.
He alleged that the violence was carried out by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) who worked with the MQM’s Haqiqi faction. He also described the ‘Thunder Squad’, an alleged wing of the JI that was involved in violence.
When asked if he would accept the verdict in the suo motu case that is being heard by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Hussain said that they would have to wait and see.
Hussain believes Pakistan is being conspired against by foreign forces who are working with Pakistanis. While he declined to name any of the countries, a sheaf of papers explained his beliefs – which included articles on various future scenarios about Pakistan and a map of the ‘new Middle East and Pakistan’, which has circulated among conspiracy theorists for the past decade. He said that he and the MQM were ‘standing in the way’ of this conspiracy to break up Pakistan, and that powerful forces were behind this push.
He also said he may not have evidence for many of his claims, but would be willing to apologise were he proved wrong. “I do not lie.”
Altaf Hussain also spoke about the investigation into the murder of Dr Imran Farooq. “We are constantly in touch with the local police and investigation team. Whenever we get information we convey this to them, whatever we can share. The Scotland Yard is a very experienced and good agency.”
Hussain also declined to name a successor to his party’s leadership.
He remained diplomatic in questions about President Zardari. In response to a question by The Express Tribune about the MQM’s demands of the PPP that would need to be met for it to rejoin the government, Hussain said that the party wants the PPP to take action against those who are torturing and terrorising innocent citizens. He also said that he had spoken to the president to ask about why the Federal Investigation Agency were reporting on the MQM to UK’s agencies, and that the president had investigated and reported that this was not happening.
He also hit out at clerics who misled people, saying that they did not explain religion properly to people. His address opened with a declaration – “The history of Pakistan that has been taught to you is lies, deceit and deception.” Recalling the August 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly, the MQM chief said the secular and liberal-leaning Quaid-e-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah’s words had been distorted. While explaining religious contexts, he said, “I did not care about fatwas yesterday, and I will not care about them today.”
Hussain also spoke out against high profile anchorpersons, who he said are set on ensuring that ‘one party will not be allowed to operate in Karachi’, while expressing his admiration for reporters and camerapersons who risk their lives to report.
(Read: Who will rescue Karachi?)
Hussain, speaking via a Skype connection, talked for a few hours before the floor opened up for questions.
The Khursheed Begum Secretariat hall was bursting at the seams, as reporters, camerapersons and MQM leaders, including Dr Farooq Sattar, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Waseem Akhtar, Faisal Sabzwari, Nasreen Jalil, Mustafa Kamal and Wasay Jalil jostled for space to listen to Hussain. Even though he has not directly addressed reporters in years, Hussain was in a jovial mood and made several jokes and bantered with reporters.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 10th, 2011.