In an impassioned speech that included critiques of clerics and the judiciary, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain asked the Pakistan Army, Inter-Services Intelligence and other agencies to shut up shop if they could not “protect people”.
“Leave them,” Hussain said before turning to his audience, “You have a right to defend yourself by any means.”
Altaf’s speech at an interfaith conference organised by his party in Karachi came after a series of statements by him and other party leaders on the increase in the number of attacks on Shias throughout Pakistan. Several clerics from Karachi as well as other cities of Pakistan such as Quetta, Lahore and Chakwal, were in attendance.
He said his statements had been criticised because he had only supported Shias. “I have also condemned attacks on Sunni clerics. But do tell me of an event where Sunnis have been taken off buses, identified and killed by Shias - I do not believe this has happened.”
Hussain highlighted the alarming trend of uploading footage of such attacks online. In these videos you can clearly hear chants calling Shias non-believers. “I would like to ask the ulema, where is the Inter-Services Intelligence, the Military Intelligence, the Intelligence Bureau, Frontier Constabulary, Rangers, paramilitary forces and law enforcement agencies?” asked Altaf. “If you cannot protect citizens then the country will break into separate parts. Christians will ask for a separate state, then Shias, so will the Barelvis and the Ahle Hadith. What joke is this? Where is the government? Maintaining peace and establishing law and order is the responsibility of the institutions on which billions of rupees and 80% of the budget is spent.”
By making this speech and a number of statements condemning the attacks, Altaf and the MQM have emerged as perhaps the only political entities to have taken such a hard-hitting stance against militancy. This helps the MQM not only strengthen its public claim of being a liberal, secular political party, but will also appeal to voters in Karachi and in areas where there has been little to no political courage shown on the issue. The MQM has a vote bank among members of minority faiths as well as the Shia community in Karachi.
This speech could also strengthen the MQM’s appeal abroad. While Pakistan and its political leadership is often criticised for not doing anything to deter militant groups and attacks on religious groups and minorities, the MQM will stand out. Part of Altaf’s speech was made in English, which certainly helps underscore this point.
Altaf also hit out at the clerics assembled at the event, asking if they would ever practice what they preached. He did not spare the judiciary either, questioning the low conviction rate. “Murderers are arrested, then released and then they say the judiciary is ‘independent’,” Altaf said. “I ask Pakistan’s people to also hold judges accountable ... in the same way that they hold their leaders. Ask them why they freed well-known killers.”
Altaf asked clerics to form a committee on interfaith harmony. It features 13 of the clerics who attended the event. They passed a declaration condemning the murders of innocent people of all sects, the killings in Gilgit Baltistan, Quetta, Parachinar and Karachi, the suicide bombings at shrines and the targeted assassinations of clerics. They also termed members of minority faiths as Pakistanis and condemned efforts to destabilise Pakistan.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 2nd, 2012.