Beginning of end of MQM?



LONDON – Arrest of the powerful Pakistani political boss Altaf Hussain, is the beginning of the end of Muttahida Qaumi Movement party.

The Guardian and The New York Times claimed in their different reports.

The Guardian reported ‘For years, its iron grip had been sustained by a political machine backed by the descendants of the Mohajirs, who moved to Pakistan from India at independence, and a militant wing that ruthlessly enforces control over the city’s illicit economy.

But MQM’s power has been challenged by a shift in the city’s demography owing to an influx of migrants from other parts of the country. Last year’s election saw former cricketer Imran Khan eat into the MQM’s once impregnable vote bank.

The Taliban have also begun to challenge the MQM’s power. But despite signs of internal dissent the party has held together under the leadership of Hussain.

“It appears this is the beginning of the end of Altaf Hussain,” said Muhammad Ziauddin, executive editor the Express Tribune. “Once he is gone the MQM will probably split into two or three groups.”

Whether or not the MQM can hold together will depend on what happens next, said a senior police officer with direct experience in Karachi.

“If after three or four months he gets bailed then he will emerge a hero,” said the senior police source. “But if he’s jailed for a longer time [the MQM] will splinter and there will be a turf war, both politically and among the party’s mafia wing.”

The party has been preparing for his possible arrest for months, telling supporters that “Altaf Bhai” had fallen victim to a plot by the country’s former colonial masters. Last month the MQM assembled tens of thousands of its supporters in Karachi to hear thundering denunciations of the Metropolitan police.

On the other hand New York Times reports claimed ‘Muttahida Qaumi Movement party, has come to wield over Karachi — a vital economic hub long divided by violent factional competition, more recently threatened by Taliban infiltration, and suddenly seized by trepidation over what will happen now that Mr. Hussain is in the custody of London’s Metropolitan Police.

“This is potentially very serious,” said Abbas Nasir, a former editor of the Pakistani newspaper Dawn. “The removal of someone as powerful as Altaf Hussain is always going to leave a vacuum. His party is in for a challenging time.”

The British move against Mr. Hussain is the culmination of a criminal investigation that started with the murder of a former M.Q.M. official near the party’s London offices in September 2010, and has since broadened into an inquiry that has targeted Mr. Hussain’s personal finances.

Over the past 18 months, the Metropolitan Police have raided Mr. Hussain’s house and offices in London, impounded about $600,000 in cash and a quantity of jewelry, and arrested a nephew who worked as his personal assistant.

Mr. Hussain, however, had avoided arrest until Tuesday morning. A police spokeswoman declined to confirm his identity — he will be named only if British prosecutors bring him to trial — but did confirm that a 60-year-old man was being questioned on suspicion of money laundering.

On Tuesday, Pakistani political operatives gathered at Southwark police station in central London where Mr. Hussain, who is said to be in poor health, had been taken by the police. And at the party’s heavily guarded headquarters in Karachi, senior officials tried to put a brave face on the M.Q.M.’s gravest crisis in decades.

Despite the shows of loyalty, the M.Q.M. is likely to face severe challenges. Few doubt that Mr. Hussain’s arrest will test the internal unity of the party, for over a decade, the M.Q.M. has controlled a bloc of about 20 parliamentary seats in Karachi that has won the party a place in successive coalition governments. But it also exercises influence through a network of heavily armed street gangs that engage in violent rivalry with the party’s political opponents, mostly from other ethnic groups.

Mr. Hussain, who has not set foot in Pakistan since he fled in 1991, exercises his power by summoning party subordinates to meetings in London, and by addressing giant street rallies in Karachi by phone and video conference.

But as the British police have closed in on him in recent months, his organization has showed signs of internal strains. Some leaders have left Pakistan after falling out with Mr. Hussain, including Syed Mustafa Kamal, a former mayor of Karachi.

The worry now is that if British prosecutors proceed with a money-laundering trial, the party, which is rooted in Mr. Hussain’s personality cult, could fall apart, possibly bringing intense violence to the streets of Karachi.

The British charges against Mr. Hussain stem from a police investigation into the stabbing death of Imran Farooq outside his London home in 2010.

This spring, British officials asked Pakistan for access to two Pakistani men linked to Mr. Farooq’s death, and who are believed to be in the custody of the Inter-Services Intelligence, or ISI, the country’s top military intelligence agency.

That investigation is troubling for Mr. Hussain’s party, but it is a broadened inquiry into his personal finances that have caused the recent trouble. Police officials have said they are examining the source of the money that pays for Mr. Hussain’s lifestyle in London, and whether he has paid tax on it.

One businessman told The New York Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, that after he had donated $25,000 to the M.Q.M., he was asked by party officials to sign a statement saying he had donated $500,000.

In the coming days, Karachi residents will be anxiously waiting to see whether Mr. Hussain will face criminal charges, and how his troubled party will react. So, too, will the national government in Islamabad.


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