Farooq Sattar’s tightrope walk


Crucial days ahead




Farooq Sattar stands between the devil and the deep blue sea. Those who matter want him to get rid of the man who is MQM’s source of strength as well as a principle source of its misfortunes.

Farooq Sattar has dissociated himself from Altaf Hussain’s infamous address on Monday. He has also promised that speeches of the sort will not be allowed from the party’s platform. He has however stopped short of disowning Altaf Hussain. Meanwhile highly damaging outbursts by the party’s founding father continue to appear on social media. There is no guarantee that he would not direct the central party leadership or any of its city organisations to collect the activists to listen to another diatribe against Pakistan. None can defy Altaf Husain’s orders as he is the final word on party affairs according the MQM’s constitution.

The army thinks it has already provided a conducive environment for the MQM to grow into a law abiding, peaceful parliamentary party. Last week Rangers claimed having arrested 654 MQM-affiliated target killers involved in 5,863 incidents. Many others have been killed by law enforcement agencies in encounters. This explains why the leadership of Pakistan Sarzameen Party (PSP) has survived the fate of earlier dissidents like Azeem Ahmad Tariq and Imran Farooq. It is expected that sooner than later Farooq Sattar too would weed out Altaf loyalists from the party and disown the big boss publicly.

It is realised even by those political parties which have no soft corner for the MQM that the expectations are unrealistic. This is not the way the establishment thinks though. It seems that the army wants to give time to Farooq Sattar to carry out the minus one formula. But the expectation is that the task is finished within months rather than years. Any major indiscretion by Mr Bigmouth would add to the pressure to finish the task pronto.

Farooq Sattar is under pressure from inside his party also which wants him to be extra careful when speaking about Altaf Hussain. He knows more than anyone else that many party leaders, including those who recently distanced themselves from the chief’s anti-Pakistan tirade, are still loyal to him. Further that the vast majority of the activists continue to be under Altaf’s spell. The party which has been reared on slogans like “Manzil naheen, rahbar chahiye” and “Jo quaid ka ghaddar hai, woh mot ka haqdar hai” cannot be weaned away from the founding father of the party easily and within a short period. This explains why PSP, despite full support of the agencies, has failed to make any inroad in the MQM vote bank.

The leadership in London can use several levers to keep Farooq Sattar within limits. He can be straightaway stripped of party membership by London based MQM convener Nadeem Nusrat. The big boss can himself remove him from the party, a decision that will be accepted without any major dissent by the party rank and file. Farooq Sattar will have to constantly look over his shoulder if declared a traitor by Altaf. While numerous militants have been eliminated or arrested by the security forces, many could still be around. He could be taken out by one of the several devotees who are willing to carry out the mission at a signal from their Altaf Bhai. The killers can even be sent from South Africa or other countries where some of the members of the party’s militant wing have taken shelter. This explains why Sattar left his home with sixteen suits and numerous ties when he left for the Karachi Press Club from where he moved to a secure place. The only option for him in case he is excommunicated is to settle abroad like a number of other party leaders.

The explosive remarks delivered by Altaf Hussain on Monday while addressing the hunger strikers’ camp were altogether unexpected. These came at a time when both the PPP government in Sindh and the PML-N government in Islamabad had shown willingness to listen to grievances that had led the party to start a hunger strike. The MQM chief was apparently upset by the development as this could bring his party closer to the mainstream. Its leaders could again get ministries in Sindh adding further to his fears of gradually becoming irrelevant, which is one of the causes behind his tension.

Farooq Sattar had little time to decide. Like Amir Khan who looked stunned as he heard Altaf’s outburst, Sattar too felt it was impossible to defend the direct attack on the country and a call for anti-Pakistan slogans. He understood that it was necessary for him to dissociate himself and the party from the statement to save MQM from the fallout. He also persuaded most of the MQM parliamentarians and members of party to support him. This was temporary crisis management. He meanwhile continued to show loyalty to Altaf Hussain and implied that Altaf could again take over the command and resume speeches once he had overcome the mental strain which unhinges him and makes him to act as a loose gun. He also recognised the authority of the coordination committee in London. He insisted however that all decisions would henceforth be taken by the leadership in Karachi. This was supposed to be a balancing act aimed at gaining time to plan strategy for the future. The tightrope walk cannot go on for weeks and months.

It remains to be seen if Farooq Sattar will manage to survive the cross fire. Altaf Hussain can get impatient once again. Enough is going on in Karachi and Hyderabad that could touch a raw nerve in him. His pictures have been removed from the area around Nine Zero in Karachi and MQM offices and streets in Hyderabad. Someone has painted Pakistan Zindabad outside MQM central office. A number of party offices have been closed down and leaders arrested. Another indiscreet outburst by Altaf could be the undoing of Farooq Sattar.

Meanwhile the delay in denouncing Altaf Husssain is being interpreted by PSP leaders as an attempt hoodwink the public. They have challenged Farooq Sattar to defy Altaf. The media too wants Sattar to comment on Altaf’s continuous invective against Pakistan. They seek his opinion about the removal of the party leader’s pictures, forcible closure of party offices and what he proposes do if Altaf was to deliver another damaging speech.

Farooq Sattar cannot support Altaf Hussain’s diatribe. He has dissociated himself from the bog boss’ statement but cannot afford to denounce him publicly. Like many other legislators of his party Sattar is keen to keep MQM a part of mainstream politics. The feat he is required to perform is nothing short of a Houdini act.

Sattar is not playing games with the establishment, as some believe. He is not leading a group of rebels in the party either, as others maintain. At the time when Sattar hoped to get some of the pressure on the party reduced came Altaf Hussain’s poppycock leading to a province wide operation against the party.

Altaf Hussain is living in London where he feels free to give vent to his spleen. Pakistan’s establishment can outmaneuver him by reducing his influence over the MQM. This requires tactful dealing combined with patience. Farooq Sattar faces an uphill task. Whether he succeeds or not depends not only on his political acumen but also on the whether the establishment is willing to give him leeway to prove that the MQM would take decisions in Pakistan keeping in view the ground realities and would not be swayed by the whims of Altaf Hussain.