Altaf Bhai’s fall from grace


Let wisdom rise from the ashes of follies


It’s been almost 35 years now that a man started a whimsical show in Karachi in the name of politics. Rather, ethnic politics, to be precise. During all these years he championed the cause of ‘his people’ – the ‘tongue people’ or the ‘people of language’, whatever you may like to call them – who, according to him were victim of the state’s neglect, biasness and highhandedness.  Ironically, the state against which he was apparently raising his voice, patronised him or watched him build a tunneled vision of ‘his people’ against its own self as detached bystander. The fact of the matter is that the political Bhai may have had a stillbirth, were the birth process not encouraged and successfully midwifed by Gen Zia on his way to finish off Bhutto’s PPP.

And that’s how the game of throne began and continued in Karachi; unabashedly.

The reasons that gave rise to Altaf Hussain phenomenon were genuine. They are present in Karachi even today, staring the Urdu-speaking people in the face. These problems are in the shape of heaps of garbage, breakdown of law and order, lack of basic amenities like water and power and sewerage, a broken communication infrastructure, lack of basic services like health and education, traffic mismanagement, lack of employment opportunities, and so on and so forth. Altaf Hussain sensitised Muhajir community about it and made them believe its existence as something targeted specifically towards them.

The fact of the matter is that these problems were and are not peculiar to Karachi or only Urdu-speaking people. This is something which is faced by everyone, everywhere in Pakistan. But the uncertainty of changing times, state’s sponsorship during the rise of Altaf Hussain or looking the other way, and the constant subtle and not-so-subtle prodding by the demagogue over the years and decades made the ethnic message finally sink in. Failure of the state, bad politics and bad governance pervading the whole country were sold to the MQM followers as willful victimisation of the Urdu-speaking people.

The greatest irony is that after holding sway for more than three decades the great leader failed to solve those problems which he claimed were faced by the Muhajir community due to their lack of unity, representation and leadership. Rather he has left Karachi and all his followers in a worse situation. But he blamed the state apparatus for his own failure too; while remaining part of the power structure most of the time since his emergence on the political horizon he blamed the power structure and absolved himself by creating  an impression that he was helpless – rendered helpless by the antagonist state structure – because he was not son of the soil.

Though there were demagoguery and charisma at play, yet the unparalleled power, aura, popularity and following that this man enjoyed had much to do with, as mentioned earlier, the state apparatus sponsorship and the sadistic strong-arm tactics that he was allowed by the state to use against anyone who dared to oppose him or who refused to toe the line. For both of these ‘crimes’ – sponsoring and acceptance of a leader who thrived on hate and allowing him to use drill machines on human beings and get  away with it –  the state is equally, if not more, responsible. So, whatever happened to Karachi, to the Urdu-speaking people and to the rest of the countrymen is a collective failure for which everyone responsible should carry his or her burden of guilt and responsibility.

What is happening today to what remains of the MQM as a political party can’t be justified in an ideal political and democratic environment. But sadly, MQM wasn’t just a political party; it was a mixture of crime and politics. Both of these elements were intertwined by that great mind like conjoined twins. No surprise that the state apparatus now finds it difficult to separate crime from politics or militant from political. The environment which this party had created during its heyday renders all the human rights, freedom of speech, expression and association arguments meaningless. The crime that flourished with the rise of the party in the areas of its dominance also needs to be finished once and forever with the use of state power.

So what should be done now?

It is beyond doubt that the law enforcement agencies operating in Karachi, whether with the civilian government leading or following them, have done a remarkable job so far in taking on the criminal side of the party; breaking its visible and invisible grip over the city, and restoring a semblance of normalcy and confidence of the people. But it is now the more delicate, political phase which we have entered and which needs more careful handling.

Situation at the moment is that Farooq Sattar has apparently broken the relationship between MQMP (Muttahida Qaumi Movement Pakistan) with the London Secretariat, which means Altaf Hussain and the group which was running not only the main political but also a parallel criminal show from there. But he is being doubted, mugged and ridiculed for that and whatever else he tries to do or say; and may be rightly so. Because he did a great disservice to himself in his first press conference after that fateful suicide attack of Altaf Husain against himself on August 22; he tried to convey totally the opposite of what he tried to say in words during more than 45 minutes.

But let us give the devil his due. At the moment, he and the people who have gathered around him are providing an opportunity to the decision-makers to at least try them one last time to find a political solution to the political problem of Karachi in particular and that of the Urdu-speaking people in general.

Farooq Sattar & Co is criticised by Mustafa Kamal of PSP and some elements in the media and PTI, with the military establishment apparently acting as a neutral, detached bystander but actually encouraging, or at least, feeling happy over anyone mugging the poor chap.  But everyone among them has its own axe to grind. The PSP and PTI are like circling vultures eyeing some chunks of a dying MQM. The military establishment is not positively responding to the friendly overtures of Farooq Sattar and watching everything as a neutral bystander is to let his group weaken as far as it can be before the final embrace – if it can be finally embraced, that is.

But it will be advisable not to push it to the wall or let it break under pressure. Under the circumstances, Farroq Sattar’s MQMP is in a better position to provide a reliable alternative to the not-so-political Muhajir citizen who has so far remained a devoted and loyal supporter of Altaf Hussain’s MQM. It can become the group which can be trusted more than Musatafa Kamal and his PSP; they have already the establishment tag on them. It needs no overemphasis that Farooq Sattar’s MQMP can be the best remedy to avoid creating a political vacuum in Karachi, Hyderabad, ect and not to let the Urdu-speaking community developing that lethal sense of marginalisation, injustice and victimhood. It can prove to be a cure to the feelings of being left without political representation. Nobody should forget that Altaf Hussain has all along played his politics on this single point of the Muhajir community always on the receiving end. And most of the support that he enjoyed till the end was because of his success to instill the feeling of injustice among his followers. It won’t be far-fetched idea to say that these feelings can easily be exploited and take a dangerous shape if the current situation is not handled wisely.

The state apparatus will do a great job to ‘undo’ its past mistakes. It mustn’t try to commit another one by trying to create a replacement of its choice to control and run Karachi and Urdu-speaking people for it. It must desist from imposing this or that group to represent Muhajirs. They must be allowed to choose their own representatives without any fear or coercion. Politics must be allowed this time to take its natural course. Getting rid of one ‘artificial’ leadership and leaving behind another ‘fake’ party will be a bigger mistake.

Instead, true service to the people – of Karachi and the rest of the country – would be to address the real issues, solve their genuine problems and overcome the state failure in fulfilling its responsibilities towards its people. That is the only way to avoid recurrence of such like situations and re-emergence of such phenomena in future. Or we may be right to assume that some people in the power echelons are not really interested to extinguish the fire altogether; rather they want it simmering within ‘manageable limits’ to play politics on and through which to maintain their political leverage.







  1. Totally absurd. Author makes assumptions without proof and build his case on wrong assumptions. This is called bias. No dictator made a party which lasts more than the tenure of the dictator. The reason MQM exists for so long is proof enough that their demands are genuine. All they are asking is their fair share in education, jobs and city administration. Unable to compete on open merit, quota system was invented. They never thought of quota system when bangolis were part of pakistan. They have been blamed for violence, but fact is establishment has been creating political-criminal parties to crush them. First PPI was created to handle MQM, then various sindhi factions were supported, ANP karachi and Aman committee was supported by administration and Zulfiqar mirza who suddenly became hero of whole pakistan when he spoke against MQM. There is so much to write, but I guess you got the idea.

    • Saeed, you seem to have developed a habit of quickly jumping into conclusion. The author does not in anyway try to deny the problems the people of Karachi and Hyderabad are faced with, rather he has eloquently highlighted all those problems which existed at the time of the first appearance of MQM and which still exist in the worst form. MQM, in the past three decades, never tried to address or put concerted effort to resolve all those problems, rather it added to the suffering of the people. All the author is trying to say is that the dictator created MQM for his own subversive ends and MQM was an effective tool in his hands. The peoples of Karachi are good people. They suffered tremendously and deserve good and sincere leaders not the bullies.

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