Altaf Hussain MQM
(image by Wikipedia)
As if the political landscape has rattled with an earthquake in Pakistan, with only exception of having its epicenter thousands of miles away in the posh suburbs of London. On June 3rd Altaf Hussain, or better referred to as "Altaf Bhai", was arrested by metropolitan police on charges of money laundering. He is a season player in the politics of Pakistan, having solely lead the 4th largest (5th by some estimate) political party in Pakistan, the Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), for over 3 decades.
Altaf is a survivor and based on this it is hard to write him off from the political landscape of Pakistan or from the secrecy chambers of London. Altaf's rise as a political campaigner is largely attributed to the military rue of General Zia, who wanted to uproot Bhutto dynasty from its power base in Sindh (Z.A. Bhutto, Pakistan's former PM, was hanged after a coup in 1977-78) and this desire aided Altaf and his party, formerly known as Mahajir Qaumi Movement, into mainstream politics. History is always a side of the story, and the snapshot of his evolution in this write-up can be contested/contradicted. As of today, it is beyond any uncertainty that Altaf's MQM holds the reign of Pakistan's biggest city and the economical hub, Karachi. MQM also has a huge holding in Hyderabad, the second largest city of Sindh province. But here starts the trouble that has followed Altaf and MQM all the way to London.
In 2013 alone, Karachi saw over 3000 lives lost to targeted killing alone. Karachi is the Caracas of Pakistan, which has been for decades overshadowed by the "invisible hands" operating away from the bustle seen on the streets. The city has been in the grip of the great turf war, where MQM can be the primary actor, but not the lone ranger in any case. As of today, Karachi has no go areas that are marked by groups supported by political parties and personalities. Even the law-enforcing agencies in top court admitted a few years back that they have no access to these areas, which is the most populated city of Pakistan. The same proceeding concluded by clearly naming political backing to criminal elements responsible for most inhuman crimes imaginable. Of these, bodies packed in sacks (sometimes chopped in pieces) and even beheadings have been used to influence fear and authority over the rivals. Extortion and kidnappings is also the rule of the day, with millions filling up the crime vault every hour. And among all this, MQM and Altaf holds the reign of power in Karachi.
His exit from Karachi and refuge in London is also credited to the affairs in Karachi. In 1992 under the premiership of reigning Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif, a full-fledged military operation was launched to clear the city of criminal elements, and of course the hit list included top aides of Altaf and himself. In the buildup to this operation, Altaf fled to London after escaping an assassination attempt. That was the last time he has been in Karachi, over two decades ago. The operation left MQM handicapped as the top leadership fled, but their support was still there. Some say Altaf rules on fear whereas other believes it is pure political maneuvering that has kept him in Pakistan's political spectrum. His party's ideology in based on ethnic lines, appealing to the Muhajirs (the migrants who fled from India to Pakistan after partition in 1947). Altaf/MQM used the notion of safeguard against the oppression and deprivation faced by the migrants as the building block for their political struggle, which was later rephrased on national lines painted in liberal color. But among all this, the element of violence and use of armed wings could never escape his legacy. His revival into mainstream politics was paved by another military takeover, this time by President Musharaf (1999). Musharaf in his search for legitimizing his reign went democratic and the vacuum in Sindh due to exile of Bhutto and Sharif made Altaf the man of the hour. MQM victory in urban areas was landslide. But still, Karachi stayed away from peace and prosperity. In 2007, on a single day (12th May), a political show of strength quickly turned into full out war, with over 30 killed and scores injured. Though versions differed over the event, MQM was the ruling party in Karachi with their mayor and governor. The NRO (Political Amnesty by Musharraf) cleared Altaf of an estimated 71 cases, of which 31 were of murder (not proved but registered). During all this time, many voices were raised on his asylum in London and vocal among this was of Lord Nazir and Imran Khan. As per various accounts, the authorities in England were warned of his and the party's alleged activates in Pakistan but Altaf seemed quite well settled in London, away from the reign of blood and fire back in Karachi. An event in 2010 turned eyes in London to him and his activities, primarily because of the event itself taking place in British territory.
One of the co-founders and long-term mate of Altaf Bhai, Dr Imran Farooq, was murdered in North London in September 2010. The political turmoil from Karachi had finally reached London, which was definitely not agreed upon through any arrangement. Though Altaf and MQM has many enemies, out of nowhere whispers started circulating on an "inside game" in the murder, owing to the target and the territory where it took place. Was Dr Farooq moving away from Altaf or something else, all remains unproved as of today. Meanwhile two young guys on a fake student visa to London landed back in Pakistan, who were supposedly not meant to stay alive to tell the tale of their activities in London.
Somehow through call intercepts, internal tip-off, and of course some back-channel link-up from London, the assassins were picked up by premier intelligence agency of Pakistan but till date, their whereabouts remain a mystery. It is believed that during interrogation, the plot was revealed that had political motives. Anyhow, Altaf Hussain has been arrested on money-laundering charges and it remains to be seen what the proceedings turn up. In Pakistan, Altaf has been previously charged but yet nothing has been proved, which clears him of a proved guilt of course but not the allegation.
Apart from this, one must ask a civilized regime like Britain of their reluctance in pursuing the charges against Altaf all those years. In no way he is a criminal unless proved, but why lives lost away from their territory never matter. Should this conclude with the hypothesis that, like medieval times, states shield assets that can be utilized in one way or the other no matter what cost it carries? Of course India will jump to same conclusion on Pakistan when it comes to Dawood Ibrahim or Pakistan can point finger to Afghanistan over Brahamdagh. A life in Manhattan should carry the same weightage as of one in Mogadishu or Karachi, at least.