Interview: Faisal Subzwari
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) has been facing tough challenges post-August 22, 2017. How would you evaluate the last one year?
It has been a challenging year on many fronts – political, administrative, and even vis-a-vis the party’s rank and file. Only a fool would deny the fact that we faced a huge setback post-August 22. The party is now divided into three factions, and even though we still retain the larger share, this divide affects our officials in elected local bodies. There are people who continue to be sympathetic to the MQM-London. Then there are those who are indecisive, who are neither with us nor with them, and they are not fulfilling their duties, which has affected the performance of our local government bodies.
In the past, we got people to resign on disciplinary grounds, but now we can’t even do that. We had a debate on this within the party. I was asked why people, in the past, resigned if something like this happened, but not anymore. Many remarked that it had to do with discipline within the ranks, but only one dared to say that it was in fact fear. And I said, yes, fear was an element; no one would have dared to say ‘no’ then. Finally we decided to lay down some principles.
At one time, Altaf Hussain raised the slogan, “TV becho, aslaha kharido” (Sell your TV and buy weapons). That slogan may have been appropriate in those particular set of circumstances, when we were subjected to calculated violence by the state, but now we have had the good sense to do a cost-and-benefit analysis of the past 30 years. We pondered over the question of whether the politics of weaponisation and coercive tactics was justified, and whether keeping weapons had benefited us or destroyed us.
We held internal debates on these issues, and began ‘un-brainwashing’ mindsets. We are breaking the culture of the last 30 years. We realise that if our elected local government representatives do not perform in the coming months, it will damage us. If their work is not visible, it could dent our support base in the upcoming elections. However, we are trying to cope with this situation; we have changed the old units and sectors, and built the organisation at the district and Union Council (UC) level, so that they can coordinate with the district and UC chairmen. We have already formed consultative committees for the National Assembly and provincial assembly constituencies and have, for the first time in MQM’s history, started interviewing potential candidates for the upcoming elections eight months in advance. This way, we will be in a better position to deal with the situation, when the time comes, we can deal with the situation effectively.
Your workers and supporters still associate themselves with the party’s founder, but they want to vote for you. How do you plan to deal with this confusion and indecisiveness?
People who have been running the party and interacting with our supporters, still remain with us. We are fully aware that not every voter and supporter likes the politics of agitation, and all those calls for strikes and violence. Also, not everyone approved of the language that was used during those years. Now, when we approach people, we assure them that this is an MQM minus two elements – the politics of violent agitation and confrontational language. “Non-violent and non-confrontational politics along progressive lines in urban Sindh,” is our tagline.
Our request to all other political parties and the state, is not to judge us on the basis of ethnicity and provincialism. This may be our last effort to give Karachi a clean form of politics. If the MQM continues to be reviled and targeted for the politics it has conducted in the past, some of its members may see it as a justification for resorting to violence yet again. People’s discontent and apprehensions were cleverly exploited by Altaf Hussain sahib. He cashed in on people’s insecurities.
We are clear about who our voter is, and we are sure that, with the exception of few constituencies, most of our support base will remain intact. For instance, we might face some challenges in a constituency of Orangi Town, but in Nazimabad we will win easily. In Liaquatabad, we could face problems, but in Federal B Area, it would be a walkover. I am certain that we will get a major share of the traditional MQM vote.
There is a perception that if elections were to be conducted under strict security, you could lose more constituencies?
We are trying to teach our members to behave like workers of a proper political party, and to learn to accept defeat. Earlier, some people in the MQM ranks believed that elections must be won, by hook or by crook. Fortunately, we do not have any such elements left in the ranks, and this will prove to be good for the party in the long run. In my opinion, 50 per cent of those elements, who were engaged in strong-arm tactics or criminal activities, have either been neutralised after the operations of the law enforcement agencies, or are behind bars on assorted charges. The remaining half have either joined the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), or are still associated with the MQM-L.
Mustafa Kamal was the first person to come out strongly against the MQM and Altaf Hussain long before the August 22 incident.
When Mustafa Kamal arrived in Karachi in March 2016, and held his first press conference, most of what he said was the same stuff that he had been discussing with us before he left. I was following the ongoing debate about his arrival on mainstream media and social networking sites, and I noticed that even those who harboured an extreme disdain for Hussain, called Kamal an establishment-backed man. For the last 30 years, the MQM has turned most of its vote bank into an anti-establishment one. Hence, an individual widely perceived to be backed by the establishment would find it hard to draw support from the MQM rank and file.
Secondly, you cannot underestimate the collective wisdom of a people who have been supporting the MQM for the last 30 years. All those faultlines within the MQM were not only because of Hussain. The goons and hoodlums who were extorting money from people on the streets, were not doing so only for Hussain. If such elements return under a PSP banner, even the people who like Kamal will not support them, regardless of the fact that these hoodlums may now be abusing Altaf bhai.
While keeping the MQM’s identity intact, we have started rectifying those of our faults that have earned the party a bad name. We have abandoned our old style of doing politics. When Dr Farooq Sattar says, “Now Rehman Malik and Iqbal Kazmi will not wield influence on MQM policies,” he knows that people understand what Rehman Malik did to the party and how he managed to influence it. So, in fact, we are saying what Kamal has been saying – but without using foul language.
Politics, they say, is the art of the possible. Any chances of your joining hands with Mustafa Kamal?
After August 22, some people thought that it was only logical that Kamal join us, as most of his grouses were against Hussain. However, after August 22, Kamal directed all his guns at Sattar making the task somewhat difficult. Also, in those months our workers were being harassed and coerced to quit and join the PSP – which made it even harder.
If one talks about the MQM being anti-establishment, it is Altaf Hussain who has been more outspoken, and directly criticised the military establishment for their excesses in Karachi, and elsewhere. So why shouldn’t your support base favour Altaf Hussain?
When we were interviewing the All-Pakistan Students Mohajir Organisation (APMSO) candidates for assorted posts, I asked them if their families were willing to move back to India. I referred to Hussain’s statement in which he had addressed Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and said that Mohajirs were looking to India for support. And these young workers said that Altaf Bhai himself was sitting abroad and could get away with saying such things, but he was creating problems for the Mohajirs back home. This then, was the prevalent mood among the ordinary workers, and those who were in jails and their families. Hussain takes anti-establishment stances at his own convenience. Whenever it suits him, he calls for rallies in support of the military establishment, as he did in 2014. In the last couple of years, the MQM-London have tried their best to reach some settlement with them, but to no avail. A friend on social media put it succinctly: “Altaf Hussain is not anti-establishment, actually the establishment has become anti-Altaf.”
As for us, we have clearly stated that we would raise our valid concerns and criticise those acts of the establishment which we do not agree with.However, no one will be allowed to use the complaints they have against the excesses of the law enforcement agencies as a pretext to ask the US Congress to stop monetary aid to Pakistan, and that too, using the name of Mohajirs. We are educating our people; we realise that it’s a painfully slow process, and adapting to change needs some time. This is a path of idealism, but as I recently told some friends in the party, sometimes it’s more important to be correct than to be successful.
We speak against every arrest and every forced disappearance of our workers, but we are not in favour of confrontation. We want our people to get relief, our workers to be released and we want the issue of forced disappearances to be resolved.
Irrespective of our pro-or anti-establishment stance, our supporters will vote for us in recognition of the performance of our local government representatives, and the changes in the party wrought after August 22. And we are very clear on one count: we will contest against both the PSP and the MQM-L in the upcoming elections.
Karachi is a complete mess. The local government elections were won by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). You have your own mayor, deputy mayor, and assorted office-bearers in place. However, a political battle for power with the PPP began, and you went to court. What is the status of that petition?
We are following up on that petition. It was returned on technical grounds, but we have filed it again, and it has been admitted for hearing by the Supreme Court. We believe that the local government system in Sindh is unconstitutional, because it does not delegate powers to the local governments as per article 140-A of the Constitution, which gives political, administrative and financial autonomy to these bodies. For instance, the Solid Waste Management Board, the Building Control Authority, the Water and Sewerage Board and the Revenue and Traffic Management are not with the mayor. They have been handed over to the local government ministry. Even those subjects which were given to them under the law, such as parks and playgrounds, can be taken back, simply with a single notification. There are legal precedents to the contrary, nationally. The Lahore High Court, for instance, declares that building roads is not the domain of provincial governments; it is the job of city governments. Internationally, more precedents exist which could be presented to substantiate our stance.
But as you are well aware, we have no other option, except to wait for the Supreme Court to take up the petition. People are right in suggesting that we resign if the powers are not granted to us. Some people also ask, why they shouldn’t vote for the PPP which enjoys all the powers and is in a position to deliver. I draw their attention to the PPP stronghold, Larkana, where despite claims of spending 90 billion rupees over the years, you don’t see any improvement. We believe that even with the limited powers [at our disposal] we could deliver a little bit, and manage the issues that confront the city. It would be better than giving up entirely.
Rumours have been floating around for a while, that Pervez Musharraf will be taking over the reins of the MQM in the coming days? Khawaja Izhar Ul Hasan’s meeting with him last year lent credence to that perception.
Pervez Musharraf is very keen to do that but Khawaja Sahib politely said “no.” However, now Musharraf has found another supporter in the former governor Sindh, Ishrat-ul-Ibad, who keeps insisting that since Sattar does not have an assertive personality, Pervez Musharraf should be brought in. But I don’t see that happening.
By Ali Arqam