Once Karachi’s largest party, MQM faces its toughest polls

A child supporter of Shahbaz Sharif, brother of ex-prime minister Nawaz Sharif, and leader of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) waves party flags with others to welcome him during a campaign rally ahead of general elections in the Lyari neighborhood in Karachi, Pakistan on June 26, 2018. (REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)
Updated 09 July 2018

Once Karachi’s largest party, MQM faces its toughest polls

  • Members of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) warn that when force is applied, and people are prevented from exercising their free-will, it results in nothing.
  • Altaf Hussain, frustrated by a large number of votes taken by Imran Khan’s PTI and folliung operation by the Rangers, delivered a controversial anti-Pakistan speech on Aug. 22, 2016, distancing himself from the party he had founded.

KARACHI: Yousuf Ahmed, a resident of Gulshan-e-Iqbal Karachi, is not going to exercise his right to vote in the general elections and he is not alone. At least a dozen of his family members, who have been voting for the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for nearly three decades, will abstain.

The reason, Ahmed said, is the call from London, where the party’s founder Altaf Hussain had been remotely running his party since his self-exile in the early 1990s. He now heads MQM, which is referred to as MQM-London.

“What elections? This is selection and will be of no use for the community,” Ahmed told Arab News. 

Ahmed alleges that when force is applied, and people are prevented from exercising their free-will, it results in nothing.

There are many in the Urdu-speaking community — popularly known as Mohajirs — who think along the same lines but there are many more who still find protection in “Kite” — an election symbol this time allotted to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) — against uncertain fear being inbuilt in them over decades.

Noman Ali, a shopkeeper in the Korangi neighborhood of the city, said that his vote will go to the MQM-P. The reason, he said, is that they are his own people, who will take care of him. “We have no alternatives. We know that the party has been disconnected from our Quid (leader) Altaf Hussain but we have no other options; if we really want to survive we have to vote for Kite,” Ali told Arab News.

Waseem Aftab, senior leader of the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) — a party formed in March 2016 by Mustafa Kamal, MQM’s former mayor of Karachi, and Anees Qaimkhani, the mind behind MQM’s present organizational structure — claims PSP has defeated the fear.

“The majority of the community, which would vote for language and ethnicity in the past, will vote for Pakistan now,” Aftab told Arab News.

“We are not just giving a political statement. Most of us at the PSP are the people who have been heading and running MQM’s election campaigns, we have strong contacts with our people and they will vote for us,” Aftab says, claiming not only Urdu-speaking but Karachiites speaking any language will vote for the PSP, making it the largest political party of the city.

Zubair Ashraf, a journalist covering the MQM, said that the Urdu-speaking community accepted MQM-P chief Dr. Farooq Sattar out of necessity, as although he disowned Altaf Hussain, they would not accept Mustafa Kamal due to the harsh language the former mayor had been using against MQM’s founder.

Founded in 1984, the MQM won the hearts of the people of Karachi and grabbed nine out of 11 national assembly seats from the seaside Pakistani metropolis in the 1988 general elections, in which the party fielded independent candidates. In the next elections in 1990, it fought with the name of Haq Parasat Group, and the MQM performed well by securing 10 out of 11 seats. The MQM boycotted the 1993 vote but in the next elections, in 1997, it won nine out 11 seats in Karachi.

In 2002, the alliance of religious parties, Muttahida Majlis Amal (MMA), won five seats. Two seats were secured by the Pakistan People’s Party and one by Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM-H), leaving 12 seats for MQM, which was its poorest performance (60 percent of seats) since its inception. However, the party bounced back and won 17 each out of 20 in the next two general polls in 2008 and 2013.

The next years were the toughest. Altaf Hussain, frustrated by a large number of votes taken by Imran Khan’s PTI and following the detention of workers during Karachi’s targeted operation by the Rangers, delivered a controversial anti-Pakistan speech on Aug. 22, 2016, distancing himself from the party he had founded.

Although Dr. Farooq Sattar saved his party by disowning Altaf Hussain and getting the party registered in his name, his conflict with senior leader Aamir Khan led to a split in the party, which remained till the PIB and Bahadurabad factions united on June 15. 

Given the current scenario of splits, factions and calls for boycott, analysts believe that the strong resume of MQM will hardly help it perform like in past elections.

“If anyone claims with certainty that they know where the electoral cards will fall in Karachi ... then they’re either Nostradamus ... or they’re lying,” said Zarrar Khuhro, a senior analyst and host of a talk show at Dawn News.

Khuhro said that politics was unpredictable at the best of times and the election in Karachi would be more unpredictable than ever. “With the MQM in disarray, we see many players looking for gains in Karachi, as evidenced by Shehbaz Sharif’s campaigning here.”

Aminul Haque, central leader of the MQM, said that it was not the first time his party had faced a tough situation. “Our headquarters and other offices are closed; our workers were discriminately targeted in Karachi operation, but we have a history of performing well because the people of Karachi trust the MQM, which has always stood for them,” Haq told Arab News.

Dr. Professor Tauseef Ahmed, an expert on the city’s political history, said that if Hussain emphasized the boycott, the MQM-P may find itself in difficulties. “Otherwise, it will be the largest party, followed by PPP, PTI and MMA, leaving its subtotal as its lowest in MQM’s election history,” Dr. Ahmed told Arab News.

“The mandate of Urdu speaking will go to MQM-P and PSP, though the former will get the major share,” Ashraf said. 

He disagrees with Dr. Ahmed. “As I have spoken to many workers and supporters of the MQM, most of them will vote for MQM-P despite its fractionalization and internal rifts,” Ashraf said, adding that lately leaders associated with the PIB and Bahadurabad factions had buried the hatchet, which would benefit the party.

Khuhro said that the Pakistan People’s Party would get its three or so seats and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf should also make gains, though perhaps less than they should have given their showing in last elections.

“However, while the MQM is highly unlikely to sweep the way they used to, they will most likely still be Karachi’s largest party,” he said.

 


Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

Updated 29 min 30 sec ago

Russia says suspected mercenaries detained by Belarus were going to Latin America

  • Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election
  • Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year

MOSCOW: A Russian diplomat said on Monday a group of more than 30 suspected Russian mercenaries detained in Belarus last week were only passing through Minsk and were on their way to an unnamed Latin American state.
Belarusian authorities have said they suspect the men entered their country to plot “acts of terrorism” and destabilize it before an Aug. 9 presidential election.
Russian officials have dismissed the accusation and described the men as employees of a private security firm. The Russian state says it does not use mercenaries.
The standoff could further strain relations between Minsk and its traditional ally Russia, which soured after the neighbors failed to agree on an oil supply contract for this year.
“Their final destination was one of the states in the Latin American region,” the diplomat, Kirill Pletnyev, was quoted as saying on Monday by the Russian RIA news agency.
Belarus granted Pletnyev consular access to the detained men, RIA added. His quotes did not name the Latin American country or give any more details on the identity of the men.
Russia has close relations with a number of Latin American countries including Venezuela, and sent dozens of military personnel to Caracas last year, describing them as military specialists.
On Friday, Alexander Agafonov, the head of the Belarusian investigative group that is handling the case, said the arrested men — some of whom were wearing army fatigues — had given “contradictory accounts” about their plans.
He was quoted as saying that 11 of the arrested men had told authorities they planned to fly on to Venezuela, 15 to Turkey, two to Cuba and one to Syria. Another said he did not know his destination, while three refused to make a statement.
Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, who has said he wants a full explanation from Russia, faces his biggest electoral test in years on Aug. 9 as public anger swells over his handling of COVID-19, the economy and human rights.