Sunday, September 4, 2016

Nichola Khan - Is Pakistan witnessing the fall of Altaf Hussain, the long-distance king of Karachi?

Even by Karachi’s standards, it is an extraordinary time in the politics of this complex and violent Pakistani metropolis. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the party which has dominated the city’s politics for nearly three decades, is facing a mounting backlash from the Pakistani authorities and an internal power shift.

MQM’s leader, Altaf Hussain, has been exiled in London since the early 1990s, its deputy leader is trying to sideline him by blaming mental strain, and the party’s newly elected mayor of Karachi is in prison, facing charges of aiding militants and criminals. Meanwhile, for the past two years the Pakistani military has been conducting operations against MQM in Karachi while other political parties are demanding that the party should be banned as terrorists.

The population of Karachi’s urban conglomeration is over 23m, and the city itself is expected to become the world’s seventh largest by 2030, according to the UN. It has also been called the world’s most dangerous city. Since the 1980s, MQM has been able to hold the city to ransom through a nexus of violence and crime as it steadily gained more political power. The party was formed by Hussain in 1978 as a student organisation to represent the Urdu-speaking “Mohajirs”, or migrants from India to the new nation Pakistan during Partition in 1947. 

Since its inception Hussain has remained  unilaterally powerful, his hold on Karachi attributed to his famed, lethal, “remote control politics”. In hours Hussain, who has been based in London since 1992 when he was granted asylum during army operations against the MQM in Karachi, could command MQM workers to effect a total strike, and through terror, shut down Pakistan’s largest commercial city.

In 2007, dozens of people were killed during the “Black Saturday” riots in the city. The MQM has been implicated in the violence, but so far there has been little justice in the Pakistani courts.
In September 2010, one of MQM’s founders Imran Farooq was murdered in London amid speculation about an intended leadership bid. British police are investigating the MQM on charges of money laundering and with involvement in Imran Farooq’s murder – but it has been slow going… read more: