After 30 years, the fate of the MQM is still uncertain

KARACHI: The fate of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi’s politics is uncertain, despite 30 years in power in Pakistan’s biggest city.

Interparty conflicts, the emergence of factions, unsatisfactory performance of local body representatives and facing a new election without the cover of its party founder are among the multitude of challenges facing the party in the 2018 general elections.

MQM-Pakistan now also has to contend with the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) in the upcoming elections. After losing a number of key political figures to the Mustafa Kamal-headed party, MQM-Pakistan is in for a difficult political inning.

A walk down memory lane

On June 11, 1978 the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation (APMSO) came into being and that led to the formation of the MQM on March 18, 1984.

The party maintained its hold in the urban areas of Sindh from 1987 till 2015. For the past 30 years the party has had urban centres such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Sukkur, Nawabshah and Tando Allahyar in its grip.

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The party had a unique feature – its elected representatives, MPAs, MNAs or even local body leaders, had no pull. Votes were cast for the kite – the MQM’s election symbol. Party founder Altaf Hussain was a political powerhouse who was the face of the MQM.

All that changed on August 22, 2016. After Altaf’s incendiary speech against the military establishment, the party split into two and Dr Farooq Sattar opted to disown the man who was once revered within the party.

Two factions emerged – the Sattar-led MQM-Pakistan and Altaf-led MQM-London. MQM-Pakistan spent 2017 trying to recoup its losses, suffering many blows in the form of desertions and tackling the arduous task of rebuilding the party’s image tarnished over the years. It also has the uphill task of contesting an election without a leader of the caliber of Altaf – a personality who garnered votes based on his charisma.

So far, MQM-London , having a narrower field to operate, has not expressed its willingness to contest the upcoming elections. Only time will tell how MQM-Pakistan will tackle these challenges.

Ups and downs

In 2017, Governor Mohammad Zubair, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Vice-Chairperson Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Parliamentary Minister Nisar Khuhro’s visits to the party’s headquarters in Bahadurabad and the subsequent acknowledgement of MQM-Pakistan as a separate political party boded well for the Sattar-led group.

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Party leaders also met the prime minister, during which he announced Rs25 billion worth of development projects for the city.

After splitting from London, the Pakistan faction focused its efforts on gaining powers for the local bodies of Karachi. The party held several demonstrations in this regard.

It also held a rally in Liaquatabad on November 5 and called for an all parties’ conference but all the other parties, save for the PSP and Mohajir Qaumi Movement – Haqiqi, refused to attend, forcing Sattar to call it off

Some internal conflict suraced when Kamran Tessori, a businessman with no prior political background, took charge as deputy convener. His appointment sent shock waves through the party and stirred up resentment. The interparty issues that sprung up as a result of Tessori’s appointment have yet to be settled.

In November, Sattar announced an alliance with the PSP, only to retract his announcement and offer his resignation hours later, under some compelling circumstances. The dramatic night on which Sattar resigned from the party was captured by media outlets and broadcast across the country. Members of the party’s Rabita Committee, who had earlier expressed their dissatisfaction with Sattar’s decision, jumped in to dissuade their party convener from resigning. It finally took a mother’s persuasion to reverse Sattar’s decision.

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However, Sattar’s announcement had one casualty – MNA Ali Raza Abidi resigned from the party.

Poor performance

The year 2017 also did not prove to be a good one for MQM-Pakistan in terms of performance.

Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar failed to provide any relief to residents despite controlling three of the city’s six districts. The situation seems to have improved in District East, but in districts Korangi and West the condition remained as dismal as ever.

The party’s political future may be marred by a management crisis, the mayor’s dismal performance, besides corruption charges against several members could be attributed to lack of powers and authority under the existing local bodies’ laws. With the general elections nearing, the problems for MQM-Pakistan may continue to mount.

The biggest threat is the imminent collapse of the party’s administration. The party is divided into various factions and every faction wishes to form its own leadership, bringing down the name of the once powerful MQM – the party which was once known for its organisation, discipline and leadership qualities seems to be missing that all-important trait.

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While party’s division remains an issue, the unsatisfactory performance of the mayor can also not be ignored. For the past year and a half, the mayor has only been agitating for powers. One thing he has failed to do is formulate an effective strategy to manage the city. The opposition members in the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation City Council have leveled allegations of corruption against Akhtar.

Many leaders of the party oppose the mayor’s work style. According to sources within the party, senior leaders had accused Akhtar of corruption and claimed he was taking kickbacks under the guise of development works.

During a meeting, they said that he was paying outstanding dues from the 1990s now to the contractors after receiving kickbacks, while development work is stagnant.

A senior MQM leader claimed that Akhtar’s residence in Defence Phase VIII remains crowded with contractors to whom the KMC is indebted.

Uncertain future

Despite retaining the party’s kite symbol and its flag, the party failed to garner many votes in the PS-114 and PS-127 by-elections, unlike the 2013 general elections.

The party had to face the Sunni Tehreek, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, Jamaat-e-Islami, Pakistan Peoples Party, Awami National Party and MQM-Haqiqi in the last elections but now observers believe its main competitor may turn out to be the PSP.

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The PSP’s organisational structure is similar to MQM-Pakistan’s and Kamal and Anis Qaimkhani have a wealth of political experience in contesting elections. Mayor Akhtar’s restricted municipal powers will gain the party little ground as unlike the provincial chief minister, he has no major projects or renovations to his name.

Two MNAs and 11 MPAs have already jumped ship and joined the PSP, putting MQM-Pakistan on even shakier ground.

The year 2018 may decide the fate of MQM-Pakistan in Karachi as it has many hurdles to overcome before regaining its former glory.

Earlier in the day, Karachi Deputy Mayor and MQM-P leader Arshad Vohra joined the Pak Sarzameen Party

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