Who’s Altaf Hussain?

Altaf Hussain, the self-exiled leader of Pakistan’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), is once again facing the charge of inciting violence in Karachi, the country’s largest city.

On Tuesday, Mr. Hussain, while addressing a group of MQM supporters protesting against “media bias” outside Karachi’s press club via phone from his London office, said “Pakistan is a cancer of the entire world.” MQM supporters went on a rampage on TV stations in Karachi after his speech was telecast. Mr. Hussain later apologised for his comment, but it’s unclear if the apology would have any lasting impact on the way the MQM functions.

The party, which represents the Mohajir community — the Urdu-speaking Muslims who migrated from India to Pakistan during the Partition — had faced several allegations in the past of indulging in violence in Karachi.

Like others in the community, Mr. Hussain’s parents also fled India during 1947 and settled in Karachi, then the capital city. The Mohajirs were an influential community in Pakistan’s power corridors in the 1950s and 60s, but lost their clout in the wake of surging Punjabi and Sindhi influence. Mr. Hussain was one of the first politicians who tired to address these grievances. He founded the Mohajir Quami Movement, the predecessor of today’s MQM, in 1984 as a political platform for the Mohajirs.

In the early days of his political activism, Mr. Hussain had demanded a territorial settlement for the Mohajirs. “When everyone else had a province, we said the Mohajirs should have one too,'' he said in March 1984, referring to the major ethnic groups in Pakistan such as the Sindhis, the Balochs, the Pashtuns and the Punjabis.

His party emerged as one of the largest political outfits in Karachi after the 1985-86 ethnic riots, in which, the MQM was allegedly involved. But despite the popularity, his controversial style of functioning and the MQM’s violent track record turned the Pakistani security establishment against the party. In May 1992, Mr. Hussain fled Pakistan, escaping an imminent government crackdown on the MQM. He sought political asylum in London, and became a British citizen in 2002.

But for Mr.Hussain, a life in exile was not necessarily a life away from Pakistani politics. He continued to run the MQM from his London office, often addressing his supporters in Karachi through telephones, and at times giving inflammatory speeches. In one of such addresses, he told his critics: “If you don’t stop the lies and false allegations that damage our party’s reputation, then don't blame me, Altaf Hussain, or the MQM if you get killed by any of my millions of supporters.”

These tactics had triggered international criticisms as well. “In the mid-1990s, the MQM(A) was heavily involved in the widespread political violence that wracked Pakistan's southern Sindh province, particularly Karachi,” reads a 2004 report by the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. According to a 2009 U.S. diplomatic assessment, “MQM has 10,000 active armed members [in Karachi] and as many as 25,000 armed fighters in reserve.” In 2006, the Federal Court of Canada declared the MQM as a terrorist organisation.

There are no exact details on how many cases have been filed against Mr. Hussain in Pakistan. However, when the then President Pervez Musharraf offered amnesty to the country’s senior politicians in 2007 as part of his reconciliation plan, Mr. Hussain was one of the biggest beneficiaries. The authorities dropped 72 cases against him.

In recent years, Pakistani politicians had exerted pressure on the U.K. to take action against Mr. Hussain. Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan calls Mr. Hussain a “terrorist” and an “agent of India”. Britain arrested him briefly in 2014 on charges of money laundering. Despite accusations at home and investigations in the country he chose to live in, Mr. Hussain continues to remain a major figure in Pakistan’s troubled politics.

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Printable version | Sep 20, 2021 9:51:59 AM |

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