Pakistan: The Mustafa Kamal Factor

Karachi is Pakistan's commercial hub. Political violence in the city has adversely impacted its economy for years. (Photo by damian entwistle, Creative Commons License)
Karachi is Pakistan’s commercial hub. Political violence in the city has adversely impacted its economy for years. (Photo by damian entwistle, Creative Commons License)

Landing back in Karachi on Mar 3, 2016 all of a sudden after going off into self-imposed exile on Aug 14, 2013 (what he calls symbolically his own personal Independence Day from Altaf Hussain), former Mayor of Karachi Syed Mustafa Kamal explained in his post-arrival Press Conference (1) Why he left the country in the first place (2) Why he had returned (and now)? and (3) What he intended to do? The MQM responded by alleging that the timing and the manner of Kamal’s arrival confirmed the establishment’s “minus-Altaf Hussain MQM” intentions.

An Altaf Hussain-favourite, young Kamal performed very successfully as his nominated mayor of Karachi.  Because of his honesty and a job extremely well done he became popular, taking the limelight away from the MQM Chief. More importantly (and dangerously for Kamal) he started being touted as his possible successor. Because of discrimination of the worst kind against the Mohajir community, it is to Altaf Hussain’s credit that the MQM became a genuinely mass appeal party devoted to socio-economic uplift of the Mohajir poor and downtrodden.  Unfortunately the self-defence mechanism they had to create because of violent excesses against them morphed over time into a fascist-type militant structure using party enforcers to enforce discipline among foe (and friend) alike. In the absence of a viable alterative, the MQM mass appeal remained intact as seen in the last elections. Fueled by the Afghan war in the 80s, militancy in Karachi (and Pakistan) force-multiplied into a major factor in politics, and remains so.


Running affairs by remote control from London and keeping his cohorts in line, the party leader took to making spur-of-the-moment political adjustments and alignments having no relevance to MQM’s original socio-ethnic ideology and/or existing ground realities. Kamal alleged that the PPP’s Interior Minister, Rehman Malik, other than using money, used the MQM’s RAW connection in a classic carrot and stick ploy for blackmailing the party to keep the PPP in power at the Federal level.Following out with Zardari, Zulfiqar Mirza’s allegations about nepotism, corruption and mismanagement also confirmed Rahman Malik using MQM’s connections with RAW for political purposes. BBC’s claim about MQM’s (or rather their  hierarchy’s) RAW links was based on what senior MQM leader, Tariq Mir disclosed last June to the London Metropolitan Police investigating the money-laundering case. According to credible reports (and very few people can be more credible than Owen Bennett Jones), Mir revealed that his party chief “was getting money from India … the Indian government funded us because they thought it was good to support us”.  Given the British Govt’s close relationship (mainly because of its business investments) with India, RAW activities destabilizing Pakistan would reveal the hypocrisy about India’s sponsoring of terrorism through RAW while maintaining an international “holier-than-thou” posture.

Allegations about Altaf Hussain’s dubious loyalty to the country are nothing new but when a close (former) confidante of the MQM leader also reveals how strongarm methods are used to run the party as a personal fiefdom, it has authenticity.   Needing MQM’s support, for political and personal expediencies Gen Pervez Musharraf Ignored this, that makes him culpable and responsible alongwith successive Corps Commanders (Governors in all but name) in Karachi for all the target killings and kidnappings that took place in Karachi over those years, best shown in the May 12incident when dozens of people got killed.


Calling Altaf Hussain ‘Sahib’ instead of referring to him as “Bhai” as he had done for 29 years, Kamal told The Express Tribune, “I have stopped calling him Altaf bhai because there is no “bhai wala” relationship now. I was a loyal to him, I could have done anything for him but there was not one issue, there were many issues why I left the party. People were dying without any reason. Day and night, the man did not remain in his senses.  I trusted and believed but my trust was shattered many times.”  Kamal added, “If I continued to stay in the MQM, I would have remained gunahgaar [sinner]”. However he did not speak ill of other party leaders as he said he was close to them.  In its simplistic form, bereft of the myriad number of reasons that bedevil Pakistani politics there is no surprise that the youth is finally challenging the old guard.


Not finding anything to attack Mustafa Kamal with, some of our media anchors and analysts (with clearly motivated agendas) went after Anis Qaimkhani and Hammad Siddiqui.  Discretion being the better part of valour, the media persons who pontificated about Qaimkhani/Hammad involvement in militant activities barely mentioned these two except in passing for almost 20 years when they were enforcing Altaf Hussain’s diktat.  The Establishment is certainly compliant in Kamal’s comeback, after all would Benazir and Mian Nawaz Sharif have come back without such an arrangement?  The presence of people like Anis Qaimkhani and Hammad Siddiqui  as a show of force is a necessary deterrent to ensure that you do not end up like Filipino Senator Benigno Aquino, Jr did in 1983 challenging President Ferdinand Marcos, dead on the tarmac at Manila Airport on coming back from self-exile. One prominent anchor person, dismissed Mustafa Kamal’s massive popularity among all the diverse communities as “not translating into electoral politics”.  Do popular persons really get elected in Pakistan given the present mode of electoral exercise?


With the centrality of ethnicity as its peculiar characteristic according to Dr Hasan Askari Rizvi, the three major features of politics in Karachi are the linkages between viz (1) politics and criminality and the (2) Indian intelligence agency RAW with some MQM activists, and lastly (3) the reassertion of the ethnic card by the MQM from time to time.  While the actual transition to power may take time (unless the rumours of Altaf Hussain’s deteriorating health are to be believed), the fairly widespread wall chalkings show Mustafa Kamal is visibly attracting organized support from MQM’s field activists.



What did the Chief Justice say about a clique hijacking governance in Pakistan? Not naming his party and using the Pakistan flag symbollically points to national aspirations and ramifications that go beyond the PML (N), PTI and PPP political entities as a possible viable alternative in times to come. Unlike Altaf Hussain, Kamal is well-liked by all the communities in Karachi (and nationally).  Being central to the economics of Pakistan, peace in Karachi means prosperity in the country, Karachi is vital ground!   How would “the great silent majority” of Pakistanis chose between Altaf Hussain and Mustafa Kamal to restore peace to Karachi and to its former pristine economic glory?(the writer is a defence and security analyst).

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