Altaf Husain’s fate was foretold. With his recent arrest in London, the noose has been tightened. This is the beginning of the end for him and for the MQM as structured and led by him for over two and a half decades, mostly from exile in London.
For over two years, British authorities have been investigating three serious charges against him – involvement in the murder of the MQM leader Imran Farooq, money laundering, and hate speech. In each case, there appeared to be sufficient evidence to indict him sooner or later.
Scotland Yard has tracked the two alleged murderers of Imran Farooq — Mohsin Ali Syed and Kashif Kamran — to Pakistan where they are held captive by the ISI. The London Metropolitan Police have raided several MQM properties, including the one in which Altaf Hussain lives, and seized over £400,000 in laundered cash. Investigations have proved that several properties in London were purchased by Altaf Hussain and his front-men from laundered funds. The London police is inundated with citizen complaints protesting a hate speech by Altaf Hussain against supporters of Imran Khan protesting alleged MQM rigging of the elections in Karachi last year. In the last year or so, several senior MQM leaders in London have been questioned “under caution”, a couple were arrested and then released on bail and prohibited from leaving the country. Recently, Altaf Hussain’s bank accounts in the UK were frozen and reports surfaced suggesting that he might have obtained his British passport by invoking dubious claims. This compelled him recently to make a desperate attempt to try and obtain a Pakistani passport and alert his MQM cadres in Karachi to get ready to “face” the developing situation, an implied threat to shut down Karachi that has temporarily materialised. What next?
Altaf Hussain will probably obtain bail in the money laundering case. But the murder of Imran Farooq will hang over his head like the sword of Damocles until the British authorities are able to extradite the two alleged murderers from Pakistan and nail the evidence. Meanwhile, however, Altaf Hussain’s health, which is already sinking, is expected to incapacitate him in custody. Since he will be “watched” and “monitored” carefully, it is likely that he will lose his close and confidential contacts with key party cadres and messengers quickly and his control over party affairs will gradually dissipate. This will hasten the process of fissures and divisions within the MQM that followed the spotlight of the British authorities on Altaf Hussain in the last two years and which led to the ouster or escape of close aides like Advocate Anis and Mustafa Kamal in recent times.
Several overt and covert developments on the MQM front may be expected in London and Karachi. For starters, a degree of tension and nervousness among London-based aides and workers like Nadeem Nusrat and Anwar Bhai will manifest itself in conspiratorial huddles about power and protection which will weaken Altaf Hussain’s iron grip over the UK office. Some MQM people may also be emboldened to secretly seek the protection of the British police in exchange for giving information and evidence regarding the affairs of the MQM in general and Altaf Hussain in particular. Others may opt to quietly flee the UK for safer shores instead of risk being tainted, challenged or chained in the aftermath of the crisis. A couple of senior aides who are “under caution” already may be hauled up by the police again.
We should also expect feverish activity within the rank and file of the MQM in Karachi to cope with the crisis or take advantage of it. The man to watch is Governor Ishratul Abad. He is the face of the MQM that is acceptable to the military establishment, PPP and PMLN. He has managed to survive the vicissitudes of fortune spanning three regimes in Islamabad, and the unending idiosyncrasies, moods and tempers of Altaf Hussain for nearly fourteen years. Factions of the MQM led by Afaq, Aamir and Farooq Sattar, who are also all survivors, will vie with him for power.
The military establishment, rather than the PPP or PMLN leadership, will play a critical role in events. The corps commander Karachi has already warned the MQM not to try and forcibly shut down the street in Karachi. The ISI is already negotiating with the British authorities regarding the extradition of Mohsin and Kashif in exchange for a couple of Baloch separatists. The Rangers are expected to take full advantage of the confusion and uncertainty in the MQM to strike deeper and more effectively in Operation Clean-Up.
It is the PTI, however, that is poised to extract a longer-term benefit from the slow but inevitable dissolution of the MQM that is on the cards. That is why Imran Khan has swiftly offered an olive branch to the rank and file of the MQM that may be geared up to break free of the fearful shackles of Altaf Hussain.