On 03 March 2016, the former Mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal, held a press conference to announce the formation of a new insofar unnamed political party. His castigation of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Altaf's (MQM-A) leader Altaf Hussain as a drunkard and an agent of India's Research & Analysis Wing (R&AW) during the event seems like yet another sinister and calculated effort by Pakistan’s all powerful military establishment to further fragment and decimate the party’s hold over Karachi. Kamal was accompanied at the press conference by another former MQM-A heavyweight, former Deputy Convenor Anees Qaimkhani, who had left the country because of several criminal cases against him. The police/rangers took no steps to arrest him at the event.
Kamal and MQM-A
Rising from humble origins as a telephone operator in MQM supremo Altaf Hussain’s 90, Azizabad headquarters, Kamal completed his undergraduate studies from Malaysia and Wales. From 2003-05, he was the Information Technology Minister in the Sindh provincial government wherein the MQM was in alliance with the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). In 2005, he became the mayor of Karachi, serving a difficult five-year stint during which he is credited to have provided a reasonably efficient, people-friendly and `not so corrupt’ local government there. In particular, he is reported to have contributed to better traffic management, designing the Jehangir Kothari flyover-cum-underpass.
During this period, Kamal maintained cordial relations with the then President of Pakistan, Gen Pervez Musharraf, despite having an uneasy relationship with Sindh Governor, Ishratul Abad - the MQM-A’s most durable, pro-establishment politician.
He was seen as the new face of the educated, upwardly mobile, tech-savvy Mohajir youth. However, as he gained acclaim, his parent party MQM-A was riveted by rifts in the wake of the Azim Tariq and Imran Farooq murders. In 2012, Kamal was 'kicked upstairs' as Member, Senate, a post which he suddenly deserted in August 2013 and left the country - ostensibly for personal reasons (wife’s illness cited). It was rumoured then that Kamal had received death threats from the MQM-A’s hit squad goons and had to flee to save his life. Although he initially left for the US, he surfaced first in Tanzania and then joined Pakistan’s influential estate dealer, Malik Riaz’s outfit in Dubai.
Though Kamal strenuously denied connections with `the establishment’ during his press conference, his sudden re-surfacing at this juncture suggests the Pakistan army and the Inter-Services-Intelligence (ISI) would have extended assurances to ensure his personal security in Karachi for the present. It also seems in sync with orchestrated moves by the Pakistan Army Chief Gen Raheel Sharif and ISI Director General Rizwan Akhtar to bring about en masse defections from the MQM-A. In the recent past, there have been rumours also of Gen (retd) Musharraf’s persisting ambition to re-emerge in a political role, with a possible chunk of Mohajir support. Despite best efforts, this has not happened. The Farooq Sattar-led leadership of the MQM in Karachi has remained steadfastly loyal to Altaf Hussain despite the recent court verdict and crackdown against any direct media coverage of the 'Quaid-e-Qiwan’s' long-distance speeches from UK.
In the December 2015 local body elections in Karachi, the MQM-A won 136 seats in six districts, comfortably besting the PPP that won 32 seats, and defeating the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI)-Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf (PTI) alliance that won 13 seats. Senior MQM-A leader Waseem Akhtar is now poised to become the mayor of Karachi.
On 03 March 2016, Farooq Sattar responded with the MQM-A's own long-drawn press conference, labouriously denying Kamal’s charges, including those against Hussain’s alleged misdemeanours and dictatorial style. He claimed the attempts to tar the party with 'connections to R&AW' were 'old hat', which the party had survived several times in the past. The real test was approbation by the people, which the MQM-A had obtained during last year’s by-elections for NA 246 Karachi and now again, in the local body polls. He condemned this `new effort’ to sustain the `MQM minus one’ formula and asserted that it would fail again.
Nusrat Nadeem, Hussain's remaining trusted party lieutenant in London (Tariq Mir and Mohammad Anwar lost Altaf's confidence after squealing nineteen to the dozen before the Scotland Yard during their money fraud and Imran Farooq murder investigations), also urged the Pakistani establishment to talk directly to the party leadership instead of resorting to such nefarious tactics.
Barrister Saif Ali Khan, Gen (retd) Musharraf’s lawyer defending him in the myriad court cases against him also discounted rumours of support to Kamal, and affirmed his continuing loyalty to the MQM-A.
Both Kamal and Qaimkhani have support within the MQM-A. Their subsequent shenanigans would be watched with interest. The Farooq Sattar press conference was surrounded by several glum faces. A prominent leader, Faisal Sabzwari was absent. Though a major setback, it can, by no means, be said with certainty that the establishment would succeed in its objective of de-fanging the MQM-A by this manoeuvre just yet.