The curious case of Altaf


The case of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain is becoming an acid test for the UK justice system and Pakistani government’s resolve to get justice. In a major development, the once-loved but dreaded ruler of urban Sindh has been charged by the London Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command with a terror offence for encouraging terrorism during a speech he made in August 2016 to a Karachi crowd of his party. The prison sentence for a convict of terror charge is 15 years along with a fine. The MQM founder is currently on conditional bail, but in fact he remains in house arrest and has been banned from leaving the UK as his passport is in police custody. Moreover, the court slapped a gag on his speech. As soon as his speech ended, a mob attacked different media houses. His next appearance before the central criminal court in London is on Nov1.
The development speaks of the growing ties between the UK and Pakistan. The erratic MQM founder has long been a big issue for successive governments since the ethnic party’s inception back in the mid-80s. Since his self-imposed exile in the UK in 1991, he ran the party and urban lives of Karachi and Hyderabad without any challenge. Government after government remained helpless in front of his politics because of his charisma and his style of ruling the party with an iron hand. It was only left to prime minister (then an opposition leader) Imran Khan to move a case against him in the UK in 2007, though without any success. The watershed moment, however, came in 2016 when a full-fledged operation was launched by law-enforcement agencies against militancy in Karachi. Hussain’s August 22 speech against media houses and the establishment proved to be the final blow for his politics. A government order against broadcast of his hate-filled speeches made him history. Since 2016, and his divorce with MQM, Husain has become irrelevant to Pakistani politics. MQM was able to keep its minus-Altaf identity in the 2018 elections. But the fate of Altaf Husain is still relevant to Pakistan. The man who should be credited with introducing middle and lower middle classes to politics also introduced militant wings in his party. His life and politics offer lessons to be studied.