A policeman fires tear gas on MQM workers at Fawara Chowk, Karachi on August 22, 2016 | PPI
A policeman fires tear gas on MQM workers at Fawara Chowk, Karachi on August 22, 2016 | PPI

Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan Chowk is a junction in Karachi’s Azizabad area next to Nine Zero, the Karachi headquarters of Altaf Hussain’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). Several hundred party supporters stood face-to-face at the junction with personnel of law enforcement agencies on December 9 last year, a day the party annually commemorates to honour those who have died in various law enforcement operations since the early 1990s. The crowd wanted to proceed to a nearby monument that commemorates the dead. The police and rangers would not let them.

Women in the procession wanted to take the lead, thinking the security officials would not hit or hurt them. One middle-aged man assured them: “We do not fear arrest.”

As two young men climbed to the top of a structure in the middle of the junction, a rangers officer ordered his subordinates to take them down. They were caught, beaten up and taken inside a shop serving as a temporary holding cell. The crowd coalesced — from a scattered gathering into an angry mob. Someone suddenly started raising slogans: “Qasba ki raatain/Qilay ki raatain/Maaon ka rona/Behnon ka rona/Kiya bhool gaye tum (The nights in Qasba Colony/Nights in Pucca Qila/Laments of the mothers/Laments of the sisters/Have you forgotten).” The crowd responded vociferously to his chants that invoked the massacres of Muhajirs in Karachi and Hyderabad in the 1980s.

The crowd continued to swell in the meanwhile. The police panicked and attacked with batons. Some people standing behind the protesters hurled rocks at policemen who retreated. The crowd moved forward again. Afternoon traffic around the junction came to a complete halt.

To let it flow again, law enforcers agreed to let a handful of women and old men proceed to the monument.

A couple of hours later, a young woman unfurled an MQM flag in front of a largely male police and rangers contingent. Someone procured a staff. Two young men climbed atop the monument again and hoisted the flag there.

Altaf Hussain’s MQM reclaimed its stronghold that day — less than four months after he had committed what most of his supporters and opponents saw as an act of political suicide.

The party organisation was hard at work during the procession. With its offices sealed, some even razed, the MQM had lost a central meeting point. The assembly provided its key activists an opportunity to reconnect. In the back rows, some of them marked an attendance sheet. “[Attendance] is more important than ever before since it would prove the loyalty of protesters to their party and its chief,” said one activist.

In by-lanes around the junction, Altaf Hussain’s loyalists were sitting inside half-open shops to avoid arrests. They were regularly relaying instructions to those leading the procession. Many of them were on the run from the police.

Most of them belonged to the party’s tehreeki arm — hundreds of people trained by Altaf Hussain, and directly answerable to him, to work as members of a movement (tehreek in Urdu) to raise awareness among Muhajirs that they are a ‘nation’ just as Sindhis, Punjabis and Pakhtuns are. (There has always been a separate tanzeemi – organisational – set-up to run the party’s day-to-day affairs though the membership of the two groups often overlaps).

Altaf Hussain’s MQM reclaimed its stronghold that day — less than four months after he had committed what most of his supporters and opponents saw as an act of political suicide.

The largest number of protesters came from the cadre of the All Pakistan Muttahida Students Organisation (APMSO), which launched the political career of Altaf Hussain and many of his lieutenants back in the late 1970s.

One leading member of the crowd was the APMSO’s incumbent vice-chairman. Attempts are afoot to have key APMSO organisers rusticated from Karachi University, he alleges in an interview later. If these organisers continue to work at the campus, he claims, the MQM’s ‘rivals’ will not be able to find their footing there.

One of these rivals marked its own anniversary of the dead on the same day at a ground owned by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). Led by Dr Farooq Sattar, an erstwhile confidant of Altaf Hussain, it is called Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), set up in August last year.

The KMC event was a quiet affair. Its biggest highlight was the presence of the family of Dr Imran Farooq, a one-time deputy to Altaf Hussain who was murdered in mysterious circumstances in 2010 in London. Media reports into the murder point to the involvement of some MQM activists in it, allegedly on orders from Altaf Hussain.

A senior MQM-P leader present at the event remarked: “Many of us turned against Altaf Hussain after disclosures were made about the MQM chief’s involvement in the murder.”

There are several versions of what led to the split but a speech that Altaf Hussain delivered on August 22, 2016 is central to each of them.

On that day, members of the MQM’s labour and women wings were gathered outside the Karachi Press Club as part of an ongoing protest over the disappearance and extrajudicial killing of party activists. Sattar, the most senior parliamentarian of the party and also its most visible face on the media, was present on the occasion, as were many other senior MQM leaders.

In his speech, Altaf Hussain lambasted the state for what he called a targeted “anti-Muhajir” law enforcement operation in Karachi. He held the Sindh Rangers director general at the time, Bilal Akbar, responsible for extrajudicial killings. He urged the army chief to hold Akbar accountable or else he would “pack him in a box and shift him out of Karachi”.

A bombshell followed. Forefathers of Muhajirs had made a mistake in migrating to Pakistan if this was to be their eventual fate, Altaf Hussain thundered. “Who says long live Pakistan? Down with Pakistan.”

Mustafa Kamal addresses a press conference in Karachi upon returning to Pakistan on March 3, 2016 | Reuters
Mustafa Kamal addresses a press conference in Karachi upon returning to Pakistan on March 3, 2016 | Reuters

As soon as the speech was delivered, an MQM mob went on a rampage. Law enforcers quickly swung into action, hauling up hundreds of the party’s workers. Others spent the night on the streets, shifting locations to avoid arrest. Many senior MQM leaders and parliamentarians took to Twitter to distance themselves from the speech. “Pakistan Zindabad,” all of them tweeted one by one.

The rangers sealed Nine Zero, shutting down the party’s communications network. Sattar was arrested as was Khawaja Izharul Hassan, leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly.

After Sattar got out of detention a day later, he announced sending Altaf Hussain on medical leave. He said that all party decisions were to be made then onwards in Pakistan and that the party chief would only endorse them.

At least initially, Altaf Hussain went along with what Sattar had said. He either wanted to avoid arrests of his loyalists by choosing to lie low or was weighing options and gauging the loyalty of those tanzeemi and parliamentary stalwarts who had all opted to support Sattar’s actions.

All that would fall apart within days.

The trouble started away from the party’s internal dynamics. Different legislative chambers in the country started rambling in anger against Altaf Hussain’s speech and resolutions were drafted to condemn him and his rhetoric. To everyone’s surprise, MQM’s own parliamentarians suddenly came forward and moved condemnatory resolutions in the National Assembly as well as the Sindh Assembly. “These were tantamount to a rebellion against Altaf bhai,” says Wasay Jalil, an Altaf Hussain loyalist now based in London.

Those close to Kamal say Altaf Hussain has allowed himself to be led by those who do not know ground realities in Pakistan because they have been living in London for too long.

The alternate resolutions were far more stringent, responds Faisal Subzwari, a senior MQM leader who has since parted ways with Altaf Hussain. “[Our] resolutions just condemned the anti-Pakistan slogan,” he says. Other resolutions called for the arrest – for high treason – of Altaf Hussain as well as all those who had listened to his speech and had not condemned, he says. “This was far more damaging for us and our voter.”

The passage of the resolutions led to a split. Soon, Sattar would launch MQM-P as a separate political entity, erasing Altaf Hussain’s name from the party’s flag and deleting the precondition of loyalty to him from the party’s membership form.

Altaf Hussain responded by announcing a new organisational structure, expelling all leaders and members of MQM-P. Scramble for the party’s support base ensued.

Differences have been brewing within the MQM for long. Sattar and former Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ebad never liked the appointment of Mustafa Kamal as Karachi’s mayor in the 2000s and his subsequent closeness to Altaf Hussain, insiders say. At one stage, Altaf Hussain wanted to appoint Kamal as the governor of Sindh. There were also reports about Kamal being anointed as Altaf Hussain’s successor in the party.

That did not last long. Soon after his tenure as mayor ended in February 2010, Kamal was accused by his party of having made money through corrupt practices. Altaf Hussain summoned him to London for a personal hearing. Though the charges were dropped, Kamal was sidelined by the party. He was allowed back after six months.

He lay low for some time, becoming an MQM senator. He would relinquish the position in August 2013 to go to Dubai and work for Bahria Town’s proprietor Malik Riaz Hussain.

When Kamal was in Dubai, Altaf Hussain reportedly called him multiple times only to find his phone switched off. He asked his party leaders in Karachi to convey his message to Kamal to call him back but they did not pass the message and, instead, lied to Altaf Hussain. This, according to insiders on both sides, widened the gulf between the two.

Those close to Kamal say Altaf Hussain has allowed himself to be led by those who do not know ground realities in Pakistan because they have been living in London for too long. The party’s central committee in Pakistan has been dissolved repeatedly since 1992 but people at its London office have remained more or less unchanged over this time, sources say. They have never been sidelined or replaced because they have never tried to explain to Altaf Hussain the consequences of his criticism of the military and his rants against Pakistan, the sources add.

“The party’s central committee in Pakistan has been dissolved repeatedly since 1992 but people at its London office have remained more or less unchanged.”

The party’s internal problems were aggravated with Amir Khan’s return to its fold in 2011, other sources say. Anees Qaimkhani was the convener of the MQM’s Rabita Committee, the party’s highest organisational institution, at the time. He was not happy over the importance given to Amir in spite of his 15-year-long presence at the head of the MQM-Haqiqi, formed in the early 1990s with the explicit purpose of eliminating the influence of Altaf Hussain and his MQM from Karachi.

Qaimkhani joined Kamal in Dubai in November 2013. Both would come back to Pakistan to launch their own Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) early last year, denouncing and renouncing Altaf Hussain’s politics entirely.

Amir, on the other hand, found ready support among those who did not like Qaimkhani when he was heading the Rabita Committee.

Differences between the two groups first came to the fore after the 2013 election. Qaimkhani claimed credit because the MQM under his charge had secured one more National Assembly seat in Karachi than it had in 2008. Amir and his group held Qaimkhani and his underlings responsible for diverting the culture of violence inwards and a massive number of votes going to the the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), even in MQM’s strongholds.

Another major fault line emerged when on May 19, 2013 Altaf Hussain criticised the MQM’s Rabita Committee for disregarding his orders. Some in the audience got so emotional that they started raising slogans against committee members. A few activists even slapped the members and hurled shoes at them.

A few days later, a meeting of the party’s general workers was held at Jinnah Ground in Azizabad. During his address, Altaf Hussain blamed the party’s leadership in Karachi for occupying and selling state land and indulging in other corrupt practices.

Many party activists loyal to him support his allegations even today. An MQM worker who has been a staffer at the party’s secretariat at Nine Zero says money was minted through encroachment on government lands and its illegal disposal; most leaders had set up their own construction and real-estate businesses, taking advantage of the party’s influence. Even China Cutting – originally meant to provide homeless MQM workers shelter by carving out small plots from land reserved for public amenities such as parks – was turned into a money-minting mechanism by the likes of Kamal, the worker claims.

Altaf Hussain’s loyalists say they could not convey their complaints to him at the time because local leaders did not let them. “I sent a fax message to him a decade ago in which I pointed out corruption being done by the local leadership but the fax was intercepted,” says Dawood Bukhari, an MQM worker. His house was attacked and he was shot and injured, he says, by men sent by leaders against whom he had complained. They showed his fax to his wife. “This is what your husband has sent to London,” he quotes them as telling her.

On October 30, 1998, Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif imposed governor’s rule in Sindh and appointed Lieutenant General (retd) Moinuddin Haider – a Muhajir – as the governor. Two weeks later in London, at MQM’s International Secretariat, Altaf Hussain delivered a lecture. It was titled The Three-Pronged Strategy of the Establishment against Mohajirs and the MQM.

The thrust of his argument was that the security and intelligence agencies were employing a well-coordinated strategy to create fissures within the MQM. The first facet of this strategy, according to Altaf Hussain, was to isolate the Muhajir people from other ethnic groups “through physical, psychological, social and political isolation”. The same tactic was employed within the MQM: “The link between the leaders and their people was severed.”

The second facet, according to him, was to criminalise those associated with the MQM. “Instead of being accepted as law-abiding citizens, [the Muhajirs would be] treated as criminals ... their representative political party [would] be portrayed as a group of gangsters and terrorists.” The third facet, he said, was demoralisation. With no end in sight to state repression, demoralisation would set in among the Muhajirs and MQM activists.

Almost two decades later, that lecture is reverberating among his tehreeki protégés. “[The situation] has gone down exactly as Altaf bhai explained. All three objectives were achieved by the establishment post-August 22,” says a party leader who recently left MQM-P, finding its anti-Altaf Hussain stance “difficult to digest”.

The Tehreeki mindset is meant to develop absolute loyalty to Altaf Hussain, his ideas and his politics. As early as August 23, some tehreekis had organised protests outside the homes of the party leaders they perceived as ‘traitors’. When the first orders came from London on October 2, 2016, barring the party workers from maintaining contacts with Sattar, Faisal and Hassan, the tehreekis knew that the split was real.

Dr Farooq Sattar addresses a press conference at Karachi Press Club on August 23, 2016 | Faysal Mujeeb, White Star
Dr Farooq Sattar addresses a press conference at Karachi Press Club on August 23, 2016 | Faysal Mujeeb, White Star

Within the tehreeki group, betrayal by Sattar has much greater significance than that by Kamal. “We all accept Altaf bhai as our father. Farooq bhai was supposed to be the eldest brother in the family,” explains one member of the group. “Of course, there is going to be discord when the eldest brother turns against the father.”

Altaf Hussain seems to have foretold the split at a party meeting back in 2014. His followers thought his prophecy was realised when Kamal and Qaimkhani founded the PSP and many front-ranking MQM leaders – Raza Haroon, Anis Advocate, Dr Sagheer Ahmed – later joined it. Nobody expected that Sattar would also leave the party along with its entire tanzeemi leadership, almost all its parliamentarians and local government representatives, including the newly-elected Karachi mayor Wasim Akhtar.

Many Altaf Hussain loyalists saw the development as “almost unfathomable”, given how Sattar was seen as holding the party organisation together in the face of law enforcement operations ongoing since September 2013. (According to Aminul Haq, who once worked as an MQM spokesperson at Nine Zero but is now with Sattar, 66 party activists were murdered in extrajudicial killings; 5,397 MQM workers and supporters were arrested — 4,042 of them were later released; another 135 are apparently in the custody of the rangers and the police, with no official word about their whereabouts.)

Others in the tehreeki group believe ‘desertion’ by Kamal “was Plan A” by the establishment to split the party. When that did not have the desired effect of undermining Altaf Hussain’s support base, Sattar’s party was launched as “Plan B”. They claim a “Plan C” is being readied which will bring the PSP and MQM-P together as, separately, the two have failed to make a substantial dent in Altaf Hussain’s following.

Mustafa Azizabadi, a central MQM leader based in London, cites recent bonhomie between Kamal and Sattar on a couple of social and political occasions as evidence of “Plan C” being real. Their ideological origins are the same, he says, suggesting that both have ‘links’ to the ‘establishment’.

Faisal dismisses the talk of Plan C as an assumption. “There is no truth in these claims.” If these were true, he says, “Kamal wouldn’t be sending messages to journalists, claiming that I am still defending Altaf Hussain.”

Watch the interests of the Muhajir nation” has become an oft-repeated line among the rank and file of MQM-P. It implies that siding with Altaf Hussain is against the interests of Muhajirs: supporting his slogans and speeches against Pakistan makes everyone of them become ‘anti-Pakistan traitors’ in the eyes of the media and the state, and leads to an intensification of their arrests and killings.

That has been the gist of Kamal’s argument, too — with the added emphasis that Altaf Hussain and his associates are foreign agents bent upon destroying Karachi. He also claims to champion a politics of service delivery rather than of identity and ethnicity.

MQM-P has not dissociated itself entirely from identity politics even when it seeks to distance itself from Altaf Hussain. From being Altaf bhai, he has become Altaf sahib for its leaders. They are moving away from doing politics around his personality cult. He is still mentioned as the founder of Muhajir tehreek but no longer as the MQM-P’s quaid (leader). “We will maintain respect for Altaf Hussain and will continue [practising] his philosophy of realism and pragmatism,” says Haq.

Some MQM-P leaders suggest their party has more leaders from the first generation of Muhajir activists than are left in the other MQM. Together, they command more respect than Altaf Hussain alone, goes the argument.

Others in the tehreeki group believe ‘desertion’ by Kamal “was Plan A” by the establishment to split the party.

Leaders of MQM-P incessantly attack what they call the ‘London tola’ – or London gang – that includes such people as Jalil, Azizabadi, Qasim Ali Raza, Mohammad Ashfaq and Nadeem Nusrat.

Khan, deputy convenor of MQM-P, has lambasted some of these individuals for fleeing the country just when the going got tough. “We are not among those who fly out to Dubai, London or America whenever the party is under pressure,” he said. “Only those will run the MQM who live among the party’s members.”

That may be true to some extent. For many Muhajir activists in Karachi, the MQM-P offers space to work under the MQM banner without having to jump ship to PSP. They see dissociation from Altaf Hussain as a political necessity. Unlike Kamal, MQM-P, after all, does not target his person even while criticising his acts and statements.

Others believe MQM workers who had gone missing would return and its leaders who have been in detention would either get a court hearing or could secure release — by distancing themselves from Altaf Hussain. Release of Akhtar – even when he was facing dozens of cases including those under anti-terrorism laws – is seen as a vindication of this argument.

Rangers arrive at Mukka Chowk to conduct a raid at Nine Zero on July 17, 2015 | Faysal Mujeeb, White Star
Rangers arrive at Mukka Chowk to conduct a raid at Nine Zero on July 17, 2015 | Faysal Mujeeb, White Star

Yet, arrests of Muhajir activists have continued unabated. Rangers or the police regularly show the media young men in masks and arms stashed inside houses around Nine Zero by ‘terrorists’ associated with the ‘London secretariat’. “Our 40 leaders and activists have been arrested since August 22,” says Sathi Ishaq, a veteran leftist who joined the MQM in 2016 And remains a steadfast defender of Altaf Hussain. Another 125 are “missing”.

Rangers personnel raided the house of an MQM activist (name withheld on request) immediately after Eidul Azha in 2015. They blindfolded him and took him out of his house. “They made me stand in front of a vehicle for a while as if they were getting me identified by someone in the glare of its headlights. Then they put me in a vehicle and took me [to some unknown place], beating me all the way,” he says.

He says he was interrogated over the next six hours. The interrogators asked him about his family, relatives, his job and the nature of his MQM-related assignments. They blamed him for target killings and extortion on the MQM’s behalf and kept him in solitary confinement for two days. Then they shifted him to a room where some other detainees were also present. “They would take me for interrogation after every three or four days [to another room] where they would subject me to the worst torture.”

He remained in custody for two months before his detention was made official. He would spend another eight months in prison before securing bail.

Both PSP and MQM-P contacted him, he claims, inviting him to join either party if he wanted to get rid of the cases against him and avoid arrest in the future. He refused, saying he would continue supporting Altaf Hussain. “He is like our flesh. How can we separate him from ourselves,” he says. His is not an isolated story.

Another MQM activist was picked up by law enforcement agencies for his alleged role in organising Altaf Hussain’s August 22 speech. His younger brother, who is also a member of the party, took his sister-in-law and mother to PIB Colony – where MQM-P is temporarily headquartered – looking for help. They received nothing but a routine response — “these things happen in tehreeki politics”. MQM-P secures the release of only those who it finds beneficial for itself in one way or the other, says a member of the detained activist’s family.

Altaf Hussain’s loyalists allege that Shahid Pasha’s continued incarceration points in the same direction — that an MQM activist will stay in prison as long as he does not renounce his affiliation with his quaid.

Before the party split, Pasha was a deputy convenor of the Rabita Committee and a sector in-charge before that. His last public address was at a political event on March 18, 2016 – the anniversary of MQM’s foundation day – at Jinnah Ground.

Some rangers officials arrived at his apartment three days later. They told him they needed his help to identify someone they had in their custody. When he went down with them, he was bundled into a van and taken away. His wife was able to see him after 19 days. He had lost a lot of weight, she says.

A joint investigation team that interrogated Pasha concluded he was innocent. He was released on May 3 last year — the same day when the funeral of Sattar’s office coordinator, Aftab Ahmed, was offered. Aftab had died in rangers custody. His post-mortem revealed that 40 per cent of his body was covered in bruises.

On the night of August 22, 2016, Pasha was taken into custody again on the charge that he was among the audience during Altaf Hussain’s speech. “He was resting at home at the time,” his wife claims. Six months have passed since then and he remains in custody, she says.

Sometime in January this year, a high-profile MQM-P delegation, including Sattar, Faisal and Hassan, met Pasha – as well as other detained MQM leaders, Qamar Mansoor and Kunwar Naveed – in jail. The meeting was portrayed as a reunion of old comrades. Tehreeki activists, however, claim the three were offered release but they refused to leave Altaf Hussain. That is why two of them still remain in jail, allege the activists.

On December 30 last year, MQM-P organised a public meeting at Karachi’s Nishtar Park. Sattar announced the gathering would be the largest ever in the city — comparable to the one convened by Altaf Hussain on August 8, 1986.

On that day nearly 31 years ago, while it rained cats and dogs, thousands stood to hear what Hussain had to say. Veteran cadres recall that the stage set up for the speech did not occupy much space to ensure that the most of the park was available to the audience. Even then the crowd spilled over to by-lanes.

Seating capacity at Nishtar Park is estimated to be 15,000. Insiders say MQM-P put about 8,000 chairs at the venue. To mobilise participation, the party first organised a night-long youth and family festival at the same ground on December 28. Next night, there was a musical performance.

Late on the second night, organisers received two setbacks. Banners emerged along the boundary walls of Nishar Park stating that Altaf Hussain had nothing to do with the public meeting. Inside the park, an artist suddenly started singing a song in Altaf Hussain’s praise. The organisers rushed to stop her but the damage had been done. Soon the news was all over the media.

Even those present in the audience the next day were not fully exorcised of their love for Altaf Hussain. Some of them had arrived from Gulistan-e-Jauhar, expecting that they would get to hear his message read out from the stage. A woman from the low-income locality of Paposh was there for the same reason. Another woman sitting at the back along with her family had arrived from Nazimabad. “Farooq bhai is leading [the party] because Altaf bhai cannot speak now,” she said. “That slogan [on August 22] got us in trouble but Allah will rescue Altaf bhai again,” chimed in an elderly male member of the family.

There were hints during the speeches that MQM-P craves respectability, at par with leaders and members of any other political organisation. They do not want to be seen and treated as uneducated criminals — as is the stereotypical image of an MQM activist in the eyes of outsiders. They made it clear that they have had enough of carrying the baggage associated with Altaf Hussain.

The party also seemed to aim at representing middle-class Muhajir voters in assemblies rather than doing whatever it takes to secure their rights as a distinct linguistic community.

“For many years, the MQM has sold insecurity to raise its popularity. We are against that. We are preaching non-violent and non-confrontational politics. There is no fear, no dictation and no compulsion,” says Faisal, hitting out at how Altaf Hussain ran the party.

At the Nishtar Park meeting, Khan invoked those MQM members who have lost their lives in security operations. “The London group abandoned the family of Dr Imran Farooq when his wife needed hospitalisation,” he said. “You can’t even take care of the heirs of one martyr. How do you claim to be taking care of all of them?”

To do that and to support the families of jailed party members, the MQM set up a fund — administered by its social welfare wing Kidmat-e-Khalq Foundation (KKF). Along with KKF, that fund is now in MQM-P’s control.

Altaf Hussain’s loyalists complain families in need of support are receiving no money from the fund. “No money is being sent to martyrs’ families and the families of jailed workers,” says Jalil from London. (Haq of the MQM-P contradicts this: “We are providing legal aid to 1,000 activists in Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur jails; we are also helping families of the martyrs without any discrimination.”)

“In a recent video, Altaf Hussain puts his hands on Nadeem Nusrat, emphasising that he is the only convener of MQM.”

It is arguable if the loss of lives was even necessary. Yet, the suffering of the families of the party’s fallen activists has become a recurring theme in its politics — evoking frequent mentions by Altaf Hussain.

Aslam Subzwari is among those he always mentions. One of the earliest MQM organisers and a KMC councillor from Paposh in the 1980s, he died in custody of law enforcement agencies on July 7, 1995. When his body was handed over for burial to Edhi Foundation volunteers, photographers were barred from taking his photos — so mutilated was his face. After his death, Altaf Hussain became the patron of his family. Faisal, his nephew, at one stage became one of the most trusted lieutenants of the MQM quaid.

A chartered accountant by training, Faisal has worked as the provincial youth minister and was made deputy leader of the opposition in the Sindh Assembly in 2013. Altaf Hussain often described him as the “face of the party”.

His penchant for poetry and the arts helped the party make a space for itself in Karachi’s social and cultural scene. Along with Haroon, who is now in the PSP, and Haider Abbas Rizvi, now living abroad, he was seen as part of a group of well-mannered, articulate men in a party otherwise seen as being uncouth and trigger-happy. They were perceived to be the Young Turks, trying to reform MQM from within.

Then he fell out of Altaf Hussain’s favour. He was already sidelined and was in Houston, Texas, when the August 22 speech created the maelstrom. He returned to Pakistan on September 10, 2016 and, according to a party insider, was given the task of creating a new APMSO – one that is not under London’s control – since he was once an APMSO chief himself.

On September 21, he made an emotional speech on the floor of the Sindh Assembly and declared himself a Pakistani, not Muhajir.

Altaf Hussain himself berated Faisal when he said in a recent speech. “Log tou apne chacha ki qurbani bhool gaye“ (They are those who even forgot their uncle’s sacrifice).

After August 22, Altaf Hussain found it impossible to address public meetings on the phone from London. The authorities would not simply allow that. His ability to speak to his party cadres through media – by conducting prolonged press conferences and phone-in interviews during talk shows – was stymied even earlier when the Lahore High Court banned the broadcast of his speeches, statements and press conferences in 2015 after he had ranted against the Pakistan Army in a public address.

His London office started transmitting his messages through social-media platforms such as WhatsApp, YouTube and Facebook. On October 21, 2016, his first audio address was uploaded on MQM’s YouTube channel. It did not gain many views, lending credence to the MQM-P claim that Altaf Hussain’s party is politically finished as its communication gap with its constituents has become unbridgeable.

The sealed entrance of Nine Zero, MQM's party headquarters in Karachi | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star
The sealed entrance of Nine Zero, MQM's party headquarters in Karachi | Fahim Siddiqui, White Star

One of his latest social media broadcasts shows him in old form — he is not just raving and ranting like he always has but he also gets up in the middle of his address to show that, contrary to public perception, he is in full health. Later, in the same video, he puts his hands on Nadeem Nusrat and presents his face to the camera, emphasising that he is the only convener of the MQM.

The post attracted over 40,000 views on Facebook alone.

Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan Chowk houses a monument — a forearm with a closed fist constructed on a raised platform. It was originally built in the 1980s to honour Pakistan’s first prime minister who raised his fist in a public meeting to express unity and strength of the new state. In the 2000s, it was turned into a symbol of unity and strength of Muhajirs who, like Liaquat, had migrated to Pakistan from India in 1947.

Yet nobody called the crossing Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan Chowk. It was always known as Mukka (fist) Chowk. The name was reinforced in the public’s imagination as the MQM always referred to it as such.

In the wake of Altaf Hussain’s August 22 speech, law enforcement agencies embarked on removing his portraits and footprints from the area around Nine Zero. They also erased his images from Mukka Chowk and renamed it back as Shaheed-e-Millat Liaquat Ali Khan Chowk, writing the name very prominently on the monument.

No one in Karachi, however, calls it by that name. It still remains Mukka Chowk — just as MQM remains synonymous with Altaf Hussain.

This article was originally published in the Herald's March 2017 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.

Ahmed Yusuf is a staffer at the daily Dawn, EOS magazine. Moosa Kaleem is a staffer at the Herald.