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Illustration by Leea Contractor
Illustration by Leea Contractor

From a united Muhajir Qaumi Movement to MQM-Haqiqi to its present divisions along geographical lines, including London, Pakistan, Bahadurabad and PIB Colony, MQM is reeling from an identity and organisational crisis. The identity crisis manifests itself in the struggle towards redefining and nurturing post-Altaf Hussain politics while the organisational crisis typifies who leads it after Altaf Hussain.

The twin crises are intimately connected and shaped by the party’s contestation with other actors including: 1) the state and its military operation since 2013; 2) the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and provincial government, which MQM maligns for not transferring powers to the local government despite MQM’s comprehensive victory in the 2015 local elections; 3) dissidents and rival claimants to the muhajir vote bank including the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf. Together, they are culminating in an implosion where the party finds itself at war against its own self.

MQM’s internal rifts have been a routine occurrence with Altaf Hussain suspending individual party members and dissolving the Rabita Committee thrice in a period of two years, 2013-15, owing mainly to personal preferences as well as procedural party matters. The Rabita Committee was dissolved again in 2016 after MQM parliamentarians supported a resolution for Altaf Hussain’s trial in the Sindh Assembly in the wake of his anti-Pakistan speech. While it became impossible for the Karachi-based party elite to justify Altaf Hussain’s speech, it also led to an urgency to redefine a new MQM without Altaf Hussain. The paradox from an organisational perspective is this: while Altaf Hussain often wailed and cried over becoming less influential and losing ground to others in the party – recall his chants against Rabita Committee members leading to their beating at the hands of MQM party workers in 2013 – it was also under his name that party elites would then reconcile for a sense of common purpose.

Altaf Hussain’s absence has engendered a power struggle between Farooq Sattar and Rabita Committee members, which shows little signs of abating. To Farooq Sattar’s credit, he has remained a party loyalist during the 1990s when MQM reeled under a military operation. His drawback is his inability to unite conflicting muhajir elites. In fact, he has done well in alienating them. To Amir Khan’s credit, he has the support of a majority of the Rabita Committee members, is apt in organisational matters but carries the charge of betraying MQM by forming MQM-Haqiqi while the party suffered in the 1990s.

The identity and organisational crises are fueled further by the powerlessness experienced by the local government where the party receives little in terms of funding and resources from the provincial government dominated by PPP. This adds to the muhajir electorate’s sense of alienation and disempowerment. With personal infighting, an ineffective local government and loss of the party’s supremo, the muhajir vote bank is in a fix. However, MQM’s crisis has not translated, at least for now, into perceptible gains for other political parties. This may change in the next election.

PPP and PSP in particular stand a chance to clinch a few seats in the next general elections particularly if MQM elites fail to provide meaning and definition to a post-Altaf Hussain muhajir slogan and do not find ways and means to strike an internal compromise. If they can accomplish the twin tasks, that may allow MQM to make a comeback at the polls. While the Senate election has divided the party, electoral gains from impending general elections is what can possibly unite the PIB and Bahadurabad factions.

The writer is an associate professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the Quaid-i-Azam University Islamabad.

This article was published in the Herald's March 2018 issue. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.