People & Society

Lonely at the top: Farooq Sattar

Updated 15 May, 2018 01:23pm
Illustration by Maria Huma
Illustration by Maria Huma

Few friends and many foes is what Farooq Sattar has ended up with for his troubles to keep the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) alive and undivided. While the Islamabad High Court is pouring over the election commission’s decision to remove him as the convener of MQM-Pakistan (MQM-P), the Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP), headed by former Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal, has decided to shut its doors on him. Once being wooed fervently by PSP, Sattar seems to have no takers now. His own party refuses to recognise his authority. The split between the PIB and Bahadurabad factions of MQM-P started over his choice for a Senate candidate, Kamran Tessori, who was opposed by the Bahadurabad faction led by Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. The disagreement has driven such a deep wedge that the fragmentation of Karachi’s largest political entity just ahead of the 2018 general election could be irreversible. To a keen eye, this seems to have been carried out with surgical precision.

It started with the party’s divorce from Altaf Hussain on August 23, 2016, a day after his explosive speech criticising the armed forces unleashed violence on Karachi’s streets. Earlier that year, Mustafa Kamal had proclaimed Hussain – his erstwhile mentor – an executor of India’s evil designs on Pakistan. Sattar was never the intended target of this salvo. In fact, Kamal initially maintained respect and courtesy towards Sattar even when he was ranting against some others in MQM. But, for all his veiled and direct renunciation of Hussain’s leadership, Sattar is still the closest to a viceroy Hussain has had in Pakistan since his self-imposed exile over 25 years ago. This means whichever faction he leads will be the closest to the MQM of the past, contesting under its old symbol of kite. This could draw voters. This could also draw ire.

Sattar has been a member of the National Assembly multiple times. He has served in both the provincial and federal cabinets. He has been the mayor of Karachi at age 28 (the youngest in the city’s history); he has been the leader of the opposition in the Sindh legislature; and he has been arrested numerous times — the highest accolade for a Pakistani politician. Throughout MQM’s violent history, however, he has never been seen as the perpetrator of any violent act. Even when cases were registered against him, he remained the party’s parliamentary face. The media, too, has always portrayed him as the civilised, cultured leader of a party prone to attract goons.

But in his own words, Sattar has justified the unjustifiable for too long. “We had been worried about the consequences of [Hussain’s] statements before. It was felt that Mr Hussain’s attitude and decision-making had become erratic. We were made fun of. But these things were discussed privately, not publicly,” he told Newsline magazine in an interview published in October 2016. But how far can Sattar go without Hussain? He was the good cop to Hussain’s bad cop. He was the soft side of a hardened street party. With Hussain no longer playing bad cop, Sattar is looking elsewhere for blame: the security establishment, those who want to break up MQM. Because if he ditches the anti-establishment narrative of his party, he might get ditched by voters who have had their fathers, brothers and sons picked up and killed during the operation against MQM in the 1990s. On the other hand, he has already been detained by the Rangers multiple times since Hussain’s August 2016 speech to stop him from whipping up any more anti-army rhetoric.

In this atmosphere of diminished agency, Sattar risks alienation. The Senate polls have already been an indicator. Opposing forces will try to stop MQM from touting one figurehead, especially if that figurehead is Sattar. For he may draw voters. And that will draw ire.

This was originally published in the May 2018 issue of the Herald. To read more subscribe to the Herald in print.