He may be a polarizing figure to some, but to Karachi, urban Sindh, and Pakistanís leftwing, heís the immutable, impassioned voice charging against Pakistanís slow surrender to terrorists. Altaf Hussain founded the All-Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization in 1978. This became the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in 1984 and then the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, one of Pakistanís most powerful political parties, in 1997. (His party has been in power in either Islamabad or Karachi, or both, since 2002.) Facing attempts on his life, Hussain went into self-exile in London in December 1991, some six months after which the then government launched an operation against the MQM. Unlike other key political leaders, Hussain can speak about Islam and the Army with some authority: both his grandfathers were religious scholars and he served in the Armyís Baloch Regiment. We spoke with the 60-year-old over email recently about Pakistanís politics, his legal challenges, and more. Excerpts:
The MQM has been an outspoken critic of the Taliban and their affiliates. And it has been punished for its clear position against terrorism through target killings and bombings. How far and wide have the militants penetrated Karachi and how can they be tackled?
My party, MQM, has led the opposition to terrorism and religious extremism. The Taliban have assassinated four elected MQM members in the last three years. Their latest victim was MQMís Tahira Asif, a member of the National Assembly who was gunned down in Lahore on June 18. Since 2008, MQM has also consistently pointed out the perils of Talibanization in Karachi. When I first publically raised this issue, my political opponents ridiculed me. I was accused of fear-mongering and stoking ethnic tensions, but now everyone admits that my apprehensions were spot on.
Following military operations in the federally-administered tribal areas and Swat Valley, a large number of militants and internally-displaced persons moved to Karachi. Taliban militants have since made Karachi their key hideout and fund their terrorist activities through kidnapping-for-ransom, bank robberies, extortion and land-grabbing. A number of investigative reports have appeared in the local English-language print media in recent years revealing transfers of extensively large sums from banks located in Karachiís heavily [ethnically] mixed neighborhoods. A recent report by a major U.S. newspaper acknowledged that the Taliban now control as much as a third of Karachi. This report merely confirms what I have been saying all along. There are large areas in Karachi where the Taliban have set up a parallel government, including courts that are dispensing their own brand of justice; where they have imposed their own version of Shariah and where people are routinely sentenced to various punishments according to the Taliban version of Shariah.
The Taliban attack on Karachi Airport in June did not come as a surprise to the people of Karachi who are witnessing a steady rise in the illegal stranglehold of the Pakistani Taliban over Karachi. Taliban militants have used Karachiís large slums as their main refuge. The writ of the state is virtually nonexistent in these illegal enclaves. Most of the phone calls for extortion and incidents of kidnapping-for-ransom in Karachi originate from these areas. Taliban militants have also grabbed large swathes of land in Karachiís outskirts, particularly around the cityís critical exit and entry points. The government must take control of these illegal slums. Eliminating hideouts of extremists in Karachi is essential to stop funding for terrorist activities countrywide as well as worldwide. There should also be a strict system of screening for IDPs as well as illegal immigrants.
As a liberal, progressive party, the MQM is viewed with suspicion by conservative and religious elements in Pakistan. Is this a reason that the MQM has not been able to become a truly national party? What factors do you attribute to its lack of success in vote-rich Punjab?
Your observation, sadly, is true to some extent. In the last 15 years or so the MQM has made every possible effort to become a truly national party, but the harder it tries, the more obstacles are put in its way. Despite all hurdles, the MQM has nonetheless made some important gains outside Sindh province and it now has two members in Azad Kashmirís legislative assembly and one member in Gilgit-Baltistanís. We believe that MQM is the only party in Pakistan whose progressive and liberal ideology truly matches that of Pakistanís founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who made his vision for Pakistan absolutely clear in his historic address to Pakistanís first Constituent Assembly. In this address, Mr. Jinnah said without mincing words that Pakistan would be a country for people of all religions, faiths and sects and everyone would be allowed to practice their faith in Pakistan. The MQM wants to make Pakistan into what Mr. Jinnah wanted: a modern, liberal, progressive, neighbor-friendly, pluralistic, and tolerant countryónot a theocratic, intolerant state.
Since the days of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, religious groups and rightwing forces were deliberately strengthened in Pakistan and used as a bulwark against the Soviets. Although the Soviet Union eventually fell apart, these rightwing forces continued to flourish but, like Frankensteinís monster, they have now become a threat to their own masters, including Pakistan. These forces have their own brand of Islam where religious minoritiesóHindus, Christians, Sikhs, Jews, as well as various Muslims sectsóhave no room to exist, and where women are not even entitled to basic education let alone equal rights.

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