ABRUTAL anti-Muttahida Qaumi Movement military operation continues behind the smoke screen as electronic and print media has been barred from reporting the extra-judicial killings by the paramilitary forces in Karachi and elsewhere in the volatile Sindh province.
Tellingly on Wednesday (November 9, 2016), the chief of army staff, General Raheel Sharif, presided over a ‘security meeting’ of military officials to discuss the security situation in Karachi and elsewhere in the Sindh province. However, the popularly elected chief minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah, was not allowed to attend the crucial meeting because Karachi is firmly in the control of army. However, the ‘security meeting’ was attended by the corps commander, director general of the Inter-Services Intelligence, director general of the military intelligence, director general of the military operations and director general of the Rangers.
According to Karachi’s leading newspaper Dawn, the military establishment has taken direct ownership of Karachi operation as General Raheel has repeatedly termed lasting peace in the country’s business capital the ‘ultimate aim’ of the anti-MQM operation. ‘Peace (in Karachi) is crucial because of its direct link with the country’s economic progress,’ he had said earlier this year.
Since August, a brutal military operation is under way against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement which has political dominance in the southern Sindh province’s urban areas — notably in Karachi, Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas and Sukkur where a large number of Urdu-speaking people reside. The drastic anti-MQM army move came after a controversial speech by the MQM leader Altaf Hussain that led to widespread arrests of MQM workers and leaders.
Not surprisingly, the army seized the opportunity to break up the MQM which is the fourth largest party in Pakistan. The MQM is currently the second largest party in Sindh and overall the fourth largest party in the national assembly of Pakistan after the Pakistan Muslim League, the Pakistan People’s Party, and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf. The MQM has representation in Pakistan’s senate, the national assembly and also in the Sindh provincial assembly.
The chief of army staff of the Pakistan army General Raheel Sharif personally ordered sealing of more than 200 MQM offices in Karachi and elsewhere. Some offices were bulldozed. At the same time the army is encouraging prominent MQM leaders to form a rival MQM which is named as the MQM-Pakistan while the parent organisation is called Muttahida Qaumi Movement.
A senior member of the MQM coordination committee, Farooq Sattar, took over the party in Pakistan and named it as the MQM-Pakistan. He disassociated himself from the MQM founder and leader Altaf Hussain saying his statements were unacceptable. He also presented and facilitated resolutions in federal and provincial assemblies against his controversial speech. Farooq Sattar was elected a member of national assembly of Pakistan on a ticket of the MQM for the constituency NA-257 (Karachi) in Pakistan’s general election in 2013.
This is not the first time that all powerful army has tried to break up the MQM which has a solid vote bank in Karachi and other southern Sindh towns with Urdu speaking majority.
It is a war to dislodge MQM from Karachi
THE Reuters news agency reported in April 2015, the chief of Pakistan’s main spy agency is spearheading a campaign to wrest control of the teeming port city of Karachi from a powerful political party. The title of the Reuters story written by Mehreen Zahra-Malik was: ‘Pakistan military’s move on Karachi seen part of “creeping coup”.’
A government official close to Rizwan Akhtar, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence agency, was quoted as saying: ‘There is a quiet, creeping takeover of Karachi by the military.’ ‘Karachi is just too big… too much land, too much business, resources. No one party will be allowed to rule Karachi from now on’, the unnamed official was quoted as saying.
Weakening the MQM’s grip, and particularly that of exiled leader Altaf Hussain, would free space for other political parties seen as more sympathetic to the military, like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricketer Imran Khan, the Reuter report said adding: ‘It would also give the army leverage over Pakistan’s economic hub. That complements other steps taken in the last two years to tighten its grip on national security, foreign policy and the judiciary through the introduction of military courts.’
Tellingly, the former chief of army staff of the Pakistan army, General Asif Nawaz Janjua, once said if there could be two or three groups in other political parties, why can’t there be two or more groups in the MQM? General Janjua was chief of army staff from August 1991 to 1993. It was under his watch that the first anti-MQM operation was launched in 1992.
FROM 1992 to 1994, the MQM was the target of the Pakistan army’s Operation Clean-up. The period is regarded as the bloodiest period in Karachi’s history, with thousands MQM activists and supporters killed or gone missing. Although 14 years have passed since the alleged arrest or disappearance of MQM activists, families of the missing people are still hopeful after registering the cases in the Supreme Court of Pakistan. The operation left thousands of Urdu-speaking civilians dead.
During the 1992 violence, Altaf Hussain left the country when a warrant was issued for him in connection with a murder. Since then, the MQM is run by Altaf Hussain from self-imposed exile in London.
According to Altaf Hussain, over fifteen thousand MQM activists have been killed extrajudicially since the start of the operation against the mohajirs and the MQM from June 19, 1992 till date.
The latest anti-MQM operation by army was launched in September 2013. Since then, 68 MQM supporters have been killed extrajudicially and 1,600 injured.
At least 135 MQM supporters went missing while 1,600 others are in jail, according to Mohammad Wassay Jalil, member of the central coordination committee, who addressed a gathering of MQM supporters in the Bay Area. He said 7,000 houses were raided in the operation launched in September 2013.
Wassay Jalil was visiting Fremont as part of his tour to the United States which includes Chicago, New York and Washington DC. The MQM USA has 21 chapters: Atlanta, Austin, Baltimore, Chicago, Connecticut, Dallas, Detroit, Florida, Hawaii, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Francisco, St. Louis, Washington DC.
On September 22, Altaf Hussain appointed Nadeem Nusrat convener of the MQM to reorganise the party in the wake of formation of rival MQM-Pakistan by Farooq Sattar. Convenor Nadeem Nusrat, in a statement published by the MQM UK, said that step are being taken by a few members under the pretext of saving the party which is not in the interest of the party and the mohajir nation, in any way and which is spreading confusion and despondency amongst the activists and people throughout the country each passing day.
Under the circumstances, he said, that the central coordination committee, organisational structure and all the wings of the MQM have been dissolved and the central coordination committee and all the wings would be formed afresh and he has been empowered by Altaf Hussain to make such changes. He said that Altaf Hussain has asked the activists and supporters to abide by these decisions and maintain unity in their rank and file.
Nadeem Nusrat rhetorically asked who would answer for the extrajudicial executions of 68 workers of the MQM during the ongoing operation? Where is the demand for the recovery of 135 ‘disappeared’ workers in the current operation?
AS BRUTAL military operation continues against MQM, a Japanese paper, The Diplomat, commented that in the past the anti-MQM operations had ended in more mass support for the party. The paper pointed out:
‘The military’s consistent efforts to divide the party from within have always resulted in more support for the party from mohajirs, refugees who settled in Karachi and the surrounding districts at the time of partition. During the 1992 military operation in Karachi, the military is known to have patronised a number of MQM’s dissident lawmakers to weaken the party: the MQM (Haqiqi) faction was the result of the split in the party that occurred in the early 1990s. The latest split has come in the form of Pak Sarzameen Party, which was formed earlier this year by MQM’s former Karachi Mayor, Mustafa Kamal.
‘Despite publicly brandishing the organisation as a movement openly involved in anti-state activities, the military has failed in breaking the party’s vote bank. The party stood as an undisputed winner in the last year’s local government elections in Sindh’s urban areas while it also came out on top in this year’s by-elections in Karachi, the Diplomat said, adding: ‘The reason behind this solid support for the party’s leadership is simple: the military’s so called counterterrorism operation in Karachi has only deepened the persecution of Mohajir community, which the party’s leadership has successfully been able to appeal to in order to maintain its political support base.’
The Japanese paper was of the view that bulldozing the party’s offices and banning it from the national media will not alleviate the concerns of Mohajir community, whose growing isolation from the state is the direct result of the military’s series of crackdowns against the MQM’s leadership and activists alike; rather, such actions will further strengthen the party’s narrative of marginalisation and victimhood.
‘Above all, quick fixes will not resolve the issue of Karachi’s security. The city’s genuine political leadership should be allowed to work unhindered, for any further securitisation of Pakistan’s largest city will only push it into an uncertain political and security vacuum,’ the Diplomat concluded.
Pakistan virtually under military rule
IT MAY be pointed out that Pakistan is virtually under military rule since military courts run parallel to civil courts. In January 2015, under pressure from the army, US client government of prime minister Nawaz Sharif extended the jurisdiction of military courts to the whole county. In August 2015, General Raheel Sharif approved an increase in the number of military courts for Karachi.
Not surprisingly, on August 29, 2016, the Supreme Court rejected review appeals filed by 16 alleged terrorists against death penalty they had been awarded by military courts for their involvement in terror-related activities. The chief of army staff General Raheel Sharif had already rejected appeals of these 16 convicts.
The counsel for the convicts had complained that their clients did not receive a fair trial, nor were they allowed to choose their counsel.
The counsel for all the 16 convicts had contended their clients had been tried in secret, without access to legal counsel of their choice, and that their confessions had been recorded illegally. They had also claimed they were denied access to military court records when preparing their appeals.
On June 20, civil rights activist Asma Jahangir appealed to the Supreme Court to order retrial in all cases in which military courts handed down convictions, including capital punishments. She had complained that the full record of the evidence had not been made available to the accused. She had deplored that her clients had been arrested under the Action (In Aid of Civil Power) Regulation 2011 before military courts were established, but their cases were sent to military courts only to ‘hide malice on the part of security forces because the rule under which the accused had been nabbed had no constitutional protection.’
International legal rights non-governmental organisation International Commission of Jurists has also criticised the military court trials. In a briefing paper that they released in June, the ICJ said that the proceedings before Pakistani military courts fall well short of national and international standards requiring fair trials before independent and impartial courts.
It said that judges are part of the executive branch of the state and continue to be ‘subjected to military command.’ In these courts, the ICJ said, the right to appeal to civilian courts is not available, the right to a public hearing is not guaranteed; and ‘a duly reasoned, written judgement, including the essential findings, evidence and legal reasoning, is denied.’
In addition, the procedures of military courts, the selection of cases to be referred to them, the location and timing of trial, and details about the alleged offences are kept secret.
Countercurrents.org, November 17. Abdus Sattar Ghazali is chief editor of the Journal of America.
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