ALTAF HUSSAIN (1953- ) Altaf Hussain is the founder/president of the Muhajir Qaumi Mahaz (MQM) He was born into a lower-middle class family that had migrated to Pakistan after British India’s partition in 1947 The family was originally from the city of Agra, in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh In Karachi, the family lived first in government housing in Abyssinia Lines and then moved to Jehangir Road Altaf Hussain’s first move into politics was made in 1978 when he organized the All-Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization (APMSO) The APMSO had to initially compete, sometimes violently, with Jamiat-e-Tuleba, the student organization affiliated with Jamaate-Islami Recurrent violence on the campus of Karachi Universitysometimes at the instigation of the APMSO but more often in response to provocation by the Jamiat-resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of Altaf Hussain on 14 August 1979 This was the first of many incarcerations he was to suffer at the hands of the military authorities His first imprisonment lasted nine months; on his release, Altaf Hussain decided to expand his political activities beyond the campus of Karachi University The ground for such a move had already been preparedthe APMSO had done a great deal of social work in the predominantly muhajir (refugees from India) colonies of Golimar, Korangi, Malir, Nazimabad, and New Karachi

The MQM was officially launched on 18 March 1984 as a movement to protect the interests and aspirations of Karachi’s muhajir community After the ethnic riots in the winter of 1986-1987, involving the three largest ethnic communities of Karachi-the muhajirs, the Pathans, and the Punjabis-the leadership of the MQM decided to convert the movement into a political party and to extend its reach beyond Karachi to other cities of Sindh province, where the muhajir community had a large presence The National Assembly elections of November 1988 presented the MQM with the first opportunity to demonstrate its strength; it did so by capturing an impressive 11 of 13 Karachi seats A few days after the 1988 election results were announced, Altaf Hussain strengthened the hand of Benazir Bhutto by declaring his support for her, indicating, however, that even if she succeeded in forming a government, the MQM members would not join her Cabinet In 1989, within a year of Bhutto’s return to political power, relations between Hussain and the prime minister had deteriorated to such an extent that he formally withdrew his support for her governmentSoon after the rupture between Bhutto and Altaf Hussain, the government decided to allow the army authorities in Karachi a free hand in launching a vigorous campaign against the MQM The reason for the army’s move against the MQM was the belief that much of the violence in Karachi could be laid at the door of Altaf Hussain and his followers To support this view, the army authorities announced the discovery of “torture chambers” in the areas MQM considered to be its strongholds It was claimed that these chambers were used to discipline errant MQM members The army leadership also encouraged a split in the ranks of the MQM, and a splinter group, the MQM (Haqiqi), was formed The split in the ranks of the MQM led to further worsening of the law-and-order situation in Karachi as the members of the two groups fought pitched battles in the streets of Karachi

The problem in Karachi contributed to the decision by President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, in August 1990, to dismiss the government of Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, dissolve the National and Provincial Assemblies, and ask the electorate to go back to the polls for the third time in five years The elections of 1990 reconfirmed the hold of Altaf Hussain on the muhajir community of Karachi and southern Sindh The MQM once again won 11 out of Karachi’s 13 seats It was invited to join the Cabinet of Mian Nawaz Sharif whose coalition, the Islami Jamhuri Itehad (IJI), had won a comfortable majority in the election The MQM accepted the offer and sent its representatives to Islamabad, while Altaf Hussain stayed in Karachi to manage the affairs of his party The understanding with the new prime minister also proved to be short lived, however, and the MQM withdrew its support from the IJI administration Violence returned to Karachi as the army was once again called in to deal with Altaf Hussain and his followers For the second time in two years, the situation in Karachi resulted in the ouster of the government in Islamabad President Ghulam Ishaq Khan dismissed the prime minister, and called the voters to return to the polling booths In the elections of October 1993, the MQM once again demonstrated that it had not lost any of its political appeal While it boycotted the National Assembly elections, it participated in the elections to the Sindh Provincial Assembly, in which it won almost all of the seats in Karachi and several in Hyderabad

In October 1993, Benazir Bhutto was back in power as prime minister, but showed little interest in reaching an accommodation with Altaf Hussain In late 1994, the army was withdrawn from Karachi, which resulted in a sharp escalation in violence in the city, most of it the consequence of MQM activists who battled with law-enforcement agencies In 1995, 1,800 persons were killed in Karachi, while Altaf Hussain slipped out of Pakistan and took up residence in London, as an exile From his exile in London, Altaf Hussain continued to guide the MQM, including authorizing his representatives to begin formal discussions with the administration of Benazir Bhutto to find a solution to the problem of Karachi Numerous discussions were held, but the two sides failed to bridge their differences, and Karachi remained in the grip of violence for all of 1995 Benazir Bhutto’s dismissal in November 1996 and the elections of February 1997 brought the MQM into the mainstream of Pakistani politics Mian Nawaz Sharif, who took office as prime minister after the 1997 elections, invited the MQM to join the federal Cabinet The invitation was accepted, but Altaf Hussain continued to live in exile in London However, in 1998, the MQM members resigned from the federal and provincial governments The MQM continued its streak of impressive electoral victories by winning 14 seats in the National Assembly and 21 seats in the Sindh legislature President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Zafarullah Khan Jamali invited the party to join the government coalition

The invitation was accepted The MQM also entered the coalition administration assembled by the Pakistan Muslim League (Quaid-e-Azam), in Sindh This prevented the Pakistan People’s Party, the largest single party in the provincial assembly, from forming a government of its own In late 2004, Altaf Hussain visited India and addressed several audiences In one of his speeches, he seemed to suggest that the partition of British India had been a mistake, implying that it was also a mistake to create Pakistan, a homeland for the Muslim communities of the Indian sub-continent This statement was resented in Pakistan, but Hussain was able to navigate his way out of the crisis, and his party continued to cooperate with the administration headed by President Pervez Musharraf

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