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Interview: Dr Farooq Sattar, MQM

By 4 November 2010 No Comment

“The MQM asked patriotic generals to clean the mess – not to seize power”
- Dr Farooq Sattar, Deputy Convenor, MQM,
and Federal Minister for Overseas Pakistanis


Q: Your party has drawn a lot of flak for Altaf Hussain’s statement asking for a revolution against the feudal lords and corrupt politicians by “honest people,” including “patriotic generals.” Did you expect all the negative feedback you got for floating what is being viewed as a martial-law balloon?

A: Yes, there has been a lot of flak, and it is understandable. Whenever the status quo is challenged, the beneficiaries of the prevailing corrupt feudal system get upset and react. Unfortunately, since Mr Altaf Hussain spoke about the poor people’s revolution, the ruling elite have become upset.

Our strength lies in the support of the masses. They know we are a party working for their welfare, giving them a voice – unheard of before. The statement made by Mr Hussain on August 22, 2010, before a general workers meeting of the party in Karachi, had a purpose and meaning behind it. It started a debate in the country as to what should be peaceful and effective means of shedding an archaic and exploitative system to allow the poor and the middle class to be in the parliament and corridors of power, so that they are able to take steps to ameliorate the grievances of the exploited classes.

Waderas, jagirdars, feudal lords, corrupt generals and politicians have ruled the country for 63 years. And a nation founded to change the fate of the people has, instead of attaining its objectives, continued to sink in an abyss of despondency and dismay. The statement drew flak. Not unexpected. It was not the first time the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) brought to the fore issues that vested interests had swept under the carpet for their selfish motives. Money meant for the nation’s development was devoured by these corrupt people, returning to power time and again, and using this very power as a handmaiden for their families. The MQM was criticised for asking honest and patriotic generals to clean the mess. We did not ask them to seize power for themselves, or to ally with the waderas and jagirdars to entrench themselves in power.

The debate is what role honest and patriotic generals should play. We think they should be siding with the people in ridding the country of feudalism and eliminating corrupt politicians. Today there is a realisation in the country – and a debate has now started on this topic at different levels – that if the army serves the cause of democracy, then there is nothing wrong with [it helping democratic forces].

No martial law balloon was let off in the air. None was intended. Mr Altaf Hussain made it clear that this is not our objective.

The MQM has never supported the idea of giving the army any extra-constitutional role, and never will.

Q: Some quarters believe you have always been an appendage to army regimes, from Zia to Musharraf, and that by calling in the army you have shown disrespect for the democratic process.

A: This is a totally misconceived assumption.

As far as Zia is concerned, he jailed our leader thrice – in 1979, ’86 and ’87, and his summary trial court sentenced Altaf Hussain to nine months imprisonment and five lashes in 1979. He served the sentence. Mr Hussain was always a very strong and open critic of Zia’s martial law and never sided with him on any issue, so the theory that the MQM was Zia’s brainchild can effectively be repudiated by the events on record.

Musharraf took over in 1999 and became the CEO of this country. He held local government elections in 2001 and the MQM was the only party which boycotted those elections. We only participated in the 2002 general elections when the democratic process started, and subsequently became coalition partners with the PML-Q government.

Also history is the fact that in June 1992 a military operation was launched against the MQM, and more than 15,000 of our workers, supporters and office bearers were extra-judicially executed.

Q: Altaf Hussain is talking of a French-style revolution calling for “the hanging of the corrupt by any means.” He sounds rather like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whom you avowedly detest…

A: God forbid. But if there is anarchy in the country, we can foresee the corrupt being hanged by the people. By inviting patriotic people, Mr Hussain is trying to avoid that situation. The MQM does not approve – and never has – of the Taliban brand of Islam. We oppose them and all those supporting or shielding them. In fact, we are against all kinds of radicalism. We have united different sects, religions, and communities under one platform. We are for unity and development of the country. We want equal rights for every Pakistani, irrespective of religion, caste colour, creed, sex, faith or belief.

Admittedly, Mr Hussain did say that those influential people and feudal lords who had breached dykes and protective dams in Punjab, Sindh and other places to save their own lands and holdings, and drowned poor people’s assets in the floodwaters as a result, should be punished – but through due course of law. The fact is, the recipe for disaster is very much here: the rights of the poor are being usurped and the ruling elite, the exploiters continue to loot and plunder the country. There is [an unholy] nexus of the clergy, feudal lords and establishment, and political forces have not just refrained from criticising them, they have, in fact, joined hands, with them for their own benefit.

Q: Since the idea of a revolution has been put forth by your leader, shouldn’t he be returning to lead it? After all, both Benazir and Nawaz Sharif returned to their country to lead their respective parties despite the cases against them and the threat to their lives?

A: My leader wants to return to Pakistan by the next available flight, but our workers and the MQM’s Central Coordination Committee have restrained him from doing so. Mian Sahib and Benazir Shaheed’s return were their respective choice and based on their priorities. And look what happened to Benazir Bhutto – the nation lost a leader. But yes, one day he will return to his beloved homeland and lead the revolution.

Q: Would you care to name the corrupt politicians and feudal lords who Mr Altaf Hussain says should be punished?

A: Don’t you know the names – all of whom have been ruling the country for the past 63 years, directly or indirectly?

Q: In that case, how come the MQM has been part of this coalition government? How can you distance yourself from it when it suits you, and absolve yourself of all wrongdoing?

A: Yes, the MQM has been a part of this coalition government. We have come through democratic means. We were elected by the votes of the people and our voters understand that the MQM’s elected members have done their respective jobs in the present system.

Being in a coalition doesn’t mean that we are also part of the decision-making; you cannot lay the blame of the wrongdoings of the present government on the MQM. We have never been in the driving seat.

And remember, in spite of being a coalition partner, the MQM took principled stands against the government on the NRO and the Nizam-e-Adl (Shariah regulation).

Q: There is speculation that because of excessive corruption, the mismanagement of flood relief and the battle with the judiciary, this government could be removed anytime soon. Are you positioning yourself for a post-PPP era?

A: We believe that mismanagement, particularly in flood relief activities and judicial crises, do not augur well for the prosperity of the country. The MQM wants a corruption-free society. But we also strongly believe in democracy and that the people should decide.

Q: If the PML-N were to move a no-confidence vote against the PPP, would you support it?

A: This is a hypothetical question, but as I’ve said earlier, I reaffirm that we don’t want the chequered history of Pakistani democracy to be repeated.

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Rehana Hakim is one of the core team of journalists that helped start Newsline. She has been the editor-in-chief since 1996.

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