The party of Imran Farooq, who has been assassinated in London, has a dark reputation that it has never left behind
by Declan Walsh in Islamabad
It is one of the great enigmas of Pakistani politics. For over 18 years the affairs of Karachi, the country’s largest city and thrumming economic hub, have been run from a shabby office block more than 4,000 miles away in a suburb of north London.
The man at the heart of this unusual situation is Altaf Hussain, a barrel-shaped man with a caterpillar moustache and a vigorous oratorical style who inspires both reverence and fear in the sprawling south Asian city he effectively runs by remote control.
Hussain is the undisputed tsar of the mohajirs, the descendents of Muslim migrants who flooded into Pakistan during the tumult of partition from India in 1947, and who today form Karachi’s largest ethnic group.
A firebrand of student politics, Hussain galvanized the mohajirs into a potent political force in 1984, when he formed the Mohajir Qaumi Movement – now known as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM. The party swept elections in the city in 1987 and 1988 but quickly developed a reputation for violence.
At early rallies Hussain surrounded himself with gunmen and urged supporters to “sell your VCRs and buy kalashnikovs”; violence later erupted between the MQM and ethnic Sindhi rivals and, later, against the army, which deployed troops to Karachi in the early 1990s. …
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