ISLAMABAD - Mustafa Kamal’s announcement of forming a new political party, while ripping through the ways of Altaf Hussain, was yet another stab at carving out a new political entity from Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Earlier such attempts have faltered or petered out. This time, however, the atmosphere is ripe. The absolute control and authority of Altaf Hussain, the beleaguered MQM leader, is continuously being diluted and challenged.

The ability of Altaf Hussain to bring Karachi to a paralysis with just phone call has been stymied. The military through Karachi Rangers, the enforcing arm, has broken the myth of “Nine Zero” as an impenetrable (political) fortress. Overseas investigation into the killing of Dr Imran Farooq hangs like a sword of damocles. This is not to suggest that Altaf Hussain is done. Despite the increasing number of challenges, Altaf Hussain has managed to hang on. No other political force, the most recent being Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, has been able to provide an alternative to the Urdu-speaking community of Karachi. Mustafa Kamal, who built his reputation as a dynamic, enterprising doer during his stint as Karachi’s mayor, has been viewed by the ‘powers-that-be’ as the most probable and acceptable alternative for a leadership role.

In Thursday’s press briefing, Mustafa Kamal sought redemption from the divine for his past. The lure of power and wealth didn’t sway him anymore, he claimed. But the stereotyping and plight of Karachi’s Urdu-speaking community had riven him. The blame lay on the drunken and dictatorial ways of Altaf Hussain, Kamal implored. The “RAW Connection” was once again displayed, sometimes with tears, sometimes with anger. South Africa and India were mentioned by Mustafa Kamal as places from where violence in Karachi has been directed. Mustafa Kamal tried to beseech the people of Karachi to shun Altaf Hussain and join hands with him.

In terms of theatrics, the performance lacked the pomp and show of Zulfiqar Mirza, the breakaway former friend of Asif Ali Zardari. There was nothing new or groundbreaking, in terms of allegations, but the fact that one of the former closest aides of Altaf Hussain had found the courage to come out of the woodworks lent a heavy weight to the whole episode. Toward the end of the presser, however, Kamal’s tirade had turned into a waffle, going off-script. But it still made an enthralling spectacle.
The response by MQM was even more telling. In characteristic discipline, party leaders stood silently in line and threw the gauntlet back at ‘establishment.’

The accusations were nothing new, Nadeem Nusrat said, equating them with the moral condemnations by Jamaat-e-Islami about Altaf Hussain and his alleged demeanours. The party responded that it still wielded the mandate of Urdu-speaking community and people who try to parachute their way into leadership won’t succeed. Instead of using puppets and renegades, the party pointed out to the real point of contention and asked ‘the establishment’ to talk with Altaf Hussain directly.

Such a possibility seems unlikely in the near future.

“The establishment”, a term both Kamal and MQM leaders used with abandon, has made up its mind and will continue chipping away at the political and structural foundations of MQM. The message to the party and its cadres has been sent again and again: give up on the armed groups and only then joining the political mainstream would be acceptable.

The current leadership of MQM, however, is not inclined to abandon their leader and will continue to put up a fight. A protracted struggle between the two forces is expected to go in the foreseeable future.

The allegations of Mustafa Kamal have also put the spotlight on former President Pervez Musharraf and his political alliance with MQM during his tenure. MQM leaders have rightly asked that how was such an alliance possible, or endured, if the alleged links of the party with India were known for years and established beyond doubt. Musharraf is also caught in the crosshairs. He, too, would have to come clean.