ISLAMABAD - The government has decided to go soft on Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), but will continue a ‘genuinely non-discriminatory’ operation in Karachi to eliminate terrorism, a senior cabinet member confided to The Nation.

“Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has asked the people involved in the operation to stop bashing MQM in every case and treat terrorists as terrorists, not as activists of any party,” the influential minister who wished not to be named said.

“Those arrested in terrorism cases will not be identified as members of a certain party unless they are office bearers and are actively involved in politics,” said the cabinet member. He added, “The government will also not seek Altaf Hussain’s extradition as part of any deal with the United Kingdom in the absence of an extradition treaty”.

Senior MQM leader Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi told The Nation that his party members had been in contact with the government, complaining of ‘excesses’ against Muttahida. “We will hold another meeting. It is good that they have realised their mistake of victimising MQM. We have never asked them to spare a terrorist who supports MQM or uses its name, but identifying almost every terrorist as an MQM member is insulting,” he said.

Siddiqui, the party’s deputy convener, said victimising every Urdu-speaking person had created a sense of fear among the people living in Karachi and the surrounding areas.

“They feel they are being treated as second-grade citizens. Our men are being arrested from their homes and painted as dangerous terrorists,” he alleged.

Siddiqui said MQM chief Altaf Hussain was ready to come to Pakistan anytime and face the courts, but his security was the responsibility of the government. “Altaf Hussain is clean and is ready to face the courts. In the past all cases against him and other MQM leaders proved to be a mere propaganda. They won’t need extradition to get him back. He is a courageous leader,” he added.

He said, “We want the operation to continue against terrorists, but it should not be an operation against MQM. It is good that the government is thinking positively. The only crime of MQM is that it is a party of the middle class and educated people.”

Ali Raza Abidi, another MQM leader, said his party was an important part of the democratic system and had been lending support to the government on national issues though it might never form any alliance with PML-N. “MQM is a party that enjoys public support and not a group that sponsors terrorism. Unfortunately, the rulers try to give a negative impression about us. Time and again we have proved that people support us; they vote for us and are our strength. We hate terrorism,” he asserted.

Abidi said MQM had been trying to convince the government that the Karachi operation looked like a targeted operation against the party. “It will be good for all if they stop blaming MQM for all bad things and taking credit for all good deeds,” the MQM lawmaker asserted. “The operation has to be fair. At present, MQM activists fear for their lives,” he added.

About Altaf Hussain’s extradition from the UK, the MQM leader said, “He is a representative of the people. Why to seek his extradition when he is ready to come himself. The only thing we need is a secure environment. Altaf has done nothing wrong, so we are ready to face the courts.”

According to the law department of Sindh, there were 72 cases, including 31 of murder, against Altaf Hussain and a total of 3,800 against MQM before 2007. These cases were withdrawn by the government after Pervez Musharraf announced a general amnesty in 2007.

However, the party claims all the cases against Altaf Hussain were disposed of by the courts of law after due legal course.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) has been pressurising the government to bring back Altaf Hussain and break the alleged terror network of MQM. “PTI wants to free the citizens of Karachi from the atmosphere of terror and the fear created by MQM,” says PTI Vice Chairman Shah Mehmood Qureshi. Pakistan People’s Party that rules the Sindh province differs from PTI. “MQM is not a terrorist party,” Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah has said recently.

The members of the ruling PML-N have a divided opinion about MQM and Altaf Hussain. Some believe it has an armed wing while others think the party has a role to play to strengthen democracy in the country.