On Cummings Road in Martin Quarters, scales seem to be tilting in favour of PSP but MQM doubts ‘forcibly switched’ loyalties will last
It is 7:30pm. The bulky figure of Anwaar Ahmed aka Mama will be plodding its way soon on Cummings Road – a thoroughfare in Karachi’s Martin Quarters that is known for the Shah-e-Najaf Imambargah located on it.
The big man, Mama, has put his political weight, which he gained during his 28-year affiliation with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, behind his new party. The Pak Sarzameen Party has appointed him the PIB Town incharge.
A former joint incharge of the MQM Unit 56 in Martin Quarters, Mama and his associates now pull up the shutter of the PSP office, which was inaugurated by party president Anis Qaimkhani and vice chairman Dr Sagheer Ahmed on December 1, on Cummings Road at 7:30pm.
“We close the office at 10pm as [PSP chief Mustafa] Kamal bhai have asked us to spend quality time with our families. It is a privilege that we didn’t have in the MQM,” said Muhammad Hussain, the party’s finance incharge in PIB Town. Hussain, a man of short stature, enjoys great influence in the area. He remained the nazim (chairman) of the Union Council-13 – that falls in the provincial assembly constituency PS-117 – on the MQM’s ticket from 2007 to 2010.
“I can’t even load bullets into a pistol. I’m not that kind of a person,” Hussain grinned. But the smirk disappeared from his face as soon he recalled 27 days of his ‘disappearance’ in June 2014.
“My family suffered a lot during that period. I was picked by law-enforcement personnel,” he narrated. “They didn’t harm me physically, but it was immense mental torture for me as I was tied up and blindfolded most of the time.”
Hussain said the MQM leadership was least bothered about his disappearance and when his family contacted the party headquarters Nine-Zero, they were handed over Rs10,000.
“I broke down and wept over the attitude of my party after I was released,” he grumbled. “But there was one man who played his role for my release and always cared about me and other party workers – be it our financial crisis or disappearance cases. He was Dr Sagheer Ahmed.”
Dr Sagheer’s homecoming
With Dr Sagheer Ahmed’s return to the PS-117 – the constituency where he was elected thrice as an MPA before he joined the PSP on March 7, 2016 - MQM activists started switching their loyalties to the PSP.
Last month, the former MPA held meetings in the constituency, including parts of PIB Colony where the MQM-Pakistan has set up its temporary headquarter, to gain the residents’ support before the party’s first-ever rally was staged on January 27.
“Over 110 men and women have submitted their joining forms in PIB Town. Other party supporters are in hundreds,” said PSP unit incharge Abdul Wahab, who was earlier the MQM unit incharge in the same area.
The MQM unit office on Cummings Road wears a deserted look as it was sealed by the Rangers following MQM founder Altaf Hussain’s controversial speech criticising State institutions on August 22 last year.
“The body of Arif Saeed [a 42-year-old man who was killed near the Karachi Press Club on August 22] was brought to this morgue,” said Muhammad Hussain, who is also the administrator of a private mortuary established by Dr Sagheer Ahmed during his third tenure as an MPA.
The mortuary, located opposite the PSP office on Cummings Road, is being run by the V-Care Welfare Trust. It was inaugurated on January 1, 2014.
“The body was shifted from the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre to this morgue on the directives of the MQM. I later figured out that the party wanted to hide the body from Rangers,” he maintained. “But the Rangers arrived at the morgue. The officers didn’t misbehave with the staff; they watched the CCTV footage, called the deceased’s family and transported the body.”
Hussain said he was disheartened when those who had ordered the shifting of the body to the mortuary later refuted issuing any such directives.
“Instead they tried to remove me from the [morgue’s] administration. But Dr [Sagheer] sahib backed me. This mortuary was established on the goodwill of Dr Sahib.”
The PSP office-bearers deny the allegation of MQM-P activists that the mortuary was being used to promote the PSP.
“We are serving everyone without any discrimination,” said Hussain, who had decided to join the PSP after the body controversy. “That incident turned out to be the point where I realised that I was serving the wrong party.”
‘He never returned’
A grief-stricken father lives in an old house on Cummings Road. He is Muhammad Shameem Khan – the current chairman of the UC-13. His son, MQM activist Muhammad Rizwan Khan aka Shani, 40, has been missing since March 18, 2015. “Shani was picked up in Bihar Colony [a neighbourhood of Martin Quarters],” Khan said.
“He was sitting with his friends when law-enforcement personnel and other men in civvies took him away,” he said quoting his son’s friends.
“But nobody is ready to show up in the court and testify that the law-enforcement agencies picked up my son.”
Elected in December 2015 on the MQM’s ticket, Khan said he was pursuing the case in the Sindh High Court and through the Sindh Human Rights Commission. “Even if he’s not in the custody of the law-enforcement agencies, whose responsibility is it to trace his whereabouts?”
The UC-13 chairman said his elder son, who is a teacher at the University of Karachi, contacted the PSP leadership for Shani’s release. But Shani is still missing. “We die every day. I’m tired of telling Shani’s mother and siblings that he will be back soon. Even if he has committed any crime, he should be produced before a court.”
For MQM-P leader Mohammad Shahid Khan, also the chairman of UC-19 that falls in PIB Colony, the PSP is a big investment and MQM activists are being forced to switch their loyalties.
“The families of missing activists are receiving calls to leave the MQM-P and join the PSP,” he said.
But Anwaar Mama does not buy this argument. “I was never picked up by any agency,” he asserted. “Nobody has been forced to join the party. It’s true that some PSP activists were arrested and released after interrogation in the past, but the majority of the party cadre is innocent of any charges,” he said while introducing 30-year-old Saad Masoomi, a member of the PSP youth wing.
“I was inspired by Mustafa Kamal’s boldness. The way he exposed the MQM and its founder... it was amazing. There are many others like me in the party,” said Masoomi.
Chipping in the conversation, PSP unit incharge Abdul Wahab said, “Individuals belonging to the Urdu-speaking community are in the custody of the law-enforcement agencies.”
To drive his point home, Wahab, who has remained in law enforcement agencies’ custody for a month, added, “These individuals’ families are persuading them to join the PSP. And they’re joining us. It is like a drunkard quitting his bad habit and growing a beard after being approached with good manners.”
MPA without office
To add to the political complexity in the PS-117, there is a retired major who was elected the constituency’s representative in the provincial assembly on June 2 last year.
Known for his humble personality, Syed Qamar Abbas is the only retired army officer representing the MQM in the Sindh Assembly.
Abbas said he was happy that MQM activists vulnerable to arrests and oppression were joining the PSP for shelter.
“It’s a difficult time for them. It seems like a state of taqiyyah [a form of deception to protect yourself and your loved ones],” he said in a monotonous voice.
Major (retd) Syed Qamar Abbas won the seat in the by-polls after Dr Sagheer vacated it. But there is a tragedy attached to his inclusion in the party.
“When the Karachi operation started in 2013, my brother [MQM activist Syed Yawar Abbas Rizvi] was picked up and later found dead,” he said. “I’m a retired army officer but I didn’t receive justice in my brother’s case even though a clear inquiry report was submitted in the high court.”
Abbas, who joined the MQM in 2016, said, “It was an honour for me that the MQM founder asked me to run for the seat after Dr Sagheer left the party.”
In his career, Abbas said, he took two oaths – one when he passed out from the Pakistan Military Academy and the second when he was sworn in as an MPA.
“I happened to meet the senior-most leadership of the Pakistan Army. When I was elected, I was given a message to convey to my party that violence and extortion would not be tolerated,” he said.
But Abbas too had a message for his former colleagues. “I asked them to let political, economic and educational justice prevail in Karachi and that nobody should be humiliated on the basis of religion and ethnicity.”
On his role to mediate between the security forces and the MQM, he said, “What role can I play when no space is being to my party? With all due apology, I would say that I too was humiliated at the Rangers wing headquarters despite telling them about my provincial assembly membership and affiliation with the Pakistan Army.”
He added that the MQM-Pakistan was not being given any space for political activities in his constituency. “If our workers gather anywhere in the constituency, security personnel come there to harass them.”
The army officer-turned-politician has no office. “The MQM office in the area has been sealed. I carry a chair and table in my car and set up my portable office anywhere in the five UCs that fall in the PS-117.”
Talking about the MQM-P headquarters in PIB Colony, he said party chief Dr Farooq Sattar’s office had had a “double-edged effect on his constituency”.
“Dr Farooq Sattar is a wonderful man but my position has been undermined because of the party new headquarters.”
But former MPA Dr Sagheer Ahmed has a different story to tell. He said Qamar Abbas was a “misfit” in the MQM.
“I know Abbas sahib. He’s a good man. He had submitted his resignation but Farooq Sattar didn’t approve it,” said Ahmed. “The MQM functions in a different way. It’s been quite some time since he [Abbas] visited the MQM-P office in PIB Colony.”
Ahmed also denied the allegation that the PSP was being given special privileges by the security forces. “PSP activists have also been arrested by the law-enforcement agencies. It’s only the MQM crying foul against the PSP.”
Responding to the Qamar Abbas’ claim that Dr Sagheer was more focussed on growing his political stature than addressing the issues of his constituency during his 11-year tenure, Ahmed said if he had not delivered, its residents would not have joined the party in huge numbers.
The new graffiti on the Pakistan Public Works Department office on Cummings Road speaks volumes about the MQM losing its political grip in the area.
Opposite the sealed MQM-P office, the PWD office - generally known as the inquiry office - was earlier considered an alternative home to MQM councillors and activists, with its walls painted with pro-MQM slogans.
Activists of the Pakistan People’s Party erased the MQM slogans on February 4 to write their own. Some outer portions of the inquiry office, earlier covered with slogans like Qila-e-Altaf (fortress of Altaf), now have PSP slogans on them.
“PPP activists have painted several houses in my union council with their slogans,” said UC-13 vice chairman Muhammad Jameel Ahmed, who sits at the inquiry office for a few hours. “No political activities are being carried out at this government property.”
He said the PPP had no political standing in the area but now its low-ranking activists had been delegated more powers than local bodies’ representatives.
For the UC-13 vice chairman, difficulties are coming from both sides. “On one hand, the provincial government isn’t giving us our due rights and on the other, we have been deprived of the workforce that we earlier had in the form of MQM activists. Many of them are now afraid of working openly with us.”
Jameel Ahmed said the PSP had become the reason for the division in the Urdu-speaking community. “Eventually, our strength has weakened.”
But Dr Sagheer said had the MQM played the role of a genuine opposition in the provincial assembly and stood sincerely for people’s right, the party would not have lost public support.
“It’s everyone’s right to occupy a political vacuum. Be it [the] PPP or any other party,” he said. “The MQM leadership should focus on as to why people are joining other parties instead of only playing a blame game.”
A resident of PS-117, Faisal Lodhi, a former MQM supporter who has joined the PPP, said the Karachi operation was not the only reason for the MQM’s “downfall” in the area.
“As the party wasn’t resolving our basic issues, it didn’t make any sense for me to support it only on ethnic basis,” he added.
Lodhi said around 300 men and women of different ethnic backgrounds in the constituency were in contact with the PPP and joining the party fast. “They believe that the leadership of young Bilawal Bhutto can bring about a change in the PPP’s politics.”
The kite runners
“Jo nazar main hain wo nazaryaati hain, jo jail main hain wo jazbaati hain, aur jo samajhdaar hain wo inqilaabi hain (Those working on ground are ideologists, the ones incarcerated in prison are sentimentalists, and the wise ones are revolutionaries),” narrated *Hamid Zafar, an Altaf Hussain supporter, maintaining that former MQM representatives used to utter these kind of slogans in private sessions with their close confidantes “to ridicule the sacrifices of party activists”.
“It is unfortunate that the genuine Mohajir cause was exploited by opportunists in the MQM,” said the man in his 50s, while looking at a group of boys flying kites on Cummings Road before sunset.
“I am with Altaf Hussain’s MQM since its inception. My heart drowns in sorrow when I see that party representatives have even forgotten the three basic objectives of the MQM – ending the quota system in Sindh, reopening the Khokhrapar border and bringing back those who are stuck in Bangladesh.”
Ammar Masood*, another supporter of the MQM founder, said it was difficult for him to see that pro-Altaf slogans had been removed from most of the area. “PPP and PSP activists shouldn’t think that scrawling their slogans on walls will help them win the next elections.”
While Zafar said he understood the policy of the MQM-P to “deal with the damage” after the MQM founder’s August 22 speech, Masood was extremely critical of Dr Farooq Sattar and other MQM-P leaders for presenting an impeachment resolution against Altaf Hussain.
As cheers and shouts broke out in a group of boys for cutting down a kite, Masood said, “We’ll be winners in the end. Ataf bhai’s diehard supporters are not working openly right now, but as the next elections will approach closer, Altaf bhai will make a comeback and the walls will again be painted with pro-Altaf slogans,” he added.
“This party [the MQM] has survived Afaq and Amir, and it will survive Kamal and Qaimkhani as well,” he chuckled for a moment but Zafar reminded him that former MQM-Haqiqi leader Amir Khan had returned to the MQM.
However, *Amir Raza, a senior officer in a government department, is afraid of another possibility. “We have seen too much violence in Karachi. We don’t want to again see what we saw between the MQM and the Haqiqi in the early 90s,” he said.
“The area is slowly becoming vulnerable to disputes and quarrels. The Urdu-speaking community area faces the threat of political fights. With the arrival of the PSP, yesterday’s friends are now foes.”
Raza regretted that roads were seen frequently inundated with sewage and the area was subjected to seven-and-a-half hours of power outages and around six hours of gas cuts every day.
“The basic issues of the area remain unresolved. I don’t know what good the PSP will bring to the fortunes of the residents but so far, the only change we have observed is that politically-active individuals of the area have switched sides on the Shah-e-Najaf [Cummings] Road. Earlier, they stood outside MQM office and now they are seen on the other side outside the PSP office.”
As the sun goes down, there is a buzz on both sides of Cumming Road. On one side, people are arriving for eateries and mechanics on Jamshed Road and on the other, visitors are paying their respects at the shrine of saint Noori Baba on Teen Hatti Road.
The boys flying the kites on Cummings Road have returned home. The MQM-P office has drowned in darkness. The UC-13 chairman is looking at his gate, still hoping to listen to a knock – any news about his missing son. The PSP office shutter is being pulled up. Anwaar Mama will soon be there. It is 7:30pm.
*Names changed to protect privacy