Providing asylum to the exiled or persecuted people is an old human custom. In some countries it is considered part of the political doctrine, while others link it to the religious belief, and others attribute the act to the legacy of their ancient kings and regard it as a great human service. However, providing asylum has also been used as a tool for realizing vested interests, strategic objectives and overpowering other states.
Even in today’s civilized world, certain people from rival countries are given asylum, provided with citizenship, security and huge resources to weave a net of terrorism and arm-twisting methods. Though modern civilized worlds deem such tactics as unacceptable, yet they are practiced everywhere unabashedly.
Living in exile is nothing new for politicians in Pakistan. The list ranged from Benazir Bhutto to Nawaz Sharif and General [retired] Pervaiz Musharraf. However, the most prominent exiled Pakistani politician hitting the headlines in the UK and Pakistan these days is Altaf Hussain, the chief of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), who has been living a luxurious life in London for over two decades under self-imposed exile, primarily for security reasons.
The MQM is based in urban areas of southern Sindh province and primarily supported by those citizens whose ancestors migrated to Pakistan at the time of its creation from those areas which were part of India. Though MQM has been a part of coalition governments over the last 25 years, its leadership remained unable to bring its chief back to Pakistan, despite that MQM leader, Dr. Eshratul Ibad, has been the Sindh Governor for the last nine years, and has himself remained in exile in the UK for several years before becoming Governor during General Musharraf’s rule.
For over 15 years, Altaf Hussain has also obtained British citizenship, and probably this is why Islamabad has never been able to prosecute him for creating political storms and inciting violence against political opponents in Pakistan by issuing blazing statements in the name of freedom of expression, sitting in his cozy home in London.
BBC’s News Night
The kind of political service he has been performing for Pakistan while living in a long self-exile in London was unveiled by British official media, BBC 2, in a recent documentary.
None of the Pakistani media ever dared to question his provocative and potentially violent speeches made over the phone over the last two decades for fear of violent retribution. MQM has been known for taking to violence against media houses for a slight criticism or disrespect shown towards Altaf Hussain, or the party, even in the case of coverage less than what MQM deemed deserving for any of his lengthy telephonic speeches, could trigger strong arm-twisting methods against the media house responsible for that blunder.
The documentary of BBC’s program News Night struck like a bombshell that took all and sundry in Pakistan by surprise. People are asking each other what kind of sudden fault the supportive British media found in Altaf Hussain that warranted such a hostile documentary.
[the documentary is] a conspiracy against Altaf Hussain, hatched under the influence of the TalibanDr. Farooq Sattar
The response from MQM leadership against the documentary was stern and scathing. The MQM parliamentary leader in the National Assembly, Dr Farooq Sattar, termed the documentary “a conspiracy against Altaf Hussain, hatched under the influence of the Taliban.” They are probably the same Taliban, against which Altaf Hussain offered the British government to spy inside Pakistan. The offer he made through a letter to British Prime Minister Tony Blair in 2001.
This letter is also a part of the documentary, though Altaf Hussain and British authorities had been denying the existence of such a letter in the past. This letter is being considered an open interference in Pakistan’s internal affairs and a conspiracy against its security by inviting an open aggression against the country.
Despite being a dual national, Altaf Hussain was expected to show his loyalties primarily towards his motherland. But his offensive letter amounted to conspiring against country’s defense and security, which evoked a strong response within the country.
Legal experts are of the opinion that every word of the letter reeks of betrayal against the homeland, and amounted to “treason” against Pakistan. They say the letter shows as if Altaf Hussain still considered Pakistan a British dominion in the first decade of the 21st century.
British legal experts say that freedom of expression has its limits and if actions against the security of a state are evoked it could lead the British government to withdraw citizenship from a citizen who was born outside the country. Many Pakistanis are asking when British government was investigating allegations of money-laundering and inciting towards violence or murder against Altaf Hussain, if Pakistan has any institution which could extradite its citizen from London to try him for those and some other charges inside the country.
If British investigations proved those charges on Altaf Hussain it could pose a serious challenge to MQM for keeping its ranks united. It would be wise of Altaf Hussain at this juncture to quit party leadership for the sake of saving the party from further disintegration, and focus his attention towards countering the investigations against him and the ensuing legal battle. If he was exonerated from the charges he could regain the leadership at any time. But if he was found guilty then MQM would be saved from his crime and continue to pursue its political philosophy.
I believe Altaf Hussain owes it to MQM, the party which has been considered synonymous with Altaf Hussain and whose millions of workers obeyed and worked for him tirelessly through thick and thin, that it was time he should make sacrifice for the sake of their future.
Otherwise, the backlash of Altaf Hussain’s actions could bring political doom for MQM and its workers. If he was exonerated and returned home, Altaf Hussain should keep the strong belief in MQM workers that they would again make him their chief and fill up the streets of Karachi for his rousing welcome, like
in the past.
Mansoor Jafar is Editor of Al Arabiya Urdu based in Islamabad. He can be reached via Twitter: @mansoorjafar.