The curious case of Altaf
The case of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder Altaf Hussain is becoming an acid test for the UK justice system and Pakistani government’s resolve to get justice. In a major development, the once-loved but dreaded ruler of urban Sindh has been charged by the London Metropolitan Police’s counterterrorism command with a terror offence for encouraging terrorism during a speech he made in August 2016 to a Karachi crowd of his party. The prison sentence for a convict of terror charge is 15 years along with a fine. The MQM founder is currently on conditional bail, but in fact he remains in house arrest and has been banned from leaving the UK as his passport is in police custody. Moreover, the court slapped a gag on his speech. As soon as his speech ended, a mob attacked different media houses. His next appearance before the central criminal court in London is on Nov1.
The development speaks of the growing ties between the UK and Pakistan. The erratic MQM founder has long been a big issue for successive governments since the ethnic party’s inception back in the mid-80s. Since his self-imposed exile in the UK in 1991, he ran the party and urban lives of Karachi and Hyderabad without any challenge. Government after government remained helpless in front of his politics because of his charisma and his style of ruling the party with an iron hand. It was only left to prime minister (then an opposition leader) Imran Khan to move a case against him in the UK in 2007, though without any success. The watershed moment, however, came in 2016 when a full-fledged operation was launched by law-enforcement agencies against militancy in Karachi. Hussain’s August 22 speech against media houses and the establishment proved to be the final blow for his politics. A government order against broadcast of his hate-filled speeches made him history.
Since 2016, and his divorce with MQM, Husain has become irrelevant to Pakistani politics. MQM was able to keep its minus-Altaf identity in the 2018 elections. But the fate of Altaf Husain is still relevant to Pakistan. The man who should be credited with introducing middle and lower middle classes to politics also introduced militant wings in his party. His life and politics offer lessons to be studied.
Turkish offensive in Syria
The incursion of Turkish forces into Syrian territory in the name of creating a buffer zone to house Syrian immigrants only adds to the problems of the war-torn country. The world is visibly divided over the military attack by Turkey on Kurd forces as a UN Security Council session failed to put up a united front against the violation of the sovereignty of Syria. European countries believe a new battleground in Syria will only ignite Islamic State militancy and create another humanitarian crisis in the Kurdish enclave. Five European countries along with Estonia demanded that Turkey end its offense while the US, without condemning Turkey, said the Trump administration did not endorse the military action and warned of consequences. Russia accused the US and its allies of trying to change the demography of Syria through “illegal military presence”, in an indirect reference to US troops there.
But President Donald Trump has pulled US troops out of northeastern Syria despite stiff opposition from Democrats and Republicans. Both sides regard the decision as a betrayal of the Kurdish forces, which fought alongside US troops against Islamic State militants. Turkey has long deemed Kurdish militias and the semi-autonomous Kurdish government a threat to its northwest region. It withheld its operation against the militias because of the presence of US troops there. As soon as the US decided to pull out, the much-anticipated offense was launched by the Turkish forces in the Syrian Kurdish region, Rojava. Kurdish militias People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) are no match for Turkey’s formidable military might.
No country should have any problem with Turkish plans to carve out a buffer zone in Syrian territory to house Syrian immigrants. Turkey has been home to 3.6 million refugees since 2011. Similarly, the world should not have any problem with Turkey’s fight against militias like the YPG and the SDF. Both militias were patronised by the US for its fight against the Islamic State. The US has a history of creating militias and later abandoning them, leaving the whole world to face the consequences. Afghan militants, initially called mujahideen, make a good example of the worst consequences of cultivating a militia.
The core problem is and will be the manner of the Turkish offensive. The best course would have been to strengthen the hands of Damascus to eradicate such semi-autonomous regions. Turkey’s plan to hand over the buffer zone to rebel Syrian groups will hurt itself in the long run.