Altaf Hussain (born 17 September 1953 in Karachi) is a Pakistani politician living in exile as a naturalised citizen in the United Kingdom. He is the leader and founder of the Karachi-based political party, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a party aimed at defending the interests of the muhajir community and the Urdu-speaking descendants of Muslims who moved from India to Pakistan after their independence from Britain in 1947.
Hussain belongs to a muhajir family that moved from Agra, Uttar Pradesh in India to settle in Pakistan following Pakistan's independence from Britain in 1947. He joined student politics by forming the All Pakistan Muhajir Students Organization (APMSO) in 1978 and later stepped into mainstream politics by founding the MQM in 1984, which is now the fourth largest political party in the National Assembly of Pakistan. Hussain's party has had political influence in Pakistan since the 1990s by being a part of several governing coalitions. The party's political strongholds are the urban cities of Karachi and Hyderabad in Pakistan. As of 2014, Hussain lives in Edgware in north-west London where he applied for and was granted political asylum in 1992.
Altaf Hussain declared The Right Man by the Newsweek in his magzine. Hussain's political figure has seldom appeared "controversial" to critics who claim that his party showed a readiness to use violence to fight for power. Several allegations of criminal activities have been piled against the MQM involving violence perpetrated by its armed wings, drug trafficking, extortion and land theft. BBC News has called Hussain "one of Pakistan's longest-serving and most powerful and divisive politicians". On 20 May 2013, former cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan accused Hussain of being directly involved in the murder of his party leader Zahra Shahid Hussain and Hussain also faces allegations of murder of his own party leader Imran Farooq, a claim under investigation by the London Metropolitan Police.
Whilst under investigation by the London Metropolitan police, Hussain was also charged with money laundering and hate speech, which led to his arrest on 3 July 2013 where the police raided his house and seized approximately £1 million under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002. Hussain was interrogated on 4 July 2013 for seven hours in connection with the aforementioned money laundering case More recently, on 3 June 2014, Hussain was again arrested by the police on charges of money laundering. He was later released on bail on 6 June 2014, after he had been questioned thoroughly.
Childhood and family
Altaf Hussain was born on 17 September 1953 to Nazir Hussain and Khurseed Begum in Karachi, Sindh. Before the formation of Pakistan, Hussain's parents resided at their ancestral home in Nai ki Mandi, Agra, Uttar Pradesh. His father was an officer with the Indian Railways. His paternal grandfather Mohammad Ramazan was the Grand Mufti of Agra and his maternal grandfather Pir Haji Hafiz Rahim Bakhsh Qadri was a religious scholar. Hussain's siblings include four sisters and six brothers.
Following the independence of Pakistan in 1947, a wide-scale migration of Muslims ensued where they migrated from the various Muslim-majority states in India to the newly established Dominion of Pakistan. Hussain's parents were initially reluctant to leave everything behind in Agra to resettle in Pakistan but were later forced by Hussain's elder brother to reconsider. Upon emigrating to Pakistan, the family settled in Karachi. They were provided with government housing in Abyssinia Lines reserved for muhajirs (a term used to describe people and families migrating from India).
Hussain's elder brother Nasir Hussain was later employed by the government and given a small quarter on Jehangir Road. The family subsequently left their government allotted residence and moved in with Nasir. The family later moved residence again in the 1970s to a small house in Azizabad which later became the headquarters of Hussain's political party Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM; formerly Muhajir Qaumi Movement).
Education and non-political career
Hussain received his early education from the Government Comprehensive School in Azizabad. He later enrolled in the Government Boys Secondary School to complete his matriculation in 1969. For the first year of his intermediate education in pre-medical sciences, he attended the National College Karachi. He later moved to City College Karachi for his second year.
In 1974, Hussain graduated from the Islamia Science College with a Bachelor of Science. In 1979, he graduated from the University of Karachi with a Bachelor of Pharmacy. After graduating from the university, Hussain began his career as a trainee at the Seventh-day Adventist Hospital in Karachi while simultaneously working for a multinational pharmaceutical company.
Short-lived military service
In 1970, General Yahya Khan introduced the National Service Cadet Scheme (NSCS) making it compulsory for higher secondary scholars to enlist with the army. According to the MQM, Altaf Hussain enlisted with the Pakistan Army through the NSCS and his services were assigned to the 57th Baloch Regiment as soldier number 2642671. Upon completion of his training, his regiment was assigned from Hyderabad to Karachi from where it was sent to East Pakistan via ships.
Once the 1971 Indo-Pak war came to an end, Hussain returned to West Pakistan to join wilfully with the regular army. In the version of events told by the MQM, the selection officer rejected Hussain's selection because his parents were 'muhajirs' from India even when Hussain insisted he was born in Pakistan. This is quoted as one of the many instances that formulated Hussain's future political aspirations.
Politics of ethnicity
The late 1970s and the early 1980s saw a rapid influx of immigrant populations into Karachi. These included war victims from Afghanistan, economic migrants from NWFP, Balochistan and Punjab, and the Biharis (post-1971 arrivals from Bangladesh).
Bihari cause and arrest: 1979
The political strife of the APMSO bifurcated into the issue of stranded Pakistanis in Bangladesh an on 14 August 1979, Hussain participated in a demonstration at the Mazar-e-Quaid for the safe return of stranded Pakistanis, also called the Biharis. Following the demonstration, Hussain was arrested and sentenced on 2 October 1979 for 9 months imprisonment and flogging with five strokes. Hussain was later released on 28 April 1980 after he had served his sentence.
Ethnic riots: 1985—1986
The urban centres of Karachi and Hyderabad had increasingly become ethnically diverse and riots along ethnic lines were commonplace. In May 1985, a Pathan minivan driver struck and killed a muhajir schoolgirl inciting the first Pathan-Muhajir ethnic riot. Later, following an unsuccessful raid on an Afghan heroine processing and distribution centre in Sohrab Goth by the army, Pathan and Afghan thugs turned their ire on muhajir residents of Aligarh Colony.
The Aligarh Colony massacre instigated the bloody riots of November–December 1986. These riots saw the popularity of MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain rise and the party's ideology was greatly influenced as a result.
Pacco Qillo address and arrest: October 1986
Before October 1986, the urban city of Hyderabad was largely dominated by the Sindhi nationalist party Jeay Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) founded by G. M. Syed giving rise to the nationalist slogan "Sindhu Desh" (or "Sindhi nation"). The only Muhajir political movement countering the JSQM were led by Syed Mubarak Ali Shah of Moti Mahal, Nawab Zahid Ali Khan and Nawab Muzaffar Hussain. After the death of these Muhajir stalwarts, the Urdu-speaking people of Hyderabad yearned for a charismatic Muhajir leadership.
On 31 October 1986, Altaf Hussain gave his first public address in Hyderabad at the site of the historic Pacco Qillo, where he was greeted by throngs of crowds. After his address, his message was well received by the Urdu-speaking people of Hyderabad and Hussain was able to fill the void left by the deaths of Muhajir leaders. Hussain and a few of his companions, were arrested by security personnel after his address implicating him in several alleged criminal cases. His arrest enraged his supporters who launched public movements for his release. The charges against Hussain and his companions were later dropped and they were released from the Central Prison Karachi on 24 February 1987.
Arrest and local bodies election: 1987
In 1987 the government began widespread arrests of Mutahidda Qaumi Movement workers all over Sindh. Altaf Hussain surrendered to law enforcement agencies on 30 August 1987 on the condition that the further arrests of his party's workers would be stopped immediately. During Hussain's imprisonment MQM placed highly in the local bodies election of 1987, and there was pressure to release Hussain and he was released on 7 January 1988.
Sindhi-Muhajir accord: 1988
In early 1987, Altaf Hussain issued MQM's Charter of Resolutions (Qarardad-i-Maqasid) which formed the basis for the party's ideology. The MQM charter was paramount in expressing many of the "long-standing grievances" of Sindhi nationalists, and a cooperative arrangement was worked out between the MQM and various Sindhi nationalist parties in early 1988. Apart from the points stipulated in the party's original resolution, Hussain also introduced the idea of Muhajir being a "fifth subnationality" alongside the Punjabis, Pathans, Baloch, Sindhis.
The Karachi Declaration: 1988
The 1988 general elections proved quite clearly that the voting patterns in Sindh were based on ethnic lines where the Pakistan Peoples Party and the MQM won almost all seats in the national assembly. The PPP had derived its support from the Sindhi population in the province, whilst the MQM from the Muhajirs. At this point in time, in less than four years of its making, MQM emerged as the third largest political party in Pakistan.
PPP had been successful in Sindh but didn't fare quite well in the other provinces and therefore had to resort to forming a coalition government. Hussain and his party MQM offered their support but insisted on a formal agreement between the PPP and the MQM. This 59-point MQM-PPP accord, known as the Karachi Declaration, was signed on 2 December 1988. It reiterated many of the points defined in the earlier MQM charter. However, when Benazir Bhutto came into power, she was unwilling or unable to commit to her part of the bargain. Her reluctance in this matter was largely interpreted by muhajirs as largely pro-Sindhi and rather anti-Muhajir. When the declaration was not implemented violence erupted between APMSO and the PSF, the student wings of the MQM and the PPP.
Shunned by Bhutto's disavowal, Altaf Hussain secretly approached Nawaz Sharif, leader of the Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI). The IJI was an opposition coalition eager to topple Bhutto's government. As a result of their meeting, a formal agreement between the MQM and the IJI came to pass. However, when Sharif later came into power, he couldn't honour those commitments either. Hussain became increasingly harsh and hostile in his opinions regarding the governing parties and would often accuse them of political hypocrisy. Seeing that striving for justice in a constitutional capacity was futile, ethnic militancy thrived. The gulf between Muhajirs and Sindhis widened leading to several cases of "ethnic cleansing" in Hyderabad.
Ethnic violence and military action
The Pakistani government launched Operation Clean-up in 1992 and sent the military into Karachi to crack down on the MQM. Hussain escaped Karachi one month before the operation began, following an attack on his life on 21 December 1991. Hussain fled to London and applied for political asylum.
From 1993 to 1996, the port city of Karachi had become a political battleground between prime minister Benazir Bhutto's Pakistan Peoples Party and the Mohajir Qaumi Movement. In the wake of the ensuing political unrest, the MQM had remained vocal about the arbitrary arrests and extrajudicial killings of its members.
Killing of brother and nephew
In the later months of 1995, the political killings of members from both parties sparked an outcry throughout the city. This involved the killing of the younger brother of PPP's Syed Abdullah Shah, the Chief Minister of Sindh which subsequently led to the killing of Altaf Hussain's 62-year-old brother Nasir Hussain and 27-year-old nephew Arif Hussain.
It was reported that the Karachi police and the paramilitary Rangers force had arrested Nasir Hussain and his son from the Federal B area in Karachi on 4 and 6 December 1995 respectively. In a statement issued on 7 December 1995, MQM blamed the government and the law enforcement agencies for the unlawful arrests of Nasir and Arif from their residence in Samanabad. On 9 December 1995, the badly mutilated corpses of both Nasir and Arif were found in an isolated area in Gadap Town in Karachi, from where they were taken to a nearby Edhi centre.
Life in the United Kingdom
Hussain was granted British citizenship in 2002. According to Owen Bennett-Jones, he was given British citizenship because of a clerical error not yet disclosed by the officials. In 2013 Hussein said he would resign as head of the MQM, but rescinded this decision after party workers asked him to stay on.
In September 2011 Altaf wrote a letter to Prime Minister Tony Blair, offering his services for gathering huge crowds in Karachi, who can condemn terrorism. Further he offered to gather human intelligence against the Taliban, and proposed to provide fake aid workers in Afghanistan.
Arrest in London
On 3 June 2014 he was arrested in London on charges of money-laundering following a raid by Metropolitan Police at his residence and office. He was released on bail on 6 June 2014.
Alleged involvement in criminal activities
Altaf Hussain was having 3576 cases and charges of corruption against him. But in November 2009 all the cases were dropped under National Reconciliation Ordinance, a legal act which granted amnesty to politicians, political workers and bureaucrats who were accused of crimes between 1986 and October 1999, the time between two occurrences of Martial law. However, MQM officials maintain that all these charges were wrong and were put up only to disparage the popularity of Altaf Hussain and MQM and that they are ready to face any of these false accusations at the Supreme Court of Pakistan.
Imran Farooq murder case
On 20 June 2013 a Metropolitan Police team investigating Farooq's murder raided Altaf Hussain's residence and searched it for 55 hours.
According to the BBC, London's Metropolitan Police started a money-laundering probe against Hussain after they recovered money whose source could not be ascertained from his house in searches in December 2012 and June 2013. He was arrested on 3 June 2014 on suspicion of money-laundering by the police force, which has prompted fears of violence in Karachi and other MQM strongholds.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf's chairman Imran Khan accused Altaf of inciting violence and soliciting murder after the May 2007 riot in Karachi. He called Hussain a terrorist, and said that in 1999 General Pervez Musharraf, then Chief of Army Staff and who later allied with Hussain, told the government that Altaf Hussain received funding from India for terrorism. Later in 2013 Imran Khan again accused Altaf of inciting violence in Karachi, after his party's leader Zahra Shahid Hussain had been killed in the city on 18 May 2013. A few days before her killing Altaf, living in London, said to Zahra's party's protesters camped at Teen Talwar:
"I don't want to fight with you, otherwise my people could have turned the symbolic Teen Talwar into real sword on one order of mine."
In response numerous complaints were filed with London Metropolitan Police against Altaf for inciting violence. Owen Bennett-Jones wrote in The Guardian that a Pakistani television channel could not find an actor to parody Altaf Hussain in a comedy show, as potential candidates feared for their life if Hussain did not like the show.
Underlying philosophy of MQM
Where much of the politics of Hussain's party MQM revolves around fighting for justice for the muhajir community in Pakistan, he has always stated that his party "[stands] for equal rights and opportunities for all irrespective of colour, creed, cast, sect, gender, ethnicity or religion". Hussain's party started out as a movement for the empowerment of muhajirs in Pakistan but later modified its underlying ideologies to reflect a more broader political scope by changing its name from "Muhajir Qaumi Movement" to "Muttahida Qaumi Movement".
Formation of Pakistan
In his keynote speech given at an international conference organised by the Hindustan Times Leadership Initiative, Hussain criticised the two-nation theory that forms the basis for the creation of Pakistan. He said that history has proven the two-nation theory irrelevant when modern-day Muslims are killing each other "on the basic of tribal and linguistic affinity". Hussain blamed the independence to have divided Muslims of South Asia, making them weaker as a result.
On 17 September 2000, Hussain stated that the division of the South Asia was the "biggest blunder in history of mankind", and that by rejecting the "grouping formulae and greater autonomy for Muslim-majority Indian provinces", Jawaharlal Nehru and Abul Kalam Azad forced Muhammad Ali Jinnah to demand a separate Pakistan, even when the founder of Pakistan was ready for co-existence.
Relations with India
Hussain favours peace between India and Pakistan and has always been an vocal advocate of bridging gaps between the two neighbouring rivals.
On the issue of Kashmir, Hussain stated that Indo-Pak dialogue should be allowed to "proceed on the basis of mutual adjustment and agreement…[and] It should be clear to all concerned that there can be no military solution to any of the contentious issues, let alone the issue of Kashmir."
Opposition of Talibanisation
From 2004 Hussain warned against the growing influence of the Taliban in Karachi. Hussain stated that the "advocates of Jihad, a medieval concept to tame the infidel, are wantonly killing followers of the faith as they level places of worship." In 2008, he stated that a "well planned conspiracy to intensify sectarian violence in the city, was being hatched."