Amid an alleged media blackout against his coverage in Pakistan, exiled leader of the MQM party, Altaf Hussain, talks to DW about a security "crackdown" on his party and the threat of Islamism in his home nation.
Last year, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a southern Sindh province-based political party, came under direct conflict with Pakistani authorities when its exiled leader Altaf Hussain criticized army and civilian government officials for systematically targeting his workers.
Hussain, a British citizen who has been living in a self-imposed exile since the early 1990s, also called Pakistan "the epicenter of terrorism." The politician warned the authorities that his followers would choose not to be loyal to the country if the "extra-judicial killings" of his activists continued.
MQM alleges that paramilitary forces are targeting its top leadership, including members of parliament. It also claims that they have sealed the party's offices across the country, and are paving the way for Islamist groups to have a greater political control of Karachi, Pakistan's economic hub.
While the authorities accuse the MQM of racketeering, abductions, torture and murder, the political group, which represents a considerable size of the Urdu-speakers that migrated from India to Pakistan after the Indian partition in 1947, denies these claims and instead complains of decades of discrimination and injustice.
In 2014, Hussain was arrested by the British police in London on suspicion of money-laundering. Police later released him on bail. His party has been accused of murdering one of the founding members of the MQM, Imran Farooq, in the UK, a charge Hussain and his party deny.
MQM is a mainstream political party in Pakistan that had worked closely with a number of Pakistani rulers in the past, including Benazir Bhutto, Nawaz Sharif and Pervez Musharraf. Military ruler Musharraf and the MQM enjoyed a close relationship from 1999 to 2007.
In an interview with DW in London, MQM leader-in-exile Altaf Hussain talks about his "media blackout" in Pakistan, his loyalty to the Pakistani state, divisions in his party, and warns against an Islamist threat to the West that, according to him, is emerging from Pakistan.
DW: Pakistani authorities accuse your MQM party of being involved in criminal activities. That, Islamabad says, is the main reason behind the "crackdown" in Karachi, not only against your party members but across the board. How would you react to these claims?
Altaf Hussain: The Pakistani military has a history of supporting Islamist extremists. There are elements within the army that support extremist views. On the other hand, those who migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947, those who lost everything in the movement for independence, have been subjected to discrimination in Pakistan.
I am a secular person who believes in democracy. I believe in equality of all citizens regardless of their ethnicity, religion or sect. I am the only political leader in Pakistan who continues to warn against a Talibanization and Islamization of Karachi and Sindh province. It is due to my party's efforts that Islamists don't have a huge influence in Karachi as they have in other parts of the country.
Hussain: 'Since 2013, at least 1000 MQM supporters have been languishing in different Pakistani prisons'
Pakistani authorities claim the MQM is being backed by Indian intelligence agencies to destabilize the country. How would you respond to these allegations?
I categorically reject these allegations. My party has never had any connection with foreign intelligence agencies. But I have been demanding that Islamabad must establish friendly ties with all regional countries, including India. If demanding this means I am an "Indian agent," then I have no problem with this label.
The Pakistani military is targeting the mohajirs (migrants from India). Until now, we haven't sought help from other countries, but now we intend to approach the international community to increase support for the mohajirs to get their legitimate rights.
What do you want the international community to do regarding an alleged crackdown against your party?
The West must realize that the jihadists that were once created in the 1980s to fight the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan have now become a "Frankenstein." They are a danger not only to Pakistan but to the entire civilized world. I demand the West must do something to crush these jihadists supported by the Pakistani army and its Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency.
Pakistan has become an epicenter of jihadism. Countries need to raise this issue at the United Nations as well as in their own parliaments. I ask the international community to slash Pakistan's military aid until Pakistani authorities reverse their pro-extremism policies. For the international community it is crucial to do something about it because Pakistan's nuclear weapons could fall into the hands of extremists.
Your party has been divided into many factions. Some analysts say that Pakistani authorities are creating these schisms to weaken your group. How do you want to deal with this problem?
If the international community guarantees my security in Pakistan, I can prove that I am the only representative of the mohajir community and Pakistan's secular and liberal people. I can do so despite the fact that our members and supporters are facing an enormous crackdown. Since 2013, more than 200 MQM supporters have been missing and at least 1,000 are languishing in different Pakistani prisons. Hundreds of them have been victims of extra-judicial killings.
Altaf Hussain is a popular Pakistani leader whose party had worked closely with different prime ministers
What is your take on the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan?
For the past 70 years, Pakistan's security doctrine has been revolving around the Kashmir issue. When somebody dies in the Indian side of Kashmir, the Pakistani propaganda machinery starts working to churn out jingoistic slogans against India.
I support the Kashmiri people and raise my voice against the atrocities they are facing. But when the Pakistan-funded people in Kashmir hoist Pakistani flags in Srinagar, what do you expect India to do? If India did the same in the Pakistani side of Kashmir, how would the Pakistani military react? Would it allow people to carry Indian flags in Pakistani Kashmir?
Instead of directly confronting India, the Pakistani army uses proxies. That has weakened Pakistan's Kashmir case in the international community.
Your critics allege that you are against Pakistan's sovereignty and that is why you criticize the Pakistani army. What is your take on that?
I support Pakistan's unity and demand rights within its geographical boundaries. At the same time, I think that instead of four provinces Pakistan must have at least 20 provincial administrative units.
It is the duty of the state to ensure the rights of the communities who are demanding their legitimate rights.
The interview was conducted by Atif Tauqeer in London.