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Karachi's former mayor Kamal: 'The army is not backing me'

Karachi's former mayor Mustafa Kamal rebelled against his old party, the liberal MQM, and its leader Hussain. In an exclusive DW interview, he denies allegations that his rebellion was orchestrated by the Pakistani army.

One of Pakistan's biggest political parties,

the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM),

is currently facing tough times. Not only is the country's powerful military cracking down on its leaders and activists, but Mustafa Kamal (main picture), Karachi's popular former mayor and ex-MQM member, has also rebelled against Altaf Hussain, the party chief, who has been living in a self-imposed exile in London since the early 1990s.

Kamal claims to be the "new leader" of the urban, educated Pakistanis, and has leveled serious accusations against his former boss, Hussain. One of the most serious allegations he put forward is that the MQM receives financial support from the Indian intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW). The MQM denies these allegations, accusing in turn Kamal's yet to be named new party of having the army's backing.

Some analysts argue that the

Pakistani military establishment wants to weaken Hussain's "anti-Taliban" MQM party

and pave the way for right wing factions to have a bigger role in Pakistan's economic hub, thus promoting Kamal's splinter group.

In an exclusive DW interview, Kamal says the military has nothing to do with his "political comeback," and that his aim is to create a peaceful political environment in Pakistan's volatile economic hub.

Pakistan MQM Party Leader Mustafa Kamal giving press Conference (Photo: DW/R. Saeed)

Earlier this month, Mustafa Kamal shocked the country by openly rebelling against MQM leader Altaf Hussain

DW: You have re-entered politics after a hiatus of three years, and now your claim is that you present an "alternative leadership" to Pakistan's growing middle-class and Karachi's mohajir (migrant) community, in particular. How is this "new leadership" different from Altaf Hussain's "old command?"

Mustafa Kamal: I left the MQM in 2013 and now I am back in politics to bring people together. Pakistani society is extremely polarized. Political parties have created divisions among the people on the basis of their ethnicity, as well as sectarian and provincial associations.

The society has become very intolerant, and Karachi has been divided into various political zones. We are trying to end the politics of polarization. We are telling our supporters to rise above petty differences and work for the country.

Do you mean to say that Altaf Hussain's leadership was responsible for creating divisions?

Exactly. The political situation in Karachi is proof of the fact that the "old leadership" believed in dividing the people. In his public speeches, the MQM leader tells his supporters and workers to keep arms, get training for militancy, and learn combat fighting. They use foul language against the country's military generals, journalists and political opponents. All this has played a big role in the surge in intolerance and extremism.

The MQM leadership, particularly Altaf Hussain, has benefited from this polarization. In Karachi alone, over 25,000 people have been killed in the past decades. Generations have suffered. Karachi is now one of the filthiest cities in the world due to a lack of proper management.

What was once a city of educated and civilized people, is now facing a significant drop in the level of education. Once a city of patriotic Pakistanis, Karachi is now known as a city of "India lovers."

Paramilitary soldiers escort blindfolded men, who were detained during Wednesday's raid on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party headquarters, after presenting them before an anti-terrorism court in Karachi March 12, 2015 (Photo: REUTERS/Akhtar Soomro)

A military operation against the MQM is ongoing

You were part of the MQM leadership for two decades. How can you be exonerated from the political "failures" that you just mentioned?

I admit that I was part of the leadership. But you have to understand that I disassociated myself from the party a few years ago. I not only quit the MQM but also left my Senate post, an unprecedented move in Pakistan. Then I also had to leave Pakistan. I didn't want to come back because I was living a comfortable life abroad. But I came back because I believed I had a duty toward my country and my city. I had no choice but to speak the truth about the MQM and Hussain.

Not only you were a popular mayor in Karachi, but you also earned international recognition for your development work in the metropolis. But don't you agree that your former leader and party also deserve some credit for this?

Well, they can take all the credit. I am not interested in self-promotion. But I have a question: I was Karachi's mayor from 2005 to 2010, so why didn't any of the MQM's ministers and activists who came after me achieve the same results as I did as city mayor?

Your former party claims the state wants to weaken it. They say that on the one hand, there is an ongoing military operation against MQM activists, and on the other, the army has brought you forward to further damage its political position. What do you say about such accusations?

A supporter of Pakistani political party Mutahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) holds a portrait of party leader Altaf Hussain during a protest against government, in Karachi, Pakistan, 16 May 2014 (Photo: EPA/SHAHZAIB AKBER)

MQM leader Hussain still enjoys considerable support in Karachi and other cities in southern Pakistan

These are baseless allegations. Had the army brought me back into politics, the MQM's central office in Karachi would have been sealed by now. We witnessed it when the MQM was targeted by the state in the early 1990s.

But no such thing is happening right now. Since my re-entry into politics, Hussain has been making three speeches a day from London, and nobody is censoring them. The MQM activists are as free to work as we are. Hussain's party leaders are joining us because they realize there is a moderate alternative now.

Some analysts say the army wants to weaken the MQM to pave the way for the right-wing, pro-Taliban groups and parties in Karachi and other southern urban areas. Do you think that you may have been inadvertently helping the military achieve these goals?

The people in Karachi will never support religious parties. While they might choose not to support me or the MQM, they certainly won't vote for pro-Taliban organizations.

Religious extremism and militancy are a big threat to Pakistan. What is your strategy to counter this menace?

We want to promote religious and sectarian tolerance in Pakistan. Our mission is to make the country peaceful and progressive so that it can become a model nation for the rest of the Muslim world.

The interview was conducted by Shamil Shams.

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