Pakistan: Information on Mohajir/Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Altaf (MQM-A)
Provide information on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Altaf (MQM-A) in Pakistan.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Altaf (MQM-A) has been widely accused of human rights abuses since its founding two decades ago. It claims to represent Mohajirs— Urdu-speaking Muslims who fled to Pakistan from India after the 1947 partition of the subcontinent, and their descendants.
In the mid-1990s, the MQM-A was heavily involved in the widespread political violence that wracked Pakistan’s southern Sindh province, particularly Karachi, the port city that is the country’s commercial capital. MQM-A militants fought government forces, breakaway MQM factions, and militants from other ethnic-based movements. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, and others accused the MQM-A and a rival faction of summary killings, torture, and other abuses (see, e.g., AI 1 Feb 1996; U.S. DOS Feb 1996). The MQM-A routinely denied involvement in violence.
The current MQM-A is the successor to a group called the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) that was founded by Altaf Hussein in 1984 as a student movement to defend the rights of Mohajirs, who by some estimates make up 60 percent of Karachi’s population of twelve million. At the time, Mohajirs were advancing in business, the professions, and the bureaucracy, but many resented the quotas that helped ethnic Sindhis win university slots and civil service jobs. Known in English as the National Movement for Refugees, the MQM soon turned to extortion and other types of racketeering to raise cash. Using both violence and efficient organizing, the MQM became the dominant political party in Karachi and Hyderabad, another major city in Sindh. Just three years after its founding, the MQM came to power in these and other Sindh cities in local elections in 1987 (AI 1 Feb 1996; U.S. DOS Feb 1997, Feb 1999; HRW Dec 1997).
The following year, the MQM joined a coalition government at the national level headed by Benazir Bhutto’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), which took power in elections following the death of military leader General Zia ul-Haq. This marked the first of several times in the 1980s and 1990s that the MQM joined coalition governments in Islamabad or in Sindh province. Meanwhile, violence between the MQM and Sindhi groups routinely broke out in Karachi and other Sindh cities (AI 1 Feb 1996; Jane’s 14 Feb 2003).
In 1992, a breakway MQM faction, led by Afaq Ahmed and Aamir Khan, launched the MQM Haqiqi (MQM-H), literally the “real” MQM. Many Pakistani observers alleged that the MQM-H was supported by the government of Pakistan to weaken the main MQM led by Altaf Hussein, which became known as the MQM-A (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003). Several smaller MQM factions also emerged, although most of the subsequent intra-group violence involved the MQM-A and the MQM-H (AI 1 Feb 1996; U.S. DOS Feb 1999; Jane’s 14 Feb 2003).
Political violence in Sindh intensified in 1993 and 1994 (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003). In 1994, fighting among MQM factions and between the MQM and Sindhi nationalist groups brought almost daily killings in Karachi (U.S. DOS Feb 1995). By July 1995, the rate of political killings in the port city reached an average of ten per day, and by the end of that year more than 1,800 had been killed (U.S. DOS Feb 1996).
The violence in Karachi and other cities began abating in 1996 as soldiers and police intensified their crackdowns on the MQM-A and other groups (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003). Pakistani forces resorted to staged “encounter killings” in which they would shoot MQM activists and then allege that the killings took place during encounters with militants (U.S. DOS Feb 1996). Following a crackdown in 1997, the MQM-A adopted its present name, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or United National Movement, which also has the initials MQM (HRW Dec 1997).
MQM-A leader Hussein fled in 1992 to Britain, where he received asylum in 1999 (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003). The MQM-A is not on the U.S. State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (U.S. DOS 23 May 2003).
While the multifaceted nature of the violence in Sindh province in the 1980s and 1990s at times made it difficult to pinpoint specific abuses by the MQM-A, the group routinely was implicated in rights abuses. In 1992 after the Sindh government called in the army to crack down on armed groups in the province, facilities were discovered that allegedly were used by the MQM-A to torture and at times kill dissident members and activists from rival groups. In 1996, Amnesty International said that the PPP and other parties were reporting that some of their activists had been tortured and killed by the MQM-A (AI 1 Feb 1996).
The MQM-A and other factions also have been accused of trying to intimidate journalists. In one of the most flagrant cases, in 1990 MQM leader Hussein publicly threatened the editor of the monthly NEWSLINE magazine after he published an article on the MQM’s alleged use of torture against dissident members (U.S. DOS Feb 1991). The following year, a prominent journalist, Zafar Abbas, was severely beaten in Karachi in an attack that was widely blamed on MQM leaders angered over articles by Abbas describing the party’s factionalization. The same year, MQM activists assaulted scores of vendors selling DAWN, Pakistan’s largest English-language newspaper, and other periodicals owned by Herald Publications (U.S. DOS Feb 1992).
The MQM-A has also frequently called strikes in Karachi and other cities in Sindh province and used killings and other violence to keep shops closed and people off the streets. During strikes, MQM-A activists have ransacked businesses that remained open and attacked motorists and pedestrians who ventured outside (U.S. DOS Feb 1996; Jane’s 14 Feb 2003).
The MQM-A allegedly raises funds through extortion, narcotics smuggling, and other criminal activities. In addition, Mohajirs in Pakistan and overseas provide funds to the MQM-A through charitable foundations (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003).
Since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States, the MQM-A has been increasingly critical of Islamic militant groups in Pakistan. The MQM-A, which generally has not targeted Western interests, says that it supports the global campaign against terrorism (Jane’s 14 Feb 2003).
This response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the RIC within time constraints. This response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.