Dr Farooq Sattar now leads the new-look Muttahida Qaumi Movement (Pakistan) after breaking ties with party founder Altaf Hussain in Aug 2016. He recently appeared on Bol News’ talk-show ‘Real Politics’ and shared his views about MQM’s future and national politics. Excerpts from his interview:
Politics is a highly sensitive field. In politics, respect for humanity is key and it’s useless to be in politics without this core value. A human being is one thing, but being human is something that really counts. You have to first become a good human being, before you become a doctor or a politician. This should be the bedrock of our thinking.
I have also made mistakes, and every human being is liable to make mistakes. But we must ensure that we don’t repeat those mistakes. We are facing enormous challenges. When you believe that it’s difficult to face a challenge without translating it into an opportunity, then you can’t confront that challenge. Therefore, you should consider every challenge an opportunity.
And this opportunity exists for myself, my friends, for the urban population of Sindh and Karachi, as well as for the suppressed, to be able to give the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) a fresh look. This also presents an opportunity for other political parties, our establishment and our State institutions to dispel their misperceptions about us.
There are two sides to the MQM: one is perception and the other is potential. Even during the tenure of former president General (retd) Pervez Musharraf, we were in a coalition with Dr. Arbab Ghulam Rahim (the chief minister of Sindh from 2004-2007), but then we had a chance to tap our potential and reverse the perceptions about us.
We seek to bring the middle class, secular, educated, religiously open-minded people to the assemblies – and this is the thinking that will turn this Pakistan into Jinnah’s Pakistan. Right now we are on the receiving end but Pakistan’s other political parties, institutions and establishment should accept us based on our potential. It’s worth pondering why the MQM came into being in the first place.
People, who are misguided about our perception, have to understand when we are unable to deliver under certain circumstances. I also don’t rule out the fact that out of sheer frustration, some people from our ranks may also resort to violence, but it’s wrong to conflate violence with the MQM or its formation.
The feudal lords of rural Sindh tend to practice unopposed politics. It’s next to impossible for an ordinary farmer, or a student there, to become a part of the political system
For instance, on August 22, we stood with Pakistan… for politics for the country and politics in the country. Earlier, there was a perception that the MQM, which is operated from London, is the root of the problem.
But today we’ve stood for Pakistan and we have created an opportunity. Therefore, we should now be given space as well as the freedom that others are enjoying. I am talking openly but content with just reading between the lines. And people are realising it.
Grassroots political participation
Pakistan’s current political system – feudal, rotten and capitalist – is replete with only those politicians who can fritter away five crores for the post of an MPA, or a staggering 10 crores to become an MNA. And 90 percent of those who spend five crores to become an MPA end up earning twice as much. Politics has become business.
Very few spend for the position and desire to serve the public. I’m not saying that everyone who spends money is wrong; there are some good people who also serve the people. But we can expect a turnaround only when the entire system changes.
I urge the youth of this country to launch a movement six months before the next election.
As many as 25,000 should go to the Peshawar Press Club, another 50,000 to the Lahore Press Club, and 100,000 to the Karachi Press Club, and tell the leadership of all political parties to give more tickets to their workers.
At least 80-90 percent of the tickets should be given to the workers. You leave it to the public that will help them fight elections by spending money on them.
Similarly, women and the educated class should be given greater representation in direct elections. By the same token, give only one seat to one member of a family. This is how those who believe in conventional and traditional politics will be defeated.
Those lodging protests will comprise students from all political parties, and they must make it clear that the youth will not take part in any mobilisation and will boycott the election if they are not heard. Unless voters and the youth exert pressure on all political parties, the much-needed change cannot come about. Right now we are a country but we have yet to become a nation.
Census is critical
The census should be carried out every ten years and we are already behind schedule by eight years. The government has not fulfilled its responsibility. A census is the basic right of every citizen, and it will decide our political, social and economic future.
We are going to the courts to ask who has benefited from the eight-year delay in the census. We want to know if there has been any manipulation or manoeuvering. All political parties will have to lend their support to foil this pre-census rigging.
In Sindh, there was a notification in 2012 (for the census) and census house count was done, but the headcount was stopped. Through a house count, you can safely project the population and, keeping in view the record of the censuses since 1951, you can assess the approximate population of the country.
There is a need to empower the local government. If the people aren’t empowered, they will not only be out of the process of political and social development, but will also be pushed towards religious and sectarian extremism
For once, it was going to indicate that the population of urban Sindh would overtake that of rural Sindh. The feudal lords of rural Sindh tend to practice unopposed politics. It’s next to impossible for an ordinary farmer, or a student there, to become a part of the political system.
There’s no middle-class politics across Sindh. If the house count had been done properly for the very first time, the next chief minister would have been from Karachi, maybe also been from the MQM.
So for the first time ever, the people of Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur would get an opportunity to elect their own chief minister. This headcount was postponed only in a bid to deprive the people of Karachi of this right and to please the feudal lords.
Have any housing schemes been set up in Jamshoro, Larkana, or Khairpur? If the census is conducted effectively, then we would have 40 seats from Karachi in the National Assembly instead of 20, and in the Sindh Assembly there would be 84 instead of 42 seats from urban Sindh.
National security and foreign policy
The capability of our armed forces is a fact recognised by the whole world – it goes without saying. And we are capable enough of facing any external aggression. The actual problem is from the internal threat and our civil-military relationship should improve so that we are focused on fighting our enemy.
Unless the National Action Plan (NAP) is properly implemented, unless we come up with a neighbourhood watch system along with community policing, the dual scourges of terrorism and extremism cannot be countered effectively. And these systems are prevalent and doing well all over the world, including developing countries. If we faithfully act on these fundamental things, we can strengthen internal security.
There is a need to empower the local government. If the people aren’t empowered, they will not only be unemployed and out of the process of political and social development, but will also be pushed towards religious and sectarian extremism.
Regarding foreign policy, even when we had a foreign minister, we never took pride in our foreign policy. We generally ask questions about America being our well-wisher. I think the question itself is futile. One wonders if the America of Donald Trump can be Pakistan’s friend or well-wisher.
We must first ask ourselves if we are our own well-wisher. Can we make our own independent foreign policy?
Can we formulate an independent economic policy? If we have an independent economic policy and we don’t rely on anyone except ourselves, then our foreign policy will also be set free. A country that is not financially independent or sovereign can never be independent in making its foreign policy.
CPEC is a game changer, and this is one good thing that’s happening. We have to make CPEC a national project, but we must also address some regional reservations. For example, Japan offered to launch a circular railway in Karachi but was turned down by the feudal lords in the Sindh government.
Not only was no such project initiated in Karachi, but nothing happened in Larkana or Dadu either. One wonders where a staggering 90 billion rupees were spent.
We need to spread a network of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) all over, to allow our products to be exported to China as well
Secondly, as much as 35,000 MW of electricity will be produced, at a cost of 35 billion dollars, which is a lot of money. We would barely need 35,000 megawatts to meet our electricity needs for the next 20 years, therefore I urge a reduction in this amount which should instead be spent on the western-eastern corridor.
We need to spread a network of small-medium enterprises (SMEs) all over, to allow our products to be exported to China as well. And on the same belt, set up universities and vocational training institutes in Quetta, Pishin and you will see that Pakistan’s public will be directly connected with the CPEC project.
Through the 18th Amendment, provinces secured significant autonomy, albeit too little too late. Some good taxes were also introduced such as sales tax on services.
But all the provinces, despite being given full financial powers, taxes, even education and health, made one big blunder. Out of sheer greed for power, they took back all the powers that Musharraf had granted to the local governments. Therefore, the airplane of the 18th Amendment could not find the strip to land – and that strip was a functional, effective, empowered local government. You are not getting the desired results of the 18th Amendment because your provinces have become unwieldy, unmanageable.
The federal government should regulate education and health. Provinces should not have control over the higher education commission; it should be with the federal government instead, so that there is one policy for the entire country.
We will have to impose an emergency for education, the municipal infrastructure, health and human resource development, applying our resources on these four key departments.
As for education, quality teachers will have to be produced, and enrolment will have to be ensured at the primary level. While engaging parents, a triangle comprising teachers, parents and students will have to be formed. And then the local schools will have to hire locals as their staff, while monitoring committees will have to be formed.
We are, in the next few months, going towards neighbourhood adoption, civil society adoption, or non-government involvement on a very large scale. This will help ensure teachers’ attendance and the principal’s performance, as well as children’s counseling and regular assessment.
Unfortunately, we don’t seem to find it important to counsel or engage pupils. We are also, as responsible citizens, duty-bound to devote a few hours with a school’s staff and children so as to see firsthand the level of education there. In fact, this should be our foremost national priority.
Health and environment
Prevention is better than cure. More than half of the health budget of the Sindh government should go towards repairing sewerage overflows, where gutters are uncovered, serving as the breeding grounds of mosquitoes and flies and resulting in the production of lethal waterborne diseases like hepatitis.
We should also start educating students at the college level about life-threatening diseases such as breast cancer, hepatitis, or AIDS. So we must launch an awareness campaign. We will have to change our priorities; health and environment are interlinked and are not two separate things.
The whole community, including the media, will have to ensure its involvement in this endeavour. There should be a policy board that should integrate and then monitor the three key things: education, health and environment.
I would conclude by asking the people of Pakistan to not judge us based on the perception about the MQM, but by the work we have done whenever we got an opportunity. We are not accused of massive corruption and we have a track record in this regard.
Which means we have a competent team and a talented pool of people, and we greatly rely on our youth and our students. In virtually every field of endeavour – infrastructure, economy, social development, health and education – we engage the youth and students both at the party level and the municipal level.
I would like to ask you to appreciate our attributes and help us eliminate our shortcomings. Don’t push us to the wall by simply criticising us. This is my message and I hope you will try and understand it.