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Accept Line of Control temporarily: Altaf Hussain

By Amit Baruah

NEW DELHI, NOV. 6. He rejects division, but upholds the realities of the Partition. The Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader, Altaf Hussain, hogged the limelight at an international conference here, calling for the temporary acceptance of the Line of Control (LoC) as a border to continue talks between India and Pakistan.

For the last 12 years, the London-based Mr. Hussain has been addressing public gatherings in Pakistan by telephone. Today, he finally got the opportunity to address his audience live — but it happened to be in the "land of his ancestors", India, and not in the country of his birth, Pakistan.

It was more a performance than a speech. He waved his arms about, invited the foreigners present at the conference organised by Hindustan Times to come up to the stage and ask them to distinguish a Hindu from a Muslim.

He spoke about how far Pakistanis of Indian origin had to travel to Lahore to cross the border into India — why could not the border at Khokrapar be thrown open for Pakistanis and Indians to use?

`Not war'

Mr. Hussain brought the house down by his pronunciation of the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh's name. It was not Natwar, but "Not War", Mr. Hussain said. And, till "Not War" was in office, there could not be any war between India and Pakistan.

At one stage, he tried to prove that the MQM, formerly known as the Mohajir (as "refugees from India are known'') Qaumi Movement, was the only political party in Pakistan that did not discriminate against any religion. For good effect, he called out the name of "Mr. Devdas," a Hindu member of the Pakistani National Assembly, as proof of his assertion. Mr. Devdas was made to walk all around the conference room in order to identify himself.

Pointing out that both India and Pakistan had performed brilliantly on the front of population growth, Mr. Hussain rejected "Partition" since the people of India and Pakistan had the same genetic make-up.

"The division of the sub-continent was the greatest blunder," he thundered to cheers from the audience. "It was the division of blood, culture, brotherhood, relationships," he said, switching from English to Urdu.

A few minutes later, in true demagogue style, he said the Partition, however, had taken place and it was better for India and Pakistan to accept the realities. "We should accept and respect each other. It is better for both countries and the people. The people should live in love, peace and harmony."

At another time, he asked the Government of India to provide shelter to the Mohajirs of Pakistan if they faced problems there, but later said this was not possible. From time to time, he reminded the audience that we were all the same people. "Aap sab hamein apne lage."

He railed against the American and British occupation of Iraq, but thanked the British Government for letting him live in London. (Mr. Hussain now has a British passport). Why were the people of Iraq being punished for the sins of Saddam Hussein?

Attacking the "mullahs and the jehadis", he called upon the United States to stop supporting regimes headed by kings and military dictators. "We should respect Ram and Allah and get rid of Ravana and Shaitan," the MQM chief said.

"Cannot return"

Later, addressing the press, Mr. Hussain claimed he could not return to Pakistan, as there had been two attempts on the life of President Pervez Musharraf and one on Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz. "Do you want me to return to Pakistan only to be assassinated?" he said, claiming that the Al-Qaeda and religious fanatics were roaming in Pakistan. Appreciating Gen. Musharraf for his courageous stand that plebiscite in Kashmir was not the only option, Mr. Hussain said that the General was a liberal when compared to religious extremists.

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