Killing One person is like killing the humanity – Al-Qur’an
By Brig Asif Haroon Raja
On 16 September, one of the senior most MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq living in exile in London since 1992 was stabbed to death. He was returning from a nearby pharmacy where he worked at 0530 pm and was stabbed to death by an unknown attacker near his house. His flat was situated on second floor of the building on street Green Lane, Edgware. He was hit on his head from behind with a brick on which he started screaming. His screams were heard by a lady standing in the balcony of her flat on third floor of the same building. She saw an over 6 feet tall man scuffling with short-height Imran and then taking out a knife and stabbing him in the back of his neck several times. The witness rang up the police who on arrival found Imran’s motionless body drenched in blood lying in front of his house. His body has still not been sent to Karachi.
Edgware, north of London is a quiet, peaceful and posh residential area inhabited mostly by British with very few Asians. About a dozen MQM Rabita Committee members and staff including Altaf Hussain reside in rented houses in the same area. MQM international secretariat established in a rented building is situated close to late Imran’s flat. The MQM has hired the services of Scotland Yard to provide tight security to its secretariat as well as MQM leaders. Each member has a personal body guard. Expenses involved are met by the party leaders in Pakistan through shady means. According to one estimate, Rs 50 crores is dispatched annually.
50-year old Dr Imran has left behind a widow and two children aged 3 and 5, who used to shuttle between Karachi and London. He was the most trusted person of MQM leader Altaf Hussain and was his deputy. He was one of the founding members of the party which emerged on the political map of Pakistan in 1984 and was appointed Convener of Rabita Committee. Till 1992, he headed the kitchen cabinet and supervised the working of sector HQs in Karachi. Mild mannered and learned, he was twice elected as MNA.
As a result of operation cleanup launched by the Army in Sindh under orders of the then PM Nawaz Sharif in mid 1992 during Nawaz Sharif’s stint in power, Imran along with other MQM leaders went underground but kept supervising party affairs from his secret location. He later fled to London in 1999 to join other absconding MQM top leaders including Altaf and sought political asylum.
Trials of runaway MQM leaders were conducted and convicted in absentia. 60 criminal cases were registered against Imran, which included, murder, kidnapping, torture and arson. Once the MQM returned to power after 2002 elections and Gen Musharraf extended his full patronage to the party, several MQM leaders in exile including current Governor Sindh Ishratul Ebad returned to Pakistan and got elected after they were absolved of criminal cases through infamous NRO. Imran however decided to stay behind out of fear of enmity of his victims within Afaq led MQM Haqiqi, a rival faction that had emerged in 1992. There are unconfirmed reports that Altaf didn’t permit Imran to return since he was privy to many secrets. Since his self imposed exile, Altaf has been controlling party affairs through telephonic addresses. Of late, efforts are being made to convert MQM into a national party.
For unknown reasons, differences erupted between Imran and Altaf in 2008. His party membership was cancelled but later on restored after his apology was accepted by Altaf. The portfolio of Convener was taken away from him and he was made dysfunctional. Imran’s father and his wife who had been awarded ticket in 2002 elections and both had been elected were not given tickets for 2008 elections. Imran-Altaf differences sharpened from 2009 onwards. Although his family met him in London quite frequently but the arrangement was not to his liking. Being out of power and out of good books of party supremo and living away from his family most of the time he was a depressed man.
Considering the safe environs in which he and his colleagues were residing, assassination of Imran came as a surprise. The MQM announced ten-day mourning and its leaders are viewing Imran’s murder as a huge loss and a setback. A variety of conjectures are being made ranging from mugging cum murder, hand of security guard, role of hired assassin, political rivalry, personal enmity and in-house conspiracy.
Taking into account that he was playing no active role in party affairs and had been sidelined and had in a way become more of a liability and possibly a security hazard, his departure has caused no loss to the party. However, the incident has certainly jolted party workers since he was quite popular among them because of his amiable nature.
The incident has certainly evoked security concerns among MQM leaders living in London and has posed caution on
them. They were reluctant to return to Pakistan out of fear of insecurity but now London has also become an insecure place. It will energize Altaf’s opponents to put added pressure on Altaf to return to Karachi who these days is forcefully advocating bloody revolution and is also inviting Army Generals to step in and rid the country of the corrupt feudal landlords and industrialists responsible for all the ills in the society. Idea of bloody revolution is being repeatedly aired by MQM leaders. Analysts feel that it is another foreign inspired gambit to harm Pakistan.
Another twist in the story is Gen retired Musharraf’s decision to join politics. Reportedly, during his meeting with Altaf Hussain at London in March 2009, Altaf asked him to join MQM to strengthen his political base. Musharraf consented but on the condition of being made chairman of the party. Altaf could not risk making him all powerful since he feared that Musharraf being a smart operator might take advantage of his absence and sideline him completely. He therefore regretted saying that he was prepared to give him any portfolio other than chairman.
Once the fortunes of ruling coalition plunged into murky waters after annulment of NRO ordinance by Supreme Court on 16 December 2009, relations of coalition partners particularly MQM-ANP became tense due to unabated target killings in Karachi. MQM’s policy of violence promoted by hawkish elements within the party came under increasing censure. Moderate elements within the party feeling the heat started having second thoughts.
Deteriorating security conditions together with growing political instability and weakening economy of the country was ascribed to corrupt and inept practices of the elected leaders. Zardari was seen as the villain of the peace, responsible for most ailments. Sharp decline in popularity and credibility of the ruling regime due to sky rocketing prices of daily commodities, load shedding and growing incidents of street crimes disenchanted the people who had pinned high hopes in democracy. Encouraged by fast declining popularity of the PPP and ever growing frustration of the people, Gen Musharraf living in exile in London since his ouster from power in August 2008, and egged on by his fans, decided to join politics after he completed the mandatory two-year period after retirement and try his luck to recapture power. His fans assured him that the people having seen the real face of politicians; he would be welcomed back as a Messiah to put the country back on the rails.
In consultation with his loyalists within PML-Q, Patriots, MQM and other smaller parties, Musharraf decided to form a political party and named it as ‘All Pakistan Muslim League’ (APML). The new party has been formally launched on 01 October in London. About his homecoming, he said he would return to Pakistan when conditions were ripe. Musharraf has thrown feelers that the Army would be soft towards him and will not oppose or hinder his entry into political arena. To win its favors, he has sought constitutional role for the Army. Liberal group which exercises considerable influence in urban centres is looking forward for his return to power so that his enlightened moderation drive could be accelerated to turn Pakistan into a secular state.
Name of his party gives a clear indication that he will try to entice as many from various factions of PML. This move panicked Chaudhri brothers from Gujarat and they hastened to merge with Pir Pagara led PML-F and invited other Muslim League factions including PML-N to join hands. Pagara has been accepted as the head and he in turn has chosen to name the amalgamation of other factions as ‘All Parties Muslim League’. Other than PML-N, others have responded positively. Even Tehrik-e-Insaf leader Imran Khan has indicated his willingness to join aged Pagara. These groupings will impact PML-N the most. Nawaz’s animus against Musharraf and Chaudhri brothers remain as strong as ever.
Sensing that the grip of sitting government was loosening and PML-N’s political base was confined to Punjab only, the US and UK agreed to support Musharraf provided he mustered sufficient political support in all the provinces. Musharraf has all along been kept as a reserve horse to fill the vacuum whenever it occurred. Having little faith in Chaudhri brothers, Musharraf decided to make Karachi as his main base with the help of educated and enterprising members of MQM unsupportive of violence. Reportedly pro-Musharraf faction led by Dr Imran had emerged in mid 2009 and had caused a split in the party. Certain key leaders had approached Musharraf and expressed their willingness to ditch Altaf and to accept him as their leader. Nursing grievances against Altaf for sidelining him since he had objected to policies of Altaf, Dr Imran decided to join a new party under Musharraf and reportedly was all set to attend launching ceremony of APML on 01 October.
Leaders of all political parties particularly PML-N, Jamaat-e-Islami and Balochistan nationalists have reacted angrily to Musharraf’s decision to return and take part in politics. Extremist groups have also to settle scores with him. Zardari stated that ousted dictator had no room for his political ventures in Pakistan, as he would remain in exile till death. It seems history is repeating itself since it is not very long when Musharraf used to often rant against Benazir and Nawaz vowing not to let the return. With so many sworn enemies gunning for him, his return is possible only if the sitting government or the Army agrees to welcome him. This doesn’t seem likely for the time being.
Guardian newspaper has thrown some light on understanding between Musharraf and late Imran and on possibility of in-house hand in murder of Imran. Musharraf has however denied having ever met Imran. Other British papers have also nominated Altaf as prime suspect behind his murder. In the wake of reporting in foreign print media, Altaf has expressed his deep fears that some powerful countries have hatched a conspiracy to eliminate him and that murder of Imran was part of the plot. MQM Rabita Committee in London has appealed to the British government to further beef up security of their chief, and so has MQM’s North American leaders, who have written a letter to David Cameron. An impression is being created that forces that have been a threat to Altaf in Pakistan have now become a threat to him in foreign lands as well.
Scotland Yard’s anti-terrorism unit is investigating the murder but so far no headway has been made to trace the culprit(s). Witnesses have stated that the assassin gave the appearance of an Asian. It is becoming a cause of embarrassment for the agency which prides itself in its investigative skills. Scope of the investigation has been widened to examine various possibilities. Altaf and other members of Rabita Committee in London are being quizzed and asked as to why he fell from the grace of Altaf after he served him so loyally for a long time. There are reports that sniffer-dogs of Scotland Yard have been sniffing the vicinity of MQM residential areas. A small breakthrough has been made by investigators after recovering murder weapons from Green Lane. Recovered items include kitchen knife with 14 cm blade with which deceased was stabbed and the brick with which his head was injured.
Reportedly, Altaf is seriously considering shifting his party’s international secretariat to Dubai or Johannesburg since he and his colleagues feel London has become an unsafe place for them. South Africa is also being considered where MQM workers have established a strong base and where India also has a heavy presence. A month back a rumor was in circulation that the MQM had ordered its elite terrorist wing to move from South Africa to Pakistan to make Karachi Beirut of Pakistan; each member was equipped with multiple passports and identity cards; master mind was Qamar Ghalib Teddy, Sohail Commando, Rizwan Haiderand Nadeem Mullah. This rumor was in circulation when target killing in Karachi had peaked and maximum fatalities were of Pashtun settlers from working class in Karachi.
Of late Altaf has started hurling anti-US and anti-west statements. Besides criticizing US invasion of Iraq, he strongly censured sentencing of Dr Aafia Siddiqui to 86-year jail term and asked Pakistan government to sever diplomatic ties with Washington. His followers took out huge processions in cities of Sindh to protest award of sentence to Dr Aafia by US court. This is a complete somersault of the party to its earlier pro-American stance and yet another effort to win the sympathies of Pakistanis and to improve its vote bank in other provinces. The MQM has a fair chance to give a tough time to the two mainstream parties at national level if its leader returns to Pakistan and desists from mixing violence with politics. However, Dr Imran’s murder seems to have sealed the chances of his possible return.
The writer dilates on defence, political and security matters.