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Watch this space

Published Jul 15, 2013 07:48am


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There was quite a buzz among my Pakistani friends in the UK before the BBC documentary on Altaf Hussain recently. Newsnight, the nightly news programme on which it aired, is the BBC’s premier current affairs slot, and focuses on in-depth coverage and analysis.

Usually anchored by Jeremy Paxman — known as the Rottweiler of British TV journalism — the interviews are often confrontational and bruising. So when I learned that Newsnight was doing a report prepared by Owen Bennet-Jones, a well-known BBC reporter and author of a widely respected book about Pakistan, I made sure I wasn’t doing anything else when the programme aired.

By now, most people interested in the MQM phenomenon are aware of the ground the report covered so I won’t repeat its many allegations here. It clearly aroused deep concern in Pakistan where it became the subject of a number of TV chat shows. On one of them, a panellist said the Nawaz Sharif government should demand the extradition of the MQM chief to Pakistan, and try him here.

But this is scarcely an option, given the fact that Altaf Hussain is a UK citizen. When the British government sought to deport Abu Qatada, the controversial radical cleric, back to his native Jordan, it took over a decade. And this is when he entered the UK on a fake passport, and did not enjoy legal status.

In his long legal battle to stay, he went from one level of appeal to the next, and when he finally ran out of appellate courts in the UK, his lawyers moved the EU human rights court. This is the highest bench for such cases for EU members, and it decreed that Abu Qatada could not be sent back to Jordan as the country had used evidence obtained though torture to convict him.

Here the matter stood, to the intense fury of many Brits who felt this was a slight to their own judiciary, and a further example of EU interference. Theresa May, the home secretary, was deeply embarrassed by her continued failure to ship Abu Qatada out of the country.

In the event, the Jordanian agreed to leave after the UK negotiated an agreement with Jordan to the effect that it would not use evidence obtained under duress in any further legal proceedings. But it took 10 years and millions of pounds to finally put him on a plane to Amman.

So clearly, deporting Altaf Hussain is not an easy option. According to legal experts, it would take an Act of Parliament to strip Altaf Hussain of his British nationality in order for deportation proceedings to begin. And the next hurdle would be Pakistani law: he could fight to stay in the UK on the grounds that his home country has the death penalty. Also, EU laws prohibit the deportation of people to countries that routinely inflict torture on suspects.

So what are the prospects of arresting and trying the MQM chief in the UK? Currently, three different lines of inquiry are being pursued against him. Firstly, some 400,000 pounds have been recovered from his house and office. The question being asked is whether the money has been legally earned in the UK, and if tax has been paid on it. And if it came from abroad, did it bypass legal banking channels? In short, is money laundering involved?

The second charge — and one made by tens of thousands of PTI supporters in Pakistan and the UK — is that Altaf Hussain incited his supporters in Karachi to violence. The Home Office is apparently getting the relevant speeches translated and analysed. The third and potentially most serious charge is that Dr Imran Farooq’s murder in London a couple of years ago might have been sanctioned at the highest level of the MQM. One suspect was arrested and is now on bail.

For all these charges, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) is called on to decide if there is sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution. This is routinely done to ensure that state resources are not wasted on cases that are unlikely to end with a conviction. And yet, judging from recent media attention surrounding these cases, there is some pressure on the police and the CPS to move them along.

Only time will tell what the fallout of a successful prosecution would be. But judging from Dr Farooq Sattar’s interview by Jeremy Paxman on the Newsnight programme, there is considerable nervousness in the MQM. Although Dr Sattar defended his boss valiantly, the fact is that he simply could not explain what so much cash was doing in Altaf Hussain’s office and house. His cause was not helped by Paxman’s hostile grilling: each time he said his leader was not under arrest or under trial, Paxman growled “Yet!”

A remark that undercut Dr Sattar’s credibility was his bizarre charge that the BBC report had been influenced by extremist and pro-Taliban elements. The BBC has been accused of many things over the years, but never of sympathy for the Taliban.One thing for sure: if he is to be arrested and tried for anything, Altaf Hussain would certainly prefer to be in the dock in Pakistan rather than in the UK. Back home, very few would dare to come forward and give evidence against him. Also, cases drag on and governments change; given the clout of the MQM in Karachi, it is far from certain that a conviction would result, even after years of litigation.

Trials in the UK, on the other hand, are far quicker, and Scotland Yard has already gathered a lot of evidence. Also, there is no political interference once a trial begins. Witnesses are less likely to feel threatened, and hearings are seldom postponed. Time will tell how this drama plays out, but events are moving quickly, so watch this space.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Comments (12) Closed

pittmanway Jul 15, 2013 08:40am

we don't want Altaf Bhai to be tried in Karachi,but just out of curiousity if there is an extradition treaty can't he be send even if he is not a citizen of that country.

BRR Jul 15, 2013 08:48am

Why does every Pakistani want to enter the evil west even though they hate it? The answer is simple - the wheels of justice works, and works well quite often, unlike in Pakistan, the bastion of Islam, where people don't believe in paying taxes. Altaf has abused the Pakistanis from a distance for a while, and may have considered himself untouchable, forgetting he was not in Pakistan. He may have pushed his luck too much.

Bakhtawer Bilal Jul 15, 2013 08:49am

MQM is certainly appreciated for its stand against the Taliban. Talibans are harsh on the opponents. They torture and even kill those whom they do not like. Well, if an organization is accused of acting in pretty much the same fashion, except for their clothing, I do not have any sympathy for it as well no matter how well dressed they are.

fida sayani Jul 15, 2013 01:39pm

This man Altaf Hussain has done great harm to my beloved SINDH. Now I am not a religious men, however I do pray that he should get jail sentence for the crimes committed against SINDH.

Guest63 Jul 15, 2013 03:23pm

two potential witnesses are already in London ( Imran Khan who accused MQM/Altaf of May 2007 killings when CJP was barred from entering karachi and mr Khan registered a case as was reported then , in London ! , The 2nd but most explosive one is Dr Zulfiqar mirza who dashed to London ladt week to resent his documented proof to London investigators ..... both these have so far resisted political,friendly pressure to avoid colluding with investigators , Asif Ali Zardari is reported to have tried with Dr zulfiqar ! ) so indeed lets watch this space how things move on .. On MQM/Altaf's art , he already is crying foul via his usual telephonic majlis style orations , WHY WORRY MAN , You are a Brit who have proud history of fairness and impartial trials and convictions as per the law , so If you are innocent and did not do any thing wrong or illegal , Why Worry man , Be happy , the investigations and the case if opens , may add some more feathers into your honor lists ... you may in the end be Knighted by the queen as the Champion of the democracy !

G.A. Jul 15, 2013 04:50pm

People of Karachi are anxiously waiting for this 'remote control' to run out of batteries.

Arshad Ali Jul 15, 2013 05:06pm

'According to legal experts, it would take an Act of Parliament to strip Altaf Hussain of his British nationality in order for deportation proceedings to begin.'

I don't think this is correct. In the last year or two the home secretary has stripped many British citizens of their citizenship (though they have been dual nationals so they did not become stateless). The home secretary has new powers awarded to her in a piece of anti-terrorist legislation passed back in 2004.

Nasir Soomro Jul 15, 2013 05:57pm

I hardly miss any article of Irfan Hussain...he is leading the list of brilliant writers Pakistan has ever produced.He peeps into core and dig the issue to put people in the dock.

Agha Ata Jul 15, 2013 06:47pm

Everybody was a Sindhi, or a Punjabi, a Pathan or a Baluchi. Muslim mahajirs had no name. That vacancy brought Altaf in. Without MQM they are nothing, and without Altaf, MQM is nothing. MQM members are like killer bees of Africa, I wonder what they would do without their queen.

Mustafa Jul 15, 2013 09:16pm

400,000 pounds is the price of a house in Clifton, we are not talking about a Surrey palace here. As to the source of the money, there is a third option the author did not mention, the money was given by people in UK, which is the most likely scenario, certainly Karachi has it's share among Pakistani diaspora in UK, not all Pakistanis follow Lord Nazeer.

iftekhar hussain Jul 15, 2013 09:33pm

"A remark that undercut Dr Sattar

s.khan Jul 16, 2013 02:37am

You can flirt with the law and get away a few times. It catches up. There is a long trail of footprint that comes back to bite. Looks like the noose is tightening unless he can find refuge in the embassy of Ecuador and schmooze with Assange bhai.