LONDON: Faced by a combination of legal, political and security challenges, the MQM leadership in London insists that it is “business as usual” as it waits to see what the crucial weeks ahead will bring. Altaf Hussain has been making regular speeches to dispel rumours about his health but otherwise the party is keeping a low profile.
A source close to the MQM in London insists the party will overcome the challenge laid down by Mustafa Kamal. “It all depends on the peoples’ support – and I don’t think they are getting that kind of response they hoped for,” he said.
But while the MQM assesses its political situation, it is also waiting for the UK authorities to take a final decision on whether or not to charge Altaf Hussain and other senior members of the party with money laundering. The UK police have told the MQM that a final decision will be taken by the end of April – although Met police officials have said that deadline might slip.
Much will depend on attempts by the UK and Pakistani authorities to reach agreement on how to proceed. Many in the Pakistani establishment are hoping that money laundering charges could lead to allegations about RAW funding of the MQM being heard in a British court. The MQM and the Indian authorities have both denied the claims of RAW funding.
For the British, meanwhile, the top priority is to secure a conviction for the 2010 murder of Imran Farooq. The MQM says the murder case has nothing to do with the party which is still cooperating with the police investigation.
It now seems likely that either both cases will proceed or both will be dropped. But even if both cases are dropped the British authorities are likely to use anti-money laundering laws to keep the more than half a million pounds that has been seized from various MQM properties. The murder case is now the subject of a UK extradition request for suspect Mohsin Ali Syed. But the current status of that request is not clear. UK Home Office officials are refusing to confirm or deny whether the extradition request has actually been delivered to the Pakistan authorities.
A Home Office spokesperson told Dawn that: “As a matter of longstanding policy and practice, the UK will neither confirm nor deny that an extradition request has been made or received until such time as an arrest has been made in relation to that request.”
The statement overlooks the fact that Mohsin Ali Syed has been arrested. It also fails to take into account that the Home Office has previously confirmed extradition requests in strikingly similar circumstances. In 2006, for example, the UK confirmed it had requested the extradition of Birmingham-born jihadi Rashid Rauf who at the time was in Pakistani custody.
Asked to explain the contradictions, Home Office official said they had nothing to add. The lack of clarity on the issue adds to suspicions that some elements of the British state are trying to protect the MQM because they see it as a diplomatic asset that gives the UK influence in Pakistan. The key issue in the money-laundering case is whether the UK authorities decide to use terrorism legislation as opposed to the Proceeds of Crimes Act. The Proceeds of Crimes Act requires the UK authorities to prove the criminal provenance of the MQM’s funds. Since the UK authorities have no investigative powers in Karachi, it is difficult for them to establish whether there has been criminal activity there without the cooperation of the Pakistan authorities.
The MQM says its funds are legitimate and came in the form of donations from businessmen in the city.
Although the US describes the MQM as a Tier 3 terrorist organisation, neither the UK nor Pakistan has made a similar designation. Use of terror legislation in the UK would therefore require evidence that the party has been involved in violence or the use or threat of force for a political cause. Without documentation from Pakistan showing such violent conduct, delivered through official channels in a form that can be used in a UK court, even the weapons list found in Altaf Hussein’s home is not enough to trigger the use of terror legislation.
The UK authorities are also investigating whether recent speeches by Altaf Hussain amount to hate speech. A previous hate speech enquiry was dropped in 2014 because of fears that the translation of the original Urdu speeches could be contested in the courts. The police are now assessing whether more recent speeches – not least one in which the MQM leader talked about playing football with policemen’s skulls – contain less ambiguous phrases which clearly cross the legal limits.
As well as facing Mustafa Kamal’s breakaway and the UK legal issues, the party is up against internal tensions concerning the establishment in January this year of a nine-member Supreme Council led by Nadeem Nusrat. At that time, with a bail hearing in the UK’s money-laundering investigation approaching, the MQM’s lawyers had advised the party there was a real possibility that UK authorities would not only charge Altaf Hussain and other key MQM officials – but also possibly hold them in custody.
There are now signs that Altaf Hussain regrets having taken the unprecedented step of putting an alternative leadership in place. Sources close to the party in London say that the Pakistani establishment took the creation of the council as a sign that Altaf Hussain was in a weaker position than they thought – a perception that prompted them to advance their plans for a breakaway faction.
In addition, the selection of nine people to lead the party in the leader’s absence has given rise to heightened personal rivalries within the MQM leadership circles. As the MQM watches and waits, London-based Karachi businessman Sarfraz Merchant has said he is willing to give evidence to Pakistan about British police documents which refer to evidence that RAW played a role in financing the party. But he says Pakistan too needs to bring the evidence it has into the public domain.
“I am willing to do everything for the investigation if it helps the security of Pakistan,” he said, “but the investigating authorities in Pakistan need to be more serious about using their own evidence of RAW funding and about cooperating with the British.”
In a letter to the FIA in Karachi, Sarfraz Merchant suggested that the organisation should have contacted the UK authorities a year ago to ask for mutual assistance. Meanwhile, Lord Ahmed of Rotherham has written to the UK Director of Public Prosecution asking why, when so much money has been spent on a British police investigation, insufficient evidence has been gathered to send a file for charging decision to the Crown Prosecution Service.
A similar letter he sent to the Home Secretary Theresa May on February 9 has not yet been replied to.
Published in Dawn, March 16th, 2016