LONDON: Shortly before 17:30 on Sept 16, 2010, Dr Imran Farooq was on his way home from work when he was murdered outside his home in Green Lane, Edgware, in north London. As the police subsequently reported, a post-mortem gave his cause of death as multiple stab wounds and blunt trauma to the head.
For Dr Farooq it was a violent, brutal end. For the MQM, it was the start of a process that six years later would leave the party divided, weakened and under assault from the Pakistani state. We can never know what would have happened had Imran Farooq not been murdered but MQM insiders admit that it was an incident that changed everything.
The British police investigation has been remarkably thorough. Detectives from the Counter Terrorism Command have spoken to 4,555 people, reviewed 7,697 documents, followed up 2,423 lines of inquiry and seized 4,325 exhibits.
At each stage the police faced obstacles. Early on, for example, details of visa applications had to be prised out of a reluctant British consulate in Karachi. Despite such difficulties the police eventually identified two suspects. One, Muhammad Kashif Khan Kamran subsequently died in Pakistani custody: the other, Mohsin Ali Syed is alive and the subject of a British extradition request.
After the murder inquiry came other investigations. The police found not only piles of cash in the MQM’s buildings but also a receipt for weapons and explosives in Altaf Hussain’s home. The tax authorities started taking an interest and the MQM leader’s suggestion that his supporters play football with the heads of Karachi police officers led to a hate speech investigation.
And yet there were no charges. The MQM insists this is because it is innocent. Others have different theories. Increasing numbers of British members of parliament are asking why the cases are deadlocked. Even some of those under investigation have fully expected to be charged. Their own lawyers told them charges were inevitable.
UK protecting MQM?
It is difficult to escape the conclusion that had the MQM been a jihadi outfit there would have been charges long ago. Which raises the question: why is the British state protecting the MQM?
The answer is complicated because the reasons have changed over time. When Altaf Hussain first arrived in London the British saw him as an asset. There were regular contacts — several each week — between the MQM leadership, the Foreign Office and MI6. With a consistent haul of between 20 and 25 Members of the National Assembly, the MQM often held the balance of power in Pakistan and from time to time had federal ministers. When Britain needed things done in Pakistan it was in the happy position of having a powerful Pakistani politician beholden to British hospitality.
At various times an array of Pakistani politicians — driven, let us not forget, by self-interest rather than principle — demanded London make legal moves against the party. People who had been directly threatened in Altaf Hussain’s speeches paid visits to the British High Commissioner in Islamabad demanding action. All were brushed aside with the standard response: “He is a British citizen: it is none of your business”.
After Imran Farooq’s murder the mood of the British Foreign Office gradually began to change. Diplomats who in the past had said: “we have no evidence against the MQM” started to say: “of course, they are rather unsavoury but it’s a matter for the police”.
The British ship of state, it seemed, was adjusting itself to the possibility that there would indeed be charges.
But then a new factor come into play: it became known that two senior MQM officials had given statements to the British police that some of their funding came from India. Paradoxically, the revelation helped the MQM because it raised the possibility that evidence of India’s funding of terrorists could be heard in a British court. Indian officials made it clear that this would be unacceptable. Given the high priority Britain has given to improving its trade relationship with India, Delhi’s concerns were taken seriously.
Having initially been motivated by a desire to protect its own interests, London found itself trying to protect India’s. Which is why just a month ago there was every chance that all the cases would have been dropped.
The Aug 22 speech
And then Altaf Hussain made his August speech. The British police had become so accustomed to their investigations into the MQM leading nowhere that their initial response was to shrug their shoulders and say it was a matter for Karachi law enforcement authorities. But the speech and the divisions it created within the MQM had created a new political situation and the next day – when Scotland Yard rather belatedly realised this – the British police set up a new incitement investigation.
The incitement could satisfy everyone. The British could help overcome their PR problem in Pakistan by at last being able to say: “we have moved against the party, just as many Pakistanis demanded”. While Islamabad’s would prefer money laundering charges so that the Indian funding evidence is heard in a British court, it would welcome charges of any kind. For its part, India has no reason to stand in the way of a British trial as long as it steers clear of the funding issues.
So six years after Imran Farooq was murdered, the MQM has been bashed and battered but it has still not been knocked out. The pressure that Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan is applying on London is having an impact, especially in the Foreign Office, but there is still some way to go before London decisively changes it attitude. These cases have a tendency to drag on longer than anyone expects but it should be the case that by the seventh anniversary of Imran Farooq’s death we will finally know the legal fate of the MQM’s London leadership. And the history of the whole story suggests that the outcome will depend not so much on the law but on politics.
Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2016