Baldia fire confession

Published December 24, 2016

COLD-blooded mass murder — even by the standards of violence to which Karachi has been subjected over the last few decades, it is a chilling confession, provided, of course, it was not made under duress. What makes it even more horrific is that the man who has admitted to the crime belongs to a major political party that has been a coalition partner on both national and provincial levels. Abdul Rehman, alias Bhola, a former MQM sector in-charge, confessed on Thursday before a judicial magistrate to his involvement in the Baldia factory fire case, claiming he acted on instructions from his political masters. According to the suspect, he, along with an accomplice, set the multistorey garment factory ablaze on Sept 11, 2012, at the behest of the then MQM Tanzeemi Committee chief Hammad Siddiqui because the factory owners had refused to pay the protection money demanded. Over 250 factory workers were burned alive in the inferno, the deadliest industrial disaster in Pakistan’s history.

Abdul Rehman’s confession blows the lid off the workings of the MQM, down to the very sector and unit level upon which the party was organised in its areas of influence. The MQM used fear and intimidation to enforce its vice-like grip over Pakistan’s largest city; that much was well known. But the latest revelation illustrates the ruthlessness with which it pursued its objectives, and the impunity that it believed it enjoyed to achieve them. If party leaders could go so far as to order arson at a place where it was obvious that hundreds would die an agonising death trapped behind locked doors, one may well ask: what else were they capable of? The venality of the MQM’s militant element is no longer in any doubt. They must be brought to book, and every allegation against them and their partners in crime investigated.

However, the truth is that the political machinations of the establishment — not to mention the competing agendas of the different groups that comprise it — and its penchant for playing off one ‘asset’ against another, have much to do with the MQM’s rise, its dominance and subsequent factionalisation. Now that the ghastly details of the party’s criminal acts are coming to light, impartiality and due process are all the more critical: without them, even compelling evidence can be presented by the perpetrators as political victimisation. Finally, this is also an hour of reckoning for those who have been affiliated with the MQM for decades and who still aspire to represent the people of this country. Certainly, they have distanced themselves from party supremo Altaf Hussain — whether tacitly or otherwise, but undeniably for opportunistic reasons — since the crackdown against the MQM began. However, that does not absolve them of responsibility for the crimes committed by the MQM. Instead of more lies and prevarication, the people of Karachi, in particular, deserve an apology.

Published in Dawn December 24th, 2016

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