Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Daily Times Editorial April 16, 2015

Tightening noose There is an unmistakable odour in the air that the MQM has fallen on hard times of late. Since the party of a particular ethnic/linguistic hue first appeared on the political horizon circa 1984, it has seen more than its share of twists, turns and swings in its political fortunes. Perceived as the brainchild of General Ziaul Haq as a counterweight to Sindhi nationalism that asserted itself under Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and played a major role in the Movement for the Restoration of Democracy (MRD) in 1983, the MQM soon established itself as the dominant force in Sindh’s cities, particularly Karachi. Unfortunately, the underlying philosophy of the MQM had more than a whiff of ethnic/linguistic exclusivism and chauvinism as its most visible overlay. But there was also a hidden underlay. That was the penchant of the party, and particularly its leader, Altaf Hussain, not to shrink from the use of strong-arm methods against not only its real or perceived enemies but even dissidents within its ranks. Hence we were regaled in the 1990s after crackdowns and operations against the MQM of its torture cells where the most horrible treatment was meted out to any and all who had dared to cross the MQM and its leader. It should not come as a surprise therefore that one of the MQM’s erstwhile top leaders, Imran Farooq, was assassinated in London years after he had broken with Altaf Hussain. Now, after all these years, it appears that these particular chickens are coming home to roost. The convoluted story of the two suspected assassins remains unclear and obscure. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar’s ‘clarification’ in a press conference on Wednesday that his meeting with the British High Commissioner the day previous was pre-scheduled and had nothing to do with Altaf Hussain’s appearance before the London police, which was pure coincidence, did not ‘clarify’ the confusion much. These two suspects have variously been described as in custody or, alternatively, with some security agency from whose grasp they have yet to be extracted or produced. The assassins were helped and facilitated to make their journey to London for the dastardly deed by another collaborator who too has now been arrested and handed over on a 90-day remand to the Rangers in Karachi. Altaf Hussain’s marathon five-hour interrogation by the London police produced only the barest tit bits of information as to the outcome, which included his police bail being extended till July 15, his passport being confiscated until further notice, and restrictions being placed on his travels outside London. While Altaf Hussain and another MQM leader in London who is reportedly under arrest are being investigated on money laundering charges, the intriguing matter of where the trail of the Imran Farooq murder will eventually lead remains a ticklish thought. For too long, the MQM managed to get away with, literally, murder, largely because it had ‘friends in high places’. However, the first turn in its fortunes began in 1992 when an operation was launched against it. Altaf Hussain, perhaps after a tip-off, fled into self-imposed exile in London six months before the operation began. Over the years he has run the MQM from that perch while having acquired British citizenship and all the legal rights and protections that implies. However, there appears to be a minuet being played out between the Pakistani and British intelligence and law enforcement communities regarding cooperation on the MQM’s matters amongst others, in the absence, it must be noted, of an extradition treaty between the two countries. That renders any idea of extraditing the two (now three) suspects in the Imran Farooq murder investigation to Britain an affair beyond the ordinary business of law enforcement. Chaudhry Nisar hinted as much in the press conference referred to above by asserting that in the absence of any extradition treaty between the two countries, any request/s for extradition would have to be on a reciprocal basis, i.e. if Britain asked for the extradition of any person from here, it would have to extradite to Pakistan any person Islamabad may want. Who that might be was left unsaid by the minister, which has only served to fuel the fire of speculation as to the meaning and import of his words. If any proof were needed of the downward trajectory of the MQM in terms of comeuppance for many things in its past, no better evidence exists than the raid on Nine Zero (unthinkable once), which yielded persons wanted by the law as well as unlicenced weapons. Although the MQM tried to reinvent itself as a mainstream democratic party after the setbacks of the 1990s, the lingering suspicion about its armed wing and extortion activities never quite went away. Now, it seems, it is payback time, and the MQM and its exiled leader are well and truly in the dock.

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