Thursday, June 25, 2015

Daily Times Editorial June 26, 2012

Serious charges A shocking BBC report has claimed that the MQM is receiving funding from India and its cadres are being trained there for the last 10 years. The report quotes an ‘authoritative’ Pakistani source that officials of the MQM have made these revelations to the UK authorities. This sensational story has seen the light of day against the background of continuing investigations in the UK against the MQM regarding the murder in London of former senior MQM leader Dr Imran Farooq. That investigation since 2010 led to suspicions of money laundering and weapons purchase/smuggling by the MQM. The former charge emanates from the discovery of Pounds 500,000 from the MQM’s offices and Altaf Hussain’s residence, the latter because a list of weapons along with their prices was discovered in an MQM property. The MQM has dismissed the story as one that has been aired in the past and repeated many times over the years. Naturally, it vehemently denies its contents and sensational charges. The Indian authorities too have rejected the charges as “baseless”. The BBC account claims before 2005-6, a smaller number of middle ranking members of the MQM received training in weapons handling, etc, in India, whereas after that a larger number of relatively junior members were trained in camps in north and northeast India. It may be recalled that in April 2015, a police official, Rao Anwar, had claimed two MQM men in custody had confessed to travelling to India via Thailand for training. Mr Anwar now feels vindicated by the BBC story. The BBC is a reputable media organisation and the reporter who broke the story, Owen Bennet-Jones, is no stranger to Pakistan, having been a BBC reporter here for years and retaining an interest in this area despite leaving the BBC and now working as a freelance reporter, including for his former mother organisation. However, there are some aspects of the whole affair that leave unanswered questions and raise concerns regarding the veracity of the account. In the first place, Owen Bennet-Jones’ story suffers from the major flaw that it relies almost exclusively on one ‘authoritative’ Pakistani (official?) source (unnamed of course) and Pakistani media reports that, as he puts it, “the BBC believes to be accurate”. Now in recent days we have seen a major investigative journalist of the calibre of Seymour Hersh ‘break’ a story about the raid and killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan relying on one unnamed American source, and suffering a mauling in the wake of the story being published in the London Review of Books. A reporter of the standing of Owen Bennet-Jones, whose experience in Pakistan is considerable, should have known that a story based on an ‘authoritative’ Pakistani source alone (or even Pakistani media reports) would come under questioning, if not fire. Even if we ignore the MQM’s accusation of the bias (if not obsession) of Owen Bennet-Jones against it, one cannot but wonder how he could have gone along with such a version from such a source without applying a critical mind to it. Also, how could the BBC risk its own credibility and reputation by taking such a questionable story from (according to the description ‘authoritative’) such a dubious source? Even if bias is not at work here, the suspicion lingers of professional sloppiness. Why, readers may ask, such reservations regarding the BBC and its freelance reporter? This question can only be answered if politically astute and informed observers keep in mind the climate that is seen to be emerging on the political firmament of late. There appears to be an almost knee-jerk tendency visible to ascribe everything that is wrong with Pakistan to the Indian intelligence agency RAW. In this illustrious list are included terrorism (the TTP), the Baloch nationalist insurgency, and any and every dissident voice that dares to challenge the officially certified truth. It all seems too easy and pat: give a dog a bad name and hang him, in the process escaping critical scrutiny of the methods used or any human and legal rights violations along the way. It is not possible to say at this point whether Bennet-Jones’ source is credible or not. But as a knowledgeable and experienced reporter on Pakistan, he could at the very least have taken note of this ‘RAW is responsible for everything’ mounting chorus and been more critical (and circumspect) not to be subjected to spin. Having said all this, no one should be misled into thinking that it implies the MQM are angels. Indeed, they have a lot to answer for. Whether these charges legitimately belong in that long list only the MQM can answer. In its own interest of course, the MQM should accept the advice being proffered to it from many quarters to prove its protestations of innocence by legal recourse against the BBC and Bennet-Jones.

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