LONDON: The British government has confirmed that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) leader Altaf Hussain wrote to the then Prime Minister Tony Blair in September 2001, calling for the abolition of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Pakistan’s premier spy agency.
According to information released under the Freedom of Information Act, the letter was dated 23 September 2001, signed by Altaf Hussain and delivered to 10 Downing Street by Nirj Deva, who is currently a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) for the Southeast of England.
The British government was assured of MQM’s support in countering terrorism in Pakistan in return for help in achieving “equitable participation in governing the province of Sindh and in disbanding the ISI”. The letter appealed that the “ISI secret agency must be disbanded otherwise the ISI will continue to produce many Osama-bin-Ladens and Talibans in future”.
The MQM letter offered to provide “many demonstrations in Karachi in favour of the international community combating terrorism within five days notice after this agreement is signed, putting hundreds of thousands of people on the streets of Karachi” and “unlimited resources throughout the towns and villages in the province of Sindh and the province of Punjab to some extent, to monitor the activities of fundamentalists and Taliban-led organisations, and also to monitor the activities of Madrasas (religious schools)”.It also promised the UK “to ensure select groups to penetrate Afghanistan in the form of aid workers so as to enhance the Western agencies intelligence information capabilities”.
In return for these services, the alleged letter asked for “equitable participation in the governance of the province of Sindh and the Federation as partners; genuine, equitable participation in all spheres of life including education, employment, army and administration; local policing consisting of Muhajirs and Sindhis”.
Britain’s Foreign Office has confirmed “the Prime Minister’s Office received a letter from Mr Altaf Hussain which was passed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for a response,” said the Cabinet Office, adding: “No information is held indicating that a response was sent to Mr Hussain”.
The FCO has confirmed further: “On 27 September 2001, the FCO received correspondence, via No.10, from Mr Nirj Deva MEP enclosing a copy of the letter from Mr Hussain. Mr Ben Bradshaw MP, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the FCO, replied to Mr Deva’s letter.”
The News has obtained a copy of this reply to Mr Nirj Deva MEP, which states, “Thank you for your letter of 23 September to the Prime Minister, enclosing correspondence from Mr Altaf Hussain, leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)”. Ben Bradshaw MP, UK’s then Foriegn Office Minister, stated that he was replying as he was the minister responsible for “our relations with Pakistan”.
Couched in diplomacy, the letter goes on to “welcome Mr Hussain’s condemnation of all forms of terrorism, his desire to assist the international community and support for democracy. Terrorists operate without regard for borders, so the fight against terrorism needs to be a global and concerted one”.
It is clear that the UK did not take up the offer of help from the MQM leader and preferred to deal with the-then head of the state. Added the minister: “I applaud President Musharraf’s courageous decision to support the international coalition and welcome his proposals to restore democratic government in Pakistan. I hope that he and the people of Pakistan can count on the MQM and other political parties to play a constructive role in securing Pakistan’s future.”
Nirj Deva MEP (whose real name is Niranjan Joseph De Silva Deva-Aditya and was born in Sri Lanka) agreed that he passed on the letter from the MQM to 10 Downing Street but said he was not aware of the contents of the letter and did not agree with the demands made within it. “I was asked by the MQM to pass on this letter to Tony Blair. I don’t take sides but if my constituents ask me to pass their letters to government departments then I will not say no. It is a standard practice for me and I have to listen to my constituents.”
Nirj Deva told The News that he knew Muhammad Anwar since 1992, and Dr Imran Farooq from 2000 onwards. “I was introduced to Dr Farooq by Muhammad Anwar. On the face of it the letter, though unsubtle, is offering help to the Coalition. Other than the idiotic clause about the ISI, the other ‘conditions’ appear to be pro-West and pro-democracy at a time when I suppose Pakistan was under military rule. Whether Hussain could have delivered cannot be measured other than by the experts in the FCO. No doubt they thought this was a lot of hot air, hence their bland reply to me.”
In September 2011, a war of words broke out between the former Sindh home minister Zulfikar Mirza and the MQM. Mirza alleged that the letter was written by the MQM but the MQM strongly denied having anything to do with it.
On September 4, 2011, Ansar Abbasi quoted “one of the country’s leading spymasters” as confirming that the alleged letter was written by the MQM leader. This assertion was robustly denied on September 6, 2011 by Mustafa Kamal, MQM’s leading figure, who held a press conference in Karachi and termed the letter “baseless”, akin to a “media trial” of the party.