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Documents and priorities

Opinion

July 7, 2015

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The battle of the documents is over - but still little understood. Two key documents relating to the MQM were leaked in the last couple of weeks. The first purported to be the record of an interview between MQM finance chief Tariq Mir and the UK police.
From the outset the MQM in London said there was something wrong with it. While avoiding comment on the contents, it said the formatting wasn’t right and some countersignatures were missing. Exactly who did what to the document – and indeed who leaked it – remains unclear but in general terms it seems a rather unintelligent spin doctor – either a disgruntled MQM member or someone in the Pakistani state – had doctored it so as to make it more difficult to trace back where it had come from.
With MQM lawyers in London repeatedly accusing the UK police of leaking documents, the Met was anxious to deny they had anything to do with it. Accordingly they issued a carefully crafted statement in which they said the document itself was not recognisable as part of the police record – in other words it didn’t come from them. But they drew a distinction between the provenance of the document and its contents about which, they took the trouble to say, they wanted to make no comment.
The Pakistani media missed the nuance and reported that the UK police had the disowned the document, formatting, contents and all.
Stung by that turn of events, the mysterious leaker within hours put a second undoctored document online – a pre-interview disclosure from the UK police addressed to Sarfraz Merchant. The document said, amongst other things, that two senior officials from the MQM had said, under oath, that the Indian government had funded the MQM. The UK police were then asked by a number of journalists if that document was authentic and part of the police record.
By instinct the police would have preferred to make no comment. But having commented on one document how could they avoid commenting on another?

So, first they came up with another carefully worded statement in which they said they had seen a number of documents one of which was a “genuine police document” and one of which was not part of the police record. And secondly they expressed concern about Merchant’s safety and gave him protection.
It was a deliberately awkward confirmation of the Sarfraz Merchant pre-interview disclosure and it worked. There was a sufficient degree of confusion to ensure that most editors have had quite enough of any documents and are reluctant to publish more of them. From the point of view of the UK police – who don’t like seeing their documents splashed all over the press – that’s exactly where they wanted to get to.
So much for the documents. But looking ahead more broadly there is now an emerging gap between the UK and Pakistan authorities.
The massive UK investigation has come down to two cases: money laundering and the murder of Imran Farooq. For the police in London the murder has always been the higher priority. The police said from an early stage that they believed the murder had a political aspect. And that’s important. It’s a red line. The UK does not want the disputes of foreign political activists to be fought out on the streets of London. Whether the victim is Russian or Pakistani any such murder sparks a determined effort to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The money-laundering case was only ever a secondary, incidental investigation that arose because of large amounts of cash found in the course of the murder enquiry. To that extent it was the evidence that lead the police to the money laundering issue. But there was also always the possibility that the money laundering case could give the UK authorities some leverage in the murder case.
But the army/ISI/establishment/deep state in Pakistan now has diametrically opposed priorities. They want to advance the money laundering case ahead of the murder one. That’s because with the money laundering case comes what the Pakistani military sees as the enticing prospect of a UK court hearing evidence that India funded a group often accused of engaging in violence in Karachi.
The MQM, which describes itself as a secular, middle class and liberal party opposed to religious extremism, denies all suggestions that it took Indian funding – and of being violent. India describes claims that it funded the MQM or trained its militants as completely baseless.
There is another factor to consider. For the ISI, the murder case carries the risk of embarrassment. When the Pakistan government recently ordered the arrest in Chaman of two suspects in the murder case – Mohsin Ali Syed and Khalid Shamin – two difficult questions arose. First, where had they been for the last five years? Were they, as many press reports suggest, in illegal ISI detention all that time? And secondly what has happened to another named suspect Kashif Khan Kamran? Did he escape? Is he still alive?
It is not clear if the UK police currently visiting Pakistan have been granted access to Mohsin Ali Syed and Khalid Shamin. But reports suggest that they have either had none or very limited access. Most or all of their meetings have been with another suspect, Muazzam Ali. That would make sense because Muazzam Ali’s detention history raises less difficult issues for the ISI.
In other words the establishment in Pakistan now has a couple of reasons for not wanting the murder case to advance rapidly, especially if that takes attention away from the money laundering case. There is a possibility that Pakistan will try to drag out the murder case by not granting access to the suspects and that in return the UK will go slow on the money laundering case.
In any event there are now two sets of national authorities working on the basis of different priorities.
The next key moment comes in July when the six people arrested in the money laundering case will either have their cases dropped, their bail extended or be charged. All six insist on their innocence. With so much going it’s all but certain that their bail will be extended so that everyone can take a deep breath as they work out what happens next.
The writer is a freelance British journalist, one of the hosts of BBC’s Newshour and the author of the new political thriller, Target Britain.
Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @OwenBennettJone

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