Chota Bhai’s ghost haunts Karachi’s politics

June 28, 2020

The government is set to seek Altaf Hussain’s extradition

After a court sentenced three men to life in prison in the Dr Imran Farooq murder case, the federal government has decided to contact British authorities to seek the repatriation of Altaf Hussain, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) founder.

This is the latest twist in a tale of betrayal and violence that began almost a decade ago on December 16, 2010 in London with the assassination of Dr Imran Farooq, the founding secretary general of the MQM.

A few weeks after the murder, the then Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ibad was provided startling information about the case by an intelligence agency. The ‘information’ was about a major breakthrough into the case.

The report was also shared with the then interior minister Rehman Malik (who had close ties with the MQM and its founder) and then Sindh home minister Dr Zulfiqar Mirza who led a massive operation against MQM militants.

Malik and Mirza soon developed differences over their ‘handling’ of the MQM. The former was trying to bring MQM closer to the PPP government. In the end, he succeeded in persuading former president Asif Ali Zardari to sack Mirza and allow the MQM to join the ruling coalition.

There was strong opposition within MQM and many workers opposed the decision to join the government. However, the party finally decided to join the coalition on the ‘terms’ offered by the PPP.

Following the murder, there were reports in a section of the press that some intelligence agencies had arrested some of the suspects in the case following a tip-off from the British Police. Later, there were rumours of a suspect’s death in custody.

Requesting anonymity, an official said: “Had the Pakistani authorities agreed at the time to UK police’s request to hand over the accused arrested in Karachi to them, the trial could have been conducted in London within a year after the murder.” “There was distrust on both sides. There was fear that this could lead to the destabilisation of the PPP government,” he added.

After the 2013 elections, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) formed the government in Islamabad. MQM leader Babar Ghauri and PML-N’s Ishaq Dar agreed to form a coalition. The decision was to be finalised in a telephonic conversation between Nawaz Sharif and Altaf Hussain. However, the latter passed remarks against the “Punjabi establishment” in one of his telephonic addresses to a public meeting. Sharif then refused to make the call.

Later, Nawaz Sharif and Asif Ali Zardari agreed to launch an operation against militants and armed wings of political parties in the metropolis.

“During the operation, the authorities decided to re-open the inquiry into Dr Imran Farooq case and started cooperating with British authorities. This paved the way for the eventual decision to allow British investigators to interrogate the suspects in Pakistan,” the official said.

Dr Imran Farooq was the second most powerful leader in the MQM after Altaf Hussain. That is why some party leaders used to call him, Chota Bhai. When Farooq developed differences with Altaf Hussain, the order to take him out allegedly came from the Bhai himself.

Even though the MQM managed to retain almost all its seats in the 2013 elections, neither the PPP nor the PML-N leaders visited its ‘Nine-Zero’ headquarters to seek its support. This was unprecedented.

During the subsequent operation, another speech by Altaf Hussain proved the party’s undoing. The August 22, 2016, speech led to a ban on broadcasting of his speeches. This was followed by closure of the Nine-Zero offices as well as related sector and unit offices.

The investigation into the murder centred round Karachi even though the crime had taken place in London. The trial then took place in an anti-terrorism court in Islamabad. On June 18, the ATC sentenced three men to life imprisonment and fined them Rs 1 million each.

ATC Judge Shahrukh Arjumand announced the verdict in the open court. The three accused heard it through video link from the prison. In the sentencing, the judge remarked that the crime deserved death penalty.

“However, an ordinance has been promulgated to amend the Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, whereby when evidence is shared by a foreign country, the death penalty cannot be awarded,” the judge stated.

The court also issued arrest warrants for the absconders in the case: Altaf Hussain, Iftikhar Hussain, Muhammad Anwar and Kashif Kamran. The court directed the authorities to bring them back to stand trial.

According to the prosecution, the conspiracy to murder Dr Farooq was hatched by the MQM founder. Accordingly, instructions were passed and Moazzam Ali and Khalid Shamim facilitated and sent Kashif Kamran and Mohsin Ali to London to kill Dr Imran Farooq.

It is never easy in such cases to establish ‘conspiracy’. The prosecution thus had to rely on ‘confessional statements’ of the accused.

Appearing in the media after the verdict, Muhammad Anwar has expressed his desire to cooperate with the authorities. He has also made some startling revelations about alleged Indian funding for the MQM.

“Anwar’s statement could open a Pandora’s box. This can hurt some of the key MQM figures who left the party after the murder. He can become an ‘un-declared approver’ against the party,” an official said.

“The case could take a dramatic turn if the authorities manage to bring Altaf Hussain, Iftikhar Hussain and Muhammad Anwar back to Pakistan. All three are British citizens. The MQM founder is already facing an investigation there and may be charged in July,” the official said.

Dr Imran Farooq, was the second most powerful leader in the MQM after Altaf Hussain. That is why some party leaders used to call him, Chota Bhai. When Farooq developed differences with Altaf Hussain, the order to take him out allegedly came from the Bhai himself.

It took almost a decade to prosecute three of the suspects and get a conviction. However, the ATC verdict may not be the end of the case or its ramifications for Karachi and Pakistan.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO TV, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO

The government is set to seek MQM founder Altaf Hussain’s extradition