The assassination of Imran Farooq Rahimullah Yusufzai Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement leader Dr Imran Farooq died in London on September 16 in tragic circumstances, but one common reaction to his murder was that there were greater chances of identifying and punishing his killers because the incident happened in the United Kingdom and not in Pakistan and that the well-regarded Scotland Yard was leading the investigations. One heard people commenting that the case would have been politicised or hushed up on the basis of political considerations had the 50-year old politician been murdered in his homeland.

There are reasons for this kind of sentiment because past murders of politicians in Pakistan have mostly remained unresolved. Besides, there is the matter of poor credibility of our police and other law-enforcement and investigating agencies. In fact, many Pakistanis were hoping that the issue of the allegations of spot-fixing against Pakistani cricketers Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Aamir and others would be properly and professionally handled by the British police. There was a strong belief that the scandal, described by the International Cricket Council as the sport's biggest for a decade, would be unearthed and the matter worked out by the generally competent British cops and investigators. These hopes may not materialise, but that is the perception most Pakistanis have primarily due to the lack of trust in the working of their own police and investigating agencies.

It has now become the responsibility of British authorities to deal with and resolve cases involving Pakistanis. For this they need to understand the intricacies of Pakistani politics and other aspects of life such as cricket, and one is sure they already know a lot about these issues and would pick up other necessary details as the investigations into Dr Imran Farooq's murder and the cricket-betting scandal proceed further. Britain and Pakistan, part of its former colony of undivided India, have had close ties and the British authorities are required to remain updated on Pakistan's situation due to their concerns about extremism and terrorism emanating from within its borders. Besides, crimes of this nature taking place on British soil are not only a challenge but also an embarrassment to the authorities in the UK and, therefore, every effort would be made to work out these cases. This would also be important due to the fact that many Pakistani politicians prefer to stay in London whenever they are wanted or persecuted at home and more political assassinations in the UK following that of Dr Imran Farooq could take place. Right now former military ruler General (r) Pervez Musharraf is living in the UK and preparing for a political comeback by holding a meeting of his supporters there. 

The MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain, living in self-exile in the UK since his 1992 escape from Pakistan due to the threat to his life, are likely to be asked many questions by the British investigators in Dr Imran Farooq's murder case. This is inevitable because the deceased had served at top positions in the MQM and was its de facto deputy leader as the convener of the party's coordination committee until two years ago. The fact that he was removed from this post in 2007 and had become largely inactive in the MQM could prompt the investigators to try and get to the bottom of all matters. So close was Dr Imran Farooq to Altaf Hussain that he fled to the UK to join him in 1999 after remaining underground in his hometown Karachi for seven years. Altaf Hussain celebrated Dr Imran Farooq's safe arrival in London and described him as a 'hero of the nation', which apparently meant the Mohajirs. 

This indeed is a mystery as to how someone like Dr Imran Farooq, who was among the founders of the Mohajir Qaumi Movement in 1984 and its predecessor, the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation in 1978, lost his position in the party leadership and stopped taking part in active politics. Twice in the past, he was reportedly suspended from senior posts in the MQM, but was then allowed to come back and resume his work as the party convener. As everyone knows, Altaf Hussain has maintained a firm grip over MQM affairs even while leading the party from London and appointing and removing party leaders from their offices has always been his prerogative. 

The assassination of Dr Imran Farooq, described by some MQM members as a 'poet and philosopher', would have political ramifications because he wasn't an ordinary party leader. The doctor-turned-politician had in recent years almost faded from public memory for most Pakistanis because he had been away from the country for 11 years, but at one time he was quite well-known even outside the MQM circles and his native Karachi. Twice elected as an MNA, he was the parliamentary leader of the MQM when he announced in 1989 that his party was ending its alliance with the then prime minister Benazir Bhutto's PPP government. He served as secretary general of both the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation and the MQM. His father Farooq Ahmad also won election as a National Assembly member in the 1997 general election when Dr Imran Farooq was living incognito in Karachi following the military crackdown against the party. His wife also served as a MPA and their status made them privy to many a matter of the MQM. The police will like to go into those details. 

According to media reports, the Scotland Yard's counterterrorism command unit is investigating Dr Imran Farooq's murder from different angles including a mugging that went wrong to a politically-motivated crime in view of eyewitness accounts that the man who stabbed him to death appeared to be Asian. A report even mentioned that the Pakistani Taliban could be involved in the murder, though the militants would likely target Altaf Hussain if they could because everybody knows who controls the MQM. Internal party rifts were also mentioned in media reports from London as an aspect that would be probed by the police to find clues to the murder. On his part, Dr Imran Farooq in the early years after his escape from Pakistan continued to voice concern that Pakistani intelligence agents could harm him. In fact, many MQM supporters would want this aspect also to be probed. Altaf Hussain has refused to return to Pakistan because he cannot feel safe in Karachi where some of his close relatives and many party colleagues were murdered. Dr Imran Farooq's murder would effectively close the chapter of Altaf Hussain's return to Pakistan.

As a party that evolved from a students' organisation, the MQM developed into a force that was often accused of involvement in violence with and against rival political and ethnic groups. It was more often identified with political violence than getting credit for its grassroots support among the people of the middle class. The turf battles between the mainstream MQM and the Haqiqi group of Afaq Ahmad and Amir Khan and the MQM's ethnic warfare with the Pakhtuns, Punjabis and Sindhis reinforced its image as a party that employed strongarm methods to retain its control of Karachi. The murder of Dr Imran Farooq and, before him, the deaths of other party stalwarts such as Azeem Tariq, S M Tariq and Haji Jalal, could be seen as manifestations of the violence that has continued to haunt and, at times, define the MQM. 

The writer is resident editor of The News in Peshawar.


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