October issue 2010
Nearly two weeks after MQM stalwart, Imran Farooq was stabbed to death near his apartment on London’s Edgware, Green Lane, detectives from the UK Specialist Operations Counter-Terrorism Command found a knife and a brick that was ostensibly used in the attack. But Farooq’s murder still remains a mystery.
On September 16, neighbours alerted British police that two Asian men had gotten into a scuffle on the street below. When the police arrived on the scene, they found Farooq’s dead body. His post-mortem report revealed that he had died of multiple stab wounds on his neck and head injuries. Farooq’s widow, Shumaila Farooq, a former MPA of the Sindh Assembly, was immediately shifted to an undisclosed location for safety, and the couple’s cell phone and computers were seized to find any clues. A police official at the local station, which managed the initial response after the crime was reported, told The News: “We are involved in a very complex investigation and looking at various theories.” With a political refugee murdered – one who had several charges against him, including a bounty of millions of rupees on his head – in their jurisdiction, this was undoubtedly a nerve-wrecking case for the British police.
The responsibility of the investigation was subsequently shifted from Scotland Yard police to the Counter Terrorism Command, which confirms reports that detectives believe the murder may have been politically motivated. Senior Scotland Yard detective Neil Basu said police were “keeping an open mind as to the motive behind the attack” but were “doing all they possibly can to catch those responsible.” A number of witnesses have already spoken to the police, but on September 23, Farooq’s widow made an impassioned plea to the public, urging other eyewitnesses to come forward and help the police identify the suspects, “Someone, somewhere knows something about my husband’s murder,” said Shumaila, breaking down into tears.
Ever since the news of Imran Farooq’s assassination was flashed on TV screens nationwide, reporters have been struggling to make sense of the killing of Altaf Hussain’s right-hand man. The question uppermost in everyone’s mind is: who killed Imran Farooq and why?
Farooq reportedly lived a modest life as a pharmacist in London on a quaint apple-tree lined street and, according to his parents, travelled without any bodyguards, unlike his boss Altaf Hussain. Therefore the police haven’t entirely ruled out that this may have just been a random mugging case. But not many MQM-watchers are willing to buy that story. As founder member and ideologue of the MQM, Pakistan’s third largest political party, Imran Farooq had a somewhat intriguing past.
First convener of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s Central Coordination Committee and former secretary general of the party, Farooq had been Altaf Hussain’s right-hand man for nearly three decades. A migrant from Bihar, Farooq held a medical degree from Karachi’s Sindh Medical College and began his political career as a founding member of the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organisation in April 1979, which was converted into the MQM in 1984. The soft-spoken, bespectacled politician was known to be a strict disciplinarian in the party ranks, but on the floor of the National Assembly he was lauded for his charismatic speeches in chaste Urdu, interjected with couplets from famous poets. Farooq was also the author of a party booklet containing the party’s history and a code of conduct for distribution among MQM members. Old friends within the MQM remember Farooq for his intellect and his fondness for poetry, but there was also reportedly another side to him – and a disturbing one at that.
“He was a ruthless operator, who personally supervised the drill-machine-in-the-kneecap sessions with the boys whose loyalties became suspect, and he could order a kidnapping or an execution without raising a brow or his voice,” wrote Mohammad Hanif in a Newsline article in September 1999. The MQM rejected this charge as being part of a campaign by the army to malign him. Farooq allegedly had 60 cases against him, and bone-chilling details of torture cells run by the MQM appeared in local newspapers, implicating Farooq, but he continued to dismiss them as being fabricated and exaggerated. During Operation Clean-up in 1992, a notorious PPP and state-operated crackdown against the MQM, many members of the MQM were reported missing, or went underground – and so did Farooq. No one knew of his whereabouts, but there were stories of his sightings in a Balochistan village, in Dubai or eating biryani at Sabri’s in Karachi. However, according to several newspaper articles, it was clear that Farooq ran the party from “hiding.” And in a Godfather-like climax, seven years later, he surfaced at London’s Heathrow airport in 1999, only to be taken under Altaf bhai’s wings again. In his interview with Newsline in 2003, Imran Farooq gave away nothing of his time spent in hiding. “The story of my suffering, my life in hiding, and exile is a very long one. As far as my escape from hiding is concerned, I do not wish to disclose it. I want to help other victims of state brutality,” said Farooq. What was important was that chote bhaiwas back in the MQM fold and was to serve the rest of his life in exile in London, or more specifically in Edgware, North London.
There was one change though. Farooq had gone from the churidar-clad, bearded leader-in-the-making to a suited comrade, and, more importantly, there were rumours, soon enough, that he was drifting away from the MQM supremo. This was not the first-time that Farooq was at odds with the party. He was suspended from the core committee for six months, prior to 2003. In the 2003 interview with Newsline, Farooq maintained, “My suspension was according to the rules and regulations of the party. In the MQM, no one is above its rules and regulations.” It is also known that in recent years, Farooq had been suspended from the MQM, twice, and according to a statement of Pakistan’s High Commissioner to the UK, Wajid Shamsul Hasan, given to a local channel, Farooq had not been seen at important meetings in London. Some sources reveal that Farooq and Hussain barely spoke to each other, except on a few occasions.
It’s not surprising then that some sources are even going to the extent of laying the blame for Farooq’s murder at MQM’s doorstep, much to the party’s chagrin and dismay. Incidentally that is not the only rumour doing the rounds. A breakaway faction of the party, the Haqiqi, is also being viewed with suspicion. Conspiracy theorists maintain that the Haqiqis may be trying to disband the MQM in London by murdering Farooq. Another rumour floating around is that Farooq was trying to join forces with General Musharraf in London but Musharraf claims he didn’t even know Imran Farooq. Pakistani Taliban, the usual suspects in any murder mystery, have not been left out either: it is being alleged that they may be behind this heinous crime, as the MQM and the Taliban are sworn enemies. All this remains conjecture at the moment, with no evidence to back it up.
Farooq was a key player in the MQM and was a treasure-trove of MQM’s secrets. Describing Dr Farooq, Raza Haroon, a member of MQM’s central coordination committee, said the party had lost one of its “most senior and experienced people.” He also specified that Farooq was very much a member of the party, but he had been busy with personal matters of late. Be that as it may, it has emerged that Imran Farooq was never invited to the high-level MQM meeting held in London just before his death, which could be because he was “no more in the party,” to quote a London Post article.
Imran Farooq’s murder has clearly perturbed the authorities in London, and they seem focused on uncovering this mystery – one of many in Imran Farooq’s suspense-filled life.
Maheen Bashir Adamjee is an APNS award-winning journalist. She was an editorial assistant at Newsline from 2010-2011.