June Issue 2014

By | Published 10 years ago

Will Karachi ever return to normalcy? Will the fifth operation in two decades clean up the mess in a city once known as the “city of lights”? The federal government is confident, but it was dealt a major setback a few weeks ago, when the Sindh government, in a surprise move, transferred the field commander of the operation, Additional IGP Sindh, Shahid Hayat.

Another recent development which may have implications in urban Sindh, particularly in Karachi, is progress in the murder case of the second-most powerful leader of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), Dr Imran Farooq, who was stabbed to death in London on September 16, 2010.

While Scotland Yard has not directly accused any MQM leaders so far, the mystery of the murder has deepened, and members of the MQM are feeling the heat. In a mammoth rally in Karachi, they expressed solidarity with their leader and protested against the British government for freezing Altaf Hussain’s accounts. This move by the British government is linked to the money-laundering investigation currently underway against the MQM and its leader.

MQM leaders are confident that they will come out of the crisis unscathed, but are suspicious that something fishy is going on within the Pakistan government, because of the delay in the issuance of a passport and National Identity Card For Overseas Pakistanis (NICOP) for Hussain, who was granted British citizenship after he went into self-exile in December 1991.

The MQM’s other problem is the sudden rise in the extra-judicial killings of its workers. They fear that in the final phase of the operation, the party may face further persecution.

Karachi is not only Pakistan’s financial capital; it is also a hotbed for terrorists and drug lords. The last year has also seen a rise in kidnappings of big businessmen and traders.

The city, which has a population of nearly 20 million, has one million non-verified arms licences. The number of highly sophisticated, illegal weapons is almost double that number. Since the days of General Zia-ul-Haq, some 30,000 people have been killed in political, ethnic, sectarian and terror-related violence in Karachi. This includes some top political and religious leaders. Over the years, the city has become a hideout for terrorists and militants belonging to Al-Qaeda and the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).

Karachi has seen four unsuccessful operations by the army, para-military and the police, which attempted to bring some semblance of peace, yet produced no lasting results. The current operation is the fifth since 1992. The final phase of this operation is likely to begin in June and despite the federal and Sindh governments’ resolve to achieve results, a big question mark hangs over the fate of this operation as well.

Karachi’s law and order situation is also linked to the wave of terrorism in the country. Some intelligence reports hint that the city has yet to see the worst. Two events could put the city in turmoil once again. Firstly, a full-fledged military operation in North Waziristan, whose impact would pour over into Karachi as the Taliban have strongholds in the city’s outskirts. Secondly, developments in London in the three pending investigations into money laundering, hate speech and Dr Imran Farooq’s murder case could have wide-ranging consequences for Karachi.

The presence of the army chief, General Raheel Sharif, and DG ISI Lt. General Zaheer-ul-Islam, in a law and order meeting on Karachi, presided over by the prime minister last month, was a clear indication of the seriousness of the situation.

However, the sudden transfer of Shahid Hayat has not only created problems in the operational strategy of the Rangers and the police, but also resulted in distrust between the federal and Sindh governments. While the information minister, Pervez Rasheed, put the blame on the provincial government, his counterpart in Sindh, Sharjeel Memon, said they were left with no other option after the Supreme Court’s orders on Own Pay Scale (OPS) promotions in the police.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his last visit to Karachi, praised Hayat’s performance and some quarters have proposed that he should be brought back.

The recent threat from the Karachi traders, that they would shut down their businesses after the rise in kidnappings, has also generated a wave of concern in the prime minister’s constituency of businessmen. Sources say that every second businessmen in the city has received a parchi — extortion letter — while some, who were kidnapped, were freed only after paying a ransom of Rs 5 to 10 million.

A senior police officer, who retired last year, disclosed that kidnapping has become one of the most lucrative businesses for all kinds of criminals and terrorists. “A speedy trial, harsh punishment, quick disposal of appeals in superior courts and execution can be the only answer, besides major reforms,” he says.

All parties backed the operation, which started five months ago, particularly the MQM. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif named  the Chief Minister of Sindh, Syed Qaim Ali Shah, as the captain of the operation, despite his poor track record in taking major administrative decisions.

However, DG Rangers Major General Rizwan Akhtar, who has experience in conducting operations in Waziristan, is confident that if given a free hand, they can achieve results. Both Hayat and Akhtar consider the Taliban and alleged militants within the MQM a major problem.

But the killings of MQM workers have raised doubts about the impartiality of the operation. Some sources believe that many of the MQM workers who were killed, were involved in major land disputes in Karachi, where a land mafia plays a significant role in the city’s crime problem.

The MQM, despite its initial support for the ongoing operation, fears that its workers have become the prime target. “Out of some 65 [MQM] workers that are missing, the bodies of 29 have already been found in different parts of the city,” says a senior MQM leader.

Why the MQM joined the Sindh government, and that too when it got just “two ministries,” is a question that is being raised in political circles. One leader says, “The party was facing political isolation and workers were getting frustrated.”

The major concern of the MQM, however, is not the developments in Pakistan, but what is happening in London. The mammoth rally on May 25 was seen in some circles as a “warning to Britain.”

(Left) Kashif Ali Khan and (Right) Kamran Syed.

(Left) Kashif Ali Khan and (Right) Kamran Syed.

Dr Imran Farooq’s murder case is still wide open, but the release of photographs of two suspects, Kashif Ali Khan and Kamran Syed, on May 27, indicates that Scotland Yard feels they should be handed over to Britain. At present, they are in the custody of the ISI.

What is the mystery behind these two suspects? Do they really belong to the MQM, despite the party’s denial? It was former ISI Chief, General Shuja Pasha, who for the first time informed the MQM, through the governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ibad, about the two suspects detained in Karachi on a tip-off from London, in connection with Farooq’s murder.

The intelligence agencies, which interrogated the two, believe that they were MQM workers. However, the MQM has denied that the two suspects have anything to do with their party. Incidentally, the suspects were never handed over to the British police, despite their repeated appeal for cooperation from Pakistan. However, a year later, Scotland Yard shared information with Pakistani intelligence officials and sought their interrogation. While the two suspects have never been officially arrested, the press release issued by Scotland Yard did not mention anything about their political affiliations.

Pakistan and Britain do not have an extradition treaty, but the government of Pakistan reportedly granted access to the British police to meet the two suspects.

The previous Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) government had confirmed the detention of the suspects, but avoided further cooperation on “technical grounds.”

When the Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) government came to power in June 2013, the federal interior minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, inquired about the status of the two detainees but, like his predecessor, he refrained from handing over the suspects to the British police.

It was only recently that the interior ministry was contacted by the British police again and provided with more details regarding the possible connection of the two suspects in the Farooq murder case.

Sources in the interior ministry revealed that the ISI and Scotland Yard had shared some important information, which resulted in the decision to release the photographs of the suspects.

Interestingly, within 24 hours, the MQM held a mammoth rally to express solidarity with Altaf Hussain, condemning the British government’s decision to freeze his accounts, and protesting against the release of the photographs of the two suspects.

The prime target in the rally was the British Prime Minister David Cameron, which perhaps explains why key leaders, including Dr Farooq Sattar, addressed the rally in English. The British government or High Commission in Pakistan, however, has not responded.

While Hussain has yet to be implicated in any of the allegations against him, his office and MQM headquarters in London were raided last year and the police confiscated some records, as well as thousands of pounds that were found during the raid.

In the past, the MQM has enjoyed a cordial relationship with the British High Commission, and the British government has issued frequent visas to them, particularly in the ’90s, when the army launched an operation in 1992 during the PML-N’s first term, and again in 1994 and 1995 when many of its workers were targeted in extra-judicial killings.

The May 25 rally also coincided with a major ‘halt’ in the Karachi operation, weeks after Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ordered the launch of the final phase of the five-month operation.

The MQM had already expressed its strong reservations concerning the operation, but party chief Altaf Hussain was unhappy with the Governor of Sindh, Dr Ishratul Ibad, for not pleading the party’s case strongly enough during the law and order meeting chaired by the prime minister.

With the MQM’s rhetorical attack on British authorities, the release of photographs of the two suspects in Dr Imran Farooq’s murder case and the issue of Altaf Hussain’s Pakistani Passport and NICOP, the party finds itself in a difficult situation.

One wonders about the timing of the British police’s decision to release the photographs of the two suspects, who allegedly went to the United Kingdom in August and September 2010. According to the police, the two suspects entered the UK on student visas, and left the country only hours after Farooq’s murder.

What is also intriguing is the role of our successive governments and intelligence agencies. To this day, there has been no official confirmation from them about the detention of the two suspects.

MQM leader Faisal Sabzwari was quoted as saying, “The party has nothing to do with the suspects as they were never members of the MQM. We are cooperating with the British police and want Dr Imran Farooq’s case to be resolved as early as possible.”

The departure of some of the key leaders of the MQM, including Saleem Shahzad, Mustafa Kamal and Anees Kaimkhani, and the sidelining of a few others has already generated a debate within the party over its future. One thing is certain, though, if anything were to happen to Altaf Hussain, Karachi and urban Sindh will face unimaginable turmoil. One of its leaders has already threatened the “closure” of Karachi in the Senate. That means the federal and Sindh governments could face difficult days ahead.

This story was published in Newsline’s June 2014 issue.

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