Even though Karachi’s strongest political party is in a state of denial, the British media has launched a frontal attack on the party known for its strong-arm tactics in Pakistan by revealing that Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) self-exiled chief Altaf Hussain is being questioned for money laundering worth at least £400,000 as well as his role in inciting violence in his home country.
The revelations were part of a documentary prepared by BBC programme NewsNight on the MQM and included footage of Hussain making violent statements.
As if the BBC documentary wasn’t enough, the British government has also confirmed to BBC the existence of a letter from Hussain to then prime minister Tony Blair in which the controversial MQM leader promised to help counter terrorism in Pakistan, and suggested disbanding the country’s premier spy agency, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI). The confirmation, previously denied by the Downing Street, was revealed via a Freedom of Information request by the BBC.
The BBC NewsNight footage also gave an outline of the death of assassinated party leader Dr Imran Farooq, as well as interviews with a former MQM leader, a policeman accusing the party of murder, and the party’s Deputy Convener Farooq Sattar.
Starting the show with a clip showing Altaf saying, “We will prepare your body bags,” NewsNight host Jeremy Paxman posed the question: “Supposing if it (Britain) was offering sanctuary to an organisation that was using Britain as a base from which to threaten and persecute others?”
He described MQM as “one of the most-feared political organisations in Pakistan”, adding that Hussain was accused of 30 murders.
The programme then showed the MQM chief’s house, with reporter Owen Bennett Jones pointing out that a police raid had taken place there earlier in connection with the Imran Farooq murder. Describing Hussain, he said “he exerts total control over his party” from London.
According to NewsNight, “The police found hundreds of thousands of pounds of unaccounted for cash and that led to a money laundering investigation.” The Metropolitan Police are also investigating “Whether he’s using his London base to incite violence in Pakistan,” and whether his speeches are a breach of the law, the report said.
According to a London-based terrorism barrister named Ali Naseem Bajwa, who was interviewed by BBC Two for the documentary, Hussain’s speeches are potentially a “terrorism offence” – The use of threat of force, made for a political cause, designed to influence the government “all seem to be made out” in the MQM’s chief’s case according to the barrister.
NewsNight then shows senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar saying, “I categorically deny and refute that Altaf Hussain would have ever said what you are saying,” after the reporter asks him about the MQM chief’s violent language.
At the same time, the BBC programme shows Sattar sitting in the audience while Hussain speaks “about tearing open abdomens”.
The programme also showed an interview with an ex-MQM member, who was, according to them, the only former party member who was willing to talk.
The ex-member, Naim Ahmed appeared openly and said, “They are not a peaceful party, they are a militant group, they are like a bunch of mafias …. They are an ideal party for violence.” Describing how he would question neighbourhood youth who would commit acts of violence in the name of MQM, Ahmed said “They directly said, ‘we got our order from London’.”
SATTAR DEFENDS ALTAF
Sattar admitted that London police had seized some amount of money during the raids at Hussain’s house and office but said he wasn’t aware of the exact amount.
Denying that MQM was involved in money laundering, Sattar alleged the BBC’s documentary on Altaf was influenced by “pro-Taliban elements”.
“By making such a documentary the BBC seems to be influenced by pro-Taliban forces,” said the MQM’s deputy convenor who appeared defensive against Paxman’s relentless scrutiny.
“It’s just because of a malicious propaganda and a media trail going on against a secular and working class party.”
DISBAND THE ISI
Meanwhile, the British government confirmed the existence of a letter from Altaf to Tony Blair in which he had suggested disbanding the ISI.
The letter, sent in September 2001 and signed by Hussain, offered help against al Qaeda in return for “participation in governing the province of Sindh and in disbanding the ISI”.
Hussain pressed for help disbanding the ISI, warning that the agency would “continue to produce many Osama bin Ladens and Taliban in future”. He offered to provide “unlimited human resources throughout the towns and villages in the province of Sindh and the province of Punjab to some extent, to monitor the activities of fundamentalists and Taliban-led organisations, and also to monitor the activities of madrassas” in return.
“The Prime Minister’s Office received a letter from Mr Altaf Hussain which was passed to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) for a response,” the Cabinet Office confirmed to the BBC. The government said that Hussain’s letter was not replied to.
In May, police confirmed they were investigating remarks allegedly made by Hussain following the conclusion of the Pakistani general election, in which he allegedly threatened violence against protesters in Karachi.