A way out for the MQM

MQM needs to carry out a pruning and cleansing exercise within its ranks and shed any criminal elements that may exist

Tariq Mahmud June 29, 2015
The writer is an author, a public policy analyst and a former interior secretary. He teaches at Lahore University of Management Sciences

The sensational report by the BBC, followed by alarming admissions by Tariq Mir, the MQM’s London-based member, regarding alleged Indian funding to the party, has put many players on the spot, foremost being the British government whose soil was allegedly used for the Indian funding. This money was reportedly meant for the MQM secretariat as well as for weapons for the party’s workers who were allegedly trained in India. If true, this is a sad and shameful commentary on the state of affairs in the country where the likes of Declan Walsh and Owen Bennett-Jones reveal the mess in Pakistan while our state organs seem to suffer from lethargy. These allegations have further deepened the MQM’s state of denial as its leadership is bent on harping on about having to face a media trial.

The British government will face a lot of heat in the coming days. The handlers of the alleged Indian funding were all British nationals though most of them were at one time asylum seekers. The British government needs to investigate these reports and try to understand what these asylum seekers have allegedly done to the privilege that the British nationality extends to them. If there turns out to be any grain of truth in these allegations, it would be mind-boggling to understand what took the British authorities so long to unearth this illegal nexus. The BBC has repeatedly stuck to the authenticity of its story, according to which, during raids on MQM premises in London, documents showing lists of prohibited weapons and details of transaction trails were recovered. Mir’s statement before the London police has not been outrightly refuted by the MQM so far. The statement that was circulated on social media reveals that it was voluntary and that Mir was not under arrest when he gave it. His statement gives details about his meetings with Indian agents and the monetary assistance and training, which MQM workers got in India. This reported bonhomie had been going on since 1994, which means that if true, this alleged breach of British law had gone on even during General Musharraf’s honeymoon period with the party.

Pakistan needs to follow the developments in London closely and widen its information-sharing pool with the British government. We cannot afford complacency at this critical stage and need to sensitise the British authorities of our concerns. If there is a kernel of truth in Mir’s reported statement, it means that India had been pulling the levers to destabilise Pakistan’s financial hub for the past many years. In this regard, our diplomatic initiative needs to be geared towards confronting India at every forum with evidence until the time it contracts its undesirable flanks in destabilising Pakistan. A possible move could be to develop a dossier containing hard evidence of Indian activities and sharing it with the UN sanctions committee to underpin India for its alleged extra-territorial role in destabilising Pakistan.

The MQM, on its part, needs deep introspection to come out of its denial mode. Most of its Pakistan-based leadership is a thinking lot with an enlightened worldview. These leaders are products of the electoral process and are a very useful political resource, which the country cannot afford to lose. There have been those in the media who have jumped at the idea of banning the organisation, which should be a non-starter to begin with. Analogies have been drawn with the 1975 reference that was brought against the now defunct National Awami Party (NAP) in the Supreme Court. It should be understood that the dynamics of the two situations are entirely different. Apart from the vitriolic statements of the late Khan Abdul Wali Khan, there was no evidence produced before the Court against the NAP’s alleged treachery. Wali Khan’s stance was vindicated over the decades, whether it was on the issue of political rights and provincial autonomy or renaming of the erstwhile NWFP. History endorsed his views and absolved him of all charges for which he was maligned. Then what are the options before the MQM today?

The party’s London-based secretariat has been pulling the strings even in day-to-day matters. In all probability, the Pakistan-based leadership was not privy to the close-fisted decisions made by the London-based coterie of reportedly accepting funding from India. It should be given the benefit of doubt unless there is strong, direct evidence against any individual. The MQM’s local leadership has to mull over the micromanagement of the party by its absentee leadership that is becoming a nagging problem for it. Day in and day out, the MQM’s local leaders have to engage in giving positive spins to every controversial word uttered by the London-based leadership. As long as the issue of money laundering and now the funding from India against the London-based leadership is under investigation, the Pakistan-based leadership should distance itself from the former. That may be the only way out for it to stay relevant and ward off the coming difficulties for the party. The MQM needs to carry out a pruning and cleansing exercise within its ranks and shed any criminal elements that may exist. Disowning such elements once they are nabbed and have confessed will be a belated move and will have little impact. The party must also get rid of its ‘sector in charge’ syndrome and save hapless citizens from street-level thuggery. The election commission should ensure strict enforcement of the Political Parties Act, which does not visualise this strange breed called the sector in charge.

The MQM must get its act together and its local leadership must steer it at its most trying moment to shed the burdensome baggage, which is scuttling the struggle of an urban middle class political outfit. Can this really happen? Only the MQM can answer this question.

Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th,  2015.

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