IT’S hard to write about Altaf Hussain without fearing reprisal. Zulfiqar Mirza opened up some public space to critique Altaf Bhai, but just a bit. Call it Punjabi bias, but most folks you speak to privately can’t hide their glee over Altaf Bhai’s seemingly fatal legal woes. However, politicians across the spectrum, even vociferous critics of Altaf Hussain’s brand of militant politics, are expressing solidarity with him in public. Is it fear or our legendry expediency that accounts for this duplicitous response over Altaf Bhai putting his head in a noose in the UK?
There will be a lot of conspiracy-mongering in the days to come. Altaf Bhai spoke of an international conspiracy to kill him, hatched by the ‘Western establishment’. In the shadowy intelligence world, nothing can be ruled out. But that Altaf Bhai was tight with MI6 and offered unfettered services to the ‘Western establishment’ against Al Qaeda, the Taliban and even the ISI after 9/11 has been a popular allegation against him. Did Altaf Bhai play ball with the ‘Western establishment’ at some point that he has now fallen out with?
He is being hounded because vile imperialist forces have no utility for him any longer, is one conspiratorial but benevolent explanation of his arrest. Have interests of the ‘Western establishment’ changed due to the winding-down US war in Afghanistan? Are Altaf Bhai’s services no longer required because the ‘Western establishment’ and the Pakistani establishment are on the same page regarding Al Qaeda and the Taliban? Has Altaf Bhai developed a state of mind where he just isn’t a reliable business partner anymore?
Or can there be a simpler explanation? Altaf Bhai had the support of the ‘Western establishment’ till before the murder of Dr. Imran Farooq. The planning or abetting of a crime within the UK was always a red line. Once the Metropolitan Police suspected Altaf Bhai of crossing that line, whatever immunity the British establishment might have afforded him stood withdrawn. As the Imran Farooq murder fell within the Met’s jurisdiction, the suspect’s links with the British establishment didn’t matter.
With the Met’s decision to arrest Altaf Bhai, the ball has been set rolling. There are allegations of murder, incitement of violence, money laundering and tax evasion under investigation in the UK. The real question for Altaf Bhai was not whether he would be granted bail or released from detention pending investigation and trial. The real questions are what charges will be framed, whether Pakistan will cooperate in providing evidence, and whether Altaf Bhai will be allowed to return to Pakistan without trial in the UK.
Power wielders in Pakistan expect and are afforded preferential treatment. Had Altaf Bhai been charged with the same offences and faced with law-enforcement agencies having tightened the noose in Pakistan, a ‘deal’ would have been in the contemplation of all parties concerned. The ‘Western establishment’ might even have been the guarantor of such a deal. But Western democracies are less excited about deals when it comes to the writ of their institutions and enforcement of their laws within their own territories.
The point is that if forced to bet to save one’s life, one would bet on Altaf Bhai not getting a ‘deal’ in the UK. He is likely to be charged and tried for money laundering while being investigated for any role in Dr Imran Farooq’s murder. The only possibility of Altaf Bhai getting a deal is from Pakistan, with our establishment denying the Brits access to the two men in its custody wanted in the Imran Farooq murder case. But if access is provided and the two men end up implicating Altaf Bhai, he will probably also be tried for his alleged role in the murder case.
What Altaf Bhai’s ordeal in the UK also does is bring out the contrast between the UK’s commitment to the rule of law versus that of Pakistan. There have been hundreds and thousands of murders in Karachi and Hyderabad and yet our power elite has shown no commitment and our law-enforcement agencies and justice system have exhibited no grit or capacity to bring the perpetrators to justice. There was one murder in London and it has thrown the liberty and future of the most dreaded politician in Pakistan into jeopardy.
That all policemen with any role in the operation against MQM in the ’90’s were knocked off sequentially is now part of the city’s folklore. On May 12, 2007, over 50 innocent civilians were brazenly killed in Karachi. Despite many of them being lawyers our criminal justice system has looked away. We saw witnesses in the Wali Babar murder case mowed down one after another. The one officer, DIG Shahid Hayat, who stood out amongst pygmies while leading the operation under way in Karachi has now been removed.
Could Altaf Hussain be investigated, charged, tried and convicted in today’s Pakistan without street pressure, threats of coercion and political expediency interfering with due process?
The Brits arrested Altaf Bhai and are investigating him for laundering money into the UK. But where is the money coming from? For years we have spoken about ‘bhatta mafias’ and criminal gangs holding Karachi hostage. Yet, across our political spectrum no one wants to know whether the money that the MQM claims comprises donations has been laundered out of Pakistan, whether it constitutes proceeds of crime, and whether the state is planning to join hands with the UK authorities to investigate and clamp down on such crime.
The sad reality is that Pakistanis (those rooting for Altaf Bhai’s punishment and those squarely in his corner) are largely convinced that justice might just be meted to Altaf Bhai precisely because he is being tried in the UK and not in Pakistan. The greater cause for despair is that we have no plans or intention whatsoever to fix our broken justice system.
By Babar Sattar, a lawyer. email@example.com Twitter: @babar_sattar
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2014