In the dock

The Rangers have decided to take on the MQM

In the dock
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif was given a detailed briefing on violence in Karachi at the office of the Corps Commander of V Corps during his last visit to the city. “About 80 percent of Karachi’s problem is the MQM,” one security official told the Prime Minister according to a source present in the meeting. The prime minister gave permission for the operation that shook the city.

Earlier, the federal government had given the green signal to law enforcement agencies to carry out an operation in Karachi under Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah. The first “Karachi Operation” was launched in August 2013 but it fell victim to political reconciliation between the PPP and the MQM. It was only with the start of Operation Zarb-e-Azab that the law enforcement agencies were given an all out mandate to operate indiscriminately and openly. In December 2014, a separate intelligence directorate was setup to monitor MQM’s activities, where Rangers work closely with the Miliatry Intelligence (MI) after the former were mandated to end the nexus between crime and politics. In a series of targeted raids, several major target killers were arrested.

But is there evidence that the MQM asked them to kill people? A suspect caught by police in Liaqatabad was charged with the target killing of Shia professor Sibt-e-Hasan, and was said to belong to the MQM. It turned out that he had nothing to do with the party, and had been using its name. He had been asked to by a builder in Nazimabad to kill the professor over a property dispute. But security officials say every party, including the MQM, has had ties with criminals in the past.

Inside Nine Zero, the MQM headquarters, a man called Aamir Khan was at the forefront of what Altaf Hussain called a ‘cleanliness process’ in the party initiated after the 2013 elections. He had left the party’s breakaway faction MQM-Haqiqi to rejoin Altaf Hussain after two decades of brutal rivalry that cost both the factions thousands of lives. Aamir Khan had split with Afaq Ahmed in 1992 and was notorious for his Peeli Kothi, or Yellow House, where he allegedly ran a torture cell. He was brought back into the party after a reconciliation process – and a subsequent amnesty – that began in 1999 when Aamir Khan first wrote a letter directly to Altaf Hussain. It took until 2012 for him to be taken back into the party. Aamir Khan saw MQM’s powerful Karachi Tanzeemi Committee (KTC) which looked after all sector in-charges and unit in-charges from Khurseed Memorial Hall close to Nine Zero until it was dissolved.

When Aamir Khan was brought chained and blindfolded to the court, it was a clear message to MQM.

“We will not just arrest the puppets, we will also arrest their handlers,” a senior Sindh Rangers official said. It was only after “actionable intelligence” was received, he said, that the Rangers director general gave out the orders to raid Nine Zero. “We caught them pants down, inside Aamir Khan’s house. We were waiting for the moment and they gave us a dolly.” The Rangers had brought two women to identify target killers from among the MQM political workers.

The party had already been under so much pressure that for the first time in decades, it had to close down its unit and sector offices, and attendance dropped significantly.

Insiders say differences between the MQM and Rangers began as soon as Gen Rizwan Akhtar took over as director general of Sindh Rangers. He was known to be blunt. During a meeting on law and order at that time, he took on the representatives of the MQM and the PPP. In a statement in 2013, he blamed the militant wings of political parties for the worsening law and order.

And he found a perfect partner in AIG Shahid Hyat. But unfortunately, “political compulsions and reconciliation” came in their way. Eventually, former president Asif Zardari had to intervene and get Shahid Hyat out of the equation. When Maj Gen Rizwan Akhtar was made the ISI chief and Maj Gen Bilal Akbar took over as the Rangers director general, the operation was intensified.

Meanwhile, in Balochistan’s Machh Jail, death row convict Saulat Mirza – once a close ally of the MQM and alleged to have lived in an air conditioned room with cable television and extra services in jail, and even coming out of jail occasionally – issued a statement against Altaf Hussain’s party the night before his hanging. He was convicted of killing KESC managing director Shahid Hamid, a former Home Secretary, and himself accused of numerous extra-judicial killings. Altaf Hussain ordered me over the phone in a meeting held at former minister Babar Ghouri’s house in North Nazimabad, to kill Shahid Hamid, he alleged in the three hour video. After Saulat Mirza’s confessional video was leaked, his hanging was delayed.

Politically, the MQM stands isolated. The PML-N is a rival, and the PPP is having second thoughts about an alliance. Chaudry Nisar, the federal interior minister, recently met the British High Commissioner. He told reporters he had asked him what legal remedy Pakistan had to threats issued by Altaf Hussain, a British citizen. The word is that Dr Imran Farooq’s assassins are in the custody of intelligence agencies, and will be given to the British in due time in a third country. DNA samples of both suspects have already been given to the British for forensic investigation, it is said.

Inside Nine Zero, the atmosphere is tense and uncertain. Most of MQM’s second tier leaders and workers are absent from their seats. And as Karachi braces for violence, an amicable solution may be the only way out. The MQM will have to come clean, and the Rangers will have to accept Altaf Hussain as a political reality.