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Pakistani Politician's Slaying In London Sparks Tensions In Karachi

  • Abubakar Siddique

Pakistani Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) Secretary-General Imran Farooq (left) in London in September 1999

Pakistani Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM) Secretary-General Imran Farooq (left) in London in September 1999

Karachi, Pakistan's largest city and capital of the southern Sindh province, is tense after the murder of native son Imran Farooq, a former senior leader of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).

London police said that officers found a 50-year-old man with multiple stab wounds and head injuries outside an address in north London early on September 16. Police said he was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities are investigating the case but have made no arrests so far.

Karachi shut down after news of Farooq's killing spread. Karachi is an MQM stronghold -- it is one of the biggest parties in the coalition that governs the city and the province -- and the city is a frequent scene of riots and targeted assassinations that MQM and rival political factions blame on each other. Resource competition among the various ethnic and religious groups in this city of 18 million and a cocktail of crime and extremism has turned Karachi into a tinderbox.

In the early morning hours today, relatives and friends gathered at the Farooq family home in Karachi to offer their condolences.

"We hope that London police will solve this case," Saif Yar Khan, a relative of Farooq and MQM worker. "They will identify and bring the killers to justice and punish them."

Speaking to Reuters in London Mohammad Anwar, a senior member of the MQM said that they were shocked because they never expected this to happen in London.

"We had received warning but we did not feel that we, the members of the coordination committee, were under threat and because we have not found any symptoms of robbery, we feel that there may be an element of conspiracy and therefore hence we can think that it was an assassination," Anwar said.

Western Exception

Farzana Shaikh, a Pakistan specialist at the Chatham House think tank in London, says that this is the first murder of a Pakistani political leader in the West. And this will trigger concerns for the security of MQM leader Altaf Hussain and Pakistan's former military leader Pervez Musharraf, both of whom live in exile in London.

In an interview with RFE/RL, Shaikh predicted that the assassination will have "explosive" consequences for Pakistan which is reeling from the worst flood devastation in living memory.

The killing might revive tensions between the Urdu-speaking Mohajirs and ethnic Pashtuns, millions of whom have made Karachi their home after fleeing war and poverty in their northwestern mountainous homeland.

Mohajirs are Muslim migrants who made Karachi and some neighboring towns in Sindh their home after migrating from India to the new state of Pakistan in 1947.

Last month, hundreds died and businesses and properties worth hundreds of millions of dollars were burned to ashes in weeks of unrest after the assassination of an MQM lawmaker in Karachi.

Possible Culprits?

Shaikh suggested that it is too early to speculate on the motive of the murder, but that it might be linked to internal fissures within the MQM.

"We do know of course, that Mr. Imran Farooq himself -- although he was one of the founding members of this party along with Altaf Hussain and considered as the party's chief ideologue -- in recent years had grown rather distant from Mr. Altaf Hussain and there was not really much communication between the two men," Shaikh said. "It is said that there were quite significant differences that separated them. This could be related to some sort of internal conflict in the [MQM] party."

Farooq, 50, was a former legislator and left behind a wife and two children. He is said to have been living in London at least since 1999 -- when he claimed asylum in Britain. Farooq had been reportedly wanted by Pakistani security forces since 1992 for alleged serious crimes that forced him into hiding for seven years. He had denied the charges.
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