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British govt dispels impression it’s going soft on MQM

Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the UK and Pakistan are cooperating on the issue.
Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill told the Home Affairs Select Committee that the UK and Pakistan are cooperating on the issue.

LONDON: A senior Whitehall official has denied that the British government is trying to protect the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) from legal charges.

“There is no pressure from any part of the British state to go soft on the MQM,” said Home Office Permanent Secretary Mark Sedwill.

Mr Sedwill was speaking before British parliament’s influential Home Affairs Select Committee in response to a question from Bradford MP Naz Shah. Ms Shah said the failure to use terrorism legislation in relation to the MQM had hampered previous police investigations.

The UK’s anti-terror laws make it relatively easy to secure convictions.

“Can you confirm,” Ms Shah asked, “that the abject failure of the Foreign Office to list the MQM as a terrorist outfit should have no bearing on the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) decision on whether or not to use terrorism legislation in relation to the MQM?” Responding to that point, Mark Sedwill said: “The police can use terrorism legislation whether or not someone is a member of proscribed organisation.”

Despite that statement it is thought the Foreign Office’s attitude may be having an impact on the way the cases are being handled. An increasing number of parliamentarians with Pakistani heritage have written to various British officials asking about the failure of investigations into the MQM matter to make any headway. In their replies to these inquiries, British government officials often make the point that the MQM is not on the UK’s official list of banned terrorist organisations.

Whitehall insiders admit that there are differences between the Home Office, the Foreign Office and CPS on the MQM issue. But they say the political pressure being brought to bear on London by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Khan is having an impact. British officials say because of the complaints Chaudhry Nisar made after MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s Aug 22 speech, the UK government is being forced to re-examine their attitude to the party.

On Aug 23, the Metropolitan Police announced that they were opening an investigation into whether Mr Hussain’s speech shortly before the attacks on media houses in Karachi amounted to incitement to violence. Initially, the British police tried to ignore the issue saying it was a matter for Karachi law enforcement authorities. The high number of calls from Pakistan asking the police if they were going to investigate the speech may have influenced the decision to open the incitement enquiry.

Mr Sedwill revealed that the UK and Pakistan were cooperating on the case, “I have been in touch with my Pakistani counterpart to ensure that we provide the Metropolitan Police with all the evidence they need to pursue a proper criminal investigation,” he said.

The initial police reluctance to look into incitement offences may reflect their frustration with three other long-running and ongoing MQM-related investigations. The first into the 2010 murder of Imran Farooq is currently deadlocked because of differences between the UK and Pakistan over how many of the suspects in Pakistani custody should be extradited to the UK. The British want one suspect, Mohsin Ali Syed, to he handed over but for reasons that the British find hard to understand, Chaudhry Nisar has said that Pakistan will either extradite all three suspects or none at all.

A money laundering inquiry is also stuck and a long-running hate speech investigation seems to be going nowhere.

The MQM says that all three cases are failing because there is no evidence against the party or its senior London-based members. Party officials insist that they are innocent of all the allegations made against them.

Published in Dawn, September 9th, 2016

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