Politics and murder of Dr Imran Farooq

February 16, 2020

The politics of Dr Imran Farooq and the circumstances surrounding his murder on September 16, 2010, were as mysterious as had been the man himself. One of his close aides said following his tragic death, “Dr Imran became a victim of his own political philosophy.” Although Dr Farooq was assassinated in London, the trial of the accused has been moved to Pakistan.

The politics of Dr Imran Farooq and the circumstances surrounding his murder on September 16, 2010, were as mysterious as had been the man himself. One of his close aides said following his tragic death, “Dr Imran became a victim of his own political philosophy.” Although Dr Farooq was assassinated in London, the trial of the accused has been moved to Pakistan.

Let’s have a look at his politics and his political philosophy. The most prominent MQM leader to be killed before Dr Farooq’s murder was Azeem Ahmad Tariq, the party chairman, who was killed at his house in May 1993.

The MQM was once the undisputed ruler of urban Sindh. Among the founding members of the party, the only leader still loyal to, Altaf Hussain is veteran Tariq Javed.

The MQM was down but not out when Dr Imran Farooq landed in London using a different name and passport and without a visa. Those who received him in the country had already taken the British authorities into confidence about his arrival. On his arrival, he reportedly applied for political asylum. He was greeted at the MQM London Secretariat by the founder himself as well as other party leaders.

It took him a few months to recover from the strain of his escape. He was then made convener of the party. He was empowered to take necessary decisions in consultation with MQM London and MQM Pakistan Rabita Committee.

Known for his organisational skills, Dr Imran Farooq soon started tinkering with the MQM network in Pakistan. However, unlike the early years, he lacked the abundant energy and at times lost his temper.

Those who had worked with him in London after the year 2000 said while his energy level was not the same his organisational skills were intact, and so were his contacts. Occasionally, he would fall to follow the instructions from the founder. Once he told the MQM founder he could not come and see him early in the morning because he worked late into the night.

Sources said he then noticed that some of his decisions had been vetoed or overturned. This led to differences between the two top leaders. However, at no stage —even when Dr Imran Farooq had distanced himself from the party—did he ever try to form a rival political party or group. As party’s convener, many saw him as potential successor to the MQM founder.

He never challenged Altaf Hussain’s leadership apparently because he was not only aware of the firmness of the latter’s grip on the party but also because it was he himself who had built the Quaid’s image as that of a leader whose judgment should never be questioned.

Early on, MQM chairman Azeem Tariq had had a firm grip on politics and decision-making. Dr Imran Farooq, meanwhile, had a hold on organisational matters. The MQM founder meanwhile was the charismatic leader among his followers.

One of Dr Farooq’s close aides told me he did not believe that he might have been killed for trying to form his own group. “I had known him since 1986. He had never challenged the founder’s leadership. But then it cannot be denied that he had quit the party and started focusing on his shop, which he had bought using proceeds of the sale of his house in Pakistan. He was not corrupt in financial terms.” He was certainly upset about the way he was humiliated and that became one of the reasons for leaving the party, he added. His differences with Altaf Hussain had led both to the announcement of the latter’s retirement and anti-Imran Farooq wall-chalking.

While Azeem Tariq had been suspected by some in the party of playing in the hands of the then ISI Sindh chief, Brig (retd) Aman, there was no such suspicion about Dr Imran Farooq.

Dr Farooq’s assassination has been described as the last nail in the coffin of MQM’s organisational network. The party did not recover from the shock. Since the murder, Syed Mustafa Kamal has launched his Pak Sarzameen Party, and Dr Farooq Sattar has split with MQM (Pakistan).

Leaders of all the three factions believe that the party would not have disintegrated like this if Dr Imran Farooq had not been killed.

I recall from the year 2000 a surprise call from London. “Mazhar bhai, this is Imran Farooq. How are you? It’s been a long time.” It was after several years that I had heard his voice. He had gone underground soon after the 1992 army operation got under way and re-surfaced in September, 1999.

“How are you the doctor?” Was my immediate reaction followed by a supplementary question. “Where have you been all these years ? He was then one of the most wanted people with a head money of Rs5 million. “I will write a book some day on this as there is quite a lot of material available but for now I’m trying to recover,” he replied.

During his years in hiding, Dr Imran Farooq had become the most wanted man for state agencies. He limited his movement to a few houses in Karachi. After the government imposed a ban on mobile phones and pagers, only one or two MQM leaders knew about his whereabouts. When needed, they sent him messages using audio tapes.

A month after he had resumed political activity there was a military coup and General Pervez Musharraf took over power. The MQM joined hands with Musharraf before the 2002 elections. A source said, “Musharraf asked Altaf Hussain to return to Pakistan and promised him fool-proof security. He even offered him the use of his own plane. He wanted the MQM to return to mainstream politics.”

I had first met Imran Farooq at the Karachi University in the early 1980s. He had come to the campus to organise a meeting to welcome the release of the founder of All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organisation (APMSO), Altaf Hussain, after nine months of conviction from a military court for his alleged involvement in burning Pakistan’s flag during a protest rally near Mazar-i-Quaid in 1979. A few hundred people attended the meeting at the Arts lobby of the KU.

While I pursued my master’s in journalism at KU, Dr Imran Farooq was at Sindh Medical College (SMC), which would produce many APMSO and MQM leaders, including Dr Farooq Sattar, and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui. The likes of Dr Ishratul Ibad were at Dow Medical College.

At KU, he was wearing the typical Mohajir dress — kurta-pajama, which in the early years of the APMSO and the MQM, was a token of Mohajir politics. He handed me an APMSO pamphlet and said, “I know you belong to Pakistan Liberal Student Federation but every Urdu-speaking person must read this.” I greeted him and put the paper in my pocket. I, and some friends, stayed back in the lobby. From some distance, we could listen the first public speech by Altaf Hussain.

Ahmad Saleem Siddiqui was my classmate and if I’m not mistaken, he was the one who introduced me to Dr Imran Farooq and later with Altaf Hussain. When I read the APMSO pamphlet I realised that it could attract the Mohajir students who could not get admissions on merit and faced difficulties in getting jobs.

Dr Imran Farooq, regarded as a philosopher in the party, became the victim of his own political philosophy about which he had once written a booklet, Nazm-o-Zabt. MQM founder, Altaf Hussain, chairman Azeem Ahmad Tariq and he himself used to read it aloud in party’s fikri nashist.

Under MQM’s Nazm-o-Zabt, the founder’s decision was not to be questioned. The rule was strictly followed in the party.

First signs of negative tendencies in the party were noticed when the MQM tried to control the media. The distribution of daily Jang was banned for about a week after it did not publish a photograph of Dr Farooq Sattar’s wedding as instructed although it was still on the front page. The media would remain under pressure for many years.

The MQM swept the local polls of 1987 and the general elections of 1988 and these were no allegations of rigging. People voted for the urban-based party like they voted for the PPP in rural Sindh and elsewhere.

As for MQM’s militancy, Dr Imran Farooq and Azeem Tariq described it as a reaction to Islami Jamiat-i-Talba’s hold on campuses.

Azeem Tariq once told me that had Jamiat not forcibly banned APMSO activities in college and universities they would never have resorted to violence. “After we got a huge response from Urdu-speaking areas we decided to re-group and follow a policy of tit for tat violence."

Dr Imran Farooq came out with his ‘area-control’ philosophy through two major zones and later sectors and units. Afaq Ahmad and Aamir Khan, the two joint secretaries also became zonal incharge.

After Dr Imran Farooq’s murder, MQM leaders started leaving the party for one reason or the other. At one stage, even the leaders of the Rabita Commitee were not sure whether they would retain their membership.

The last major victory for the MQM was in 2013 when they won 18 National Assembly seats. Even then, the result was considered ‘not good enough’ by MQM London. The MQM is now limited to six seats.

The writer is a senior columnist and analyst of GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO

Politics and murder of Dr Imran Farooq