| GEO World|
Imran Farooq murder may pose threats to coalition govt
| Updated at: 1429 PST, Saturday, September 18, 2010|
LONDON: Detectives and colleagues of a senior Pakistani opposition politician stabbed and beaten to death in a residential street in north London said tonight they were working on the assumption it was a political assassination.
Imran Farooq, one of the co-founders of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a powerful, Karachi-based party run for almost two decades by a leadership exiled to the London suburb of Edgware, was found near his home after neighbours witnessed what they initially believed was a fight. Paramedics were called but he was pronounced dead at the scene.
The 50-year-old, who was married with two young sons, claimed UK asylum in 1999 alongside Altaf Hussain, who remains the MQM's leader and has been outspoken in condemning Islamist militancy in Pakistan and the Islamabad government's response to devastating floods.
News of the killing sent Karachi into mourning, with streets deserted, schools and businesses shuttered and buses taken off the roads. Several vehicles were set alight and the city, Pakistan's biggest, remained tense.
Scotland Yard refused to comment on a possible motive, but a source said homicide detectives had passed the investigation to the force's counter-terrorism command, indicating a suspected political motive. The source added: "The counter-terrorism command have much better knowledge about the factional fighting in Pakistan and the politics there."
Before entering the UK Farooq spent seven years on the run in Pakistan from criminal charges while the MQM was engaged in a violent battle for control of Karachi. Despite his long exile hHe remained a key party figure and was close to Hussain.
While the MQM leader is protected by private guards and rarely appears in public following death threats, colleagues said Farooq never believed he was at risk and had played a smaller role in the party since the birth of his sons, now five and three.
Farooq was attacked as he made his way home from his job at a local pharmacy, said Mohammad Anwar, a friend of 25 years who worked with Farooq on the MQM's central co-ordinating committee.
"If someone took the time to watch him they would know what time he came home every night. It would be very straightforward. He didn't take any precautions because he didn't believe he was in danger," Anwar said. "We all thought that we wouldn't be under threat here."
"There is no reason to indicate that this was a robbery or mugging," he told the Guardian at the MQM's headquarters in an office block close to Farooq's home.
"It could be a signal to Mr Hussain, to weaken resistance. Whoever did it could be telling him – and all of us – 'If we can reach him we can reach you.'" Other party members were reviewing their security, he added. The party had previously told police and the Foreign Office of threats to Hussain's life, but these did not appear to be taken seriously, Anwar said.
Neighbours in Farooq's street said the alarm was raised around 5.30pm yesterday when a woman saw what she believed was a fight between two Asian men on communal ground below her flat.
"She saw him being knocked on the head a couple of times. She heard screams and she saw someone beating him," said Sam Igbi, who lives nearby. "She said he struggled and then the guy stabbed him."
Party officials in Karachi declared a 10-day period of mourning. Previous political killings have inspired riots and shootings between rival factions, many of whom are heavily armed.
Analysts said they were keeping an open mind as to the identity of Farooq's killer. The MQM has long-standing rivalries with ethnic Pashtun and Sindhi parties in Karachi. The MQM has also been rocked by occasional internecine violence.
A diplomatic source said the killing appeared particularly unusual because of Farooq lack of recent political activity: "He was lying low in the past two years. He had expressed no concern for his own safety."
Detectives in London have not ruled out the possibility that Dr Farooq was killed in a random mugging. However, a political motive could spark political clashes in Karachi or undermine the stability of Pakistan's governing coalition, which includes the MQM.
Farooq Sattar, the party's leader in Pakistan, said the timing suggested a political motive.
"The date looks like it was selected by design," he told The Daily Telegraph, but added that a number of other possibilities remained.
"We are trying to keep a lid on speculation. Conspiracy theories could provoke more trouble."
Mohamad Anwar, a party member in London, said the leadership had received threat warnings.
"Because we did not find any symptoms of robbery, we feel that there may be an element of conspiracy and therefore, hence, we can think that this was an assassination," he said.
Political leaders called for calm during 10 days of mourning.
Yousuf Raza Gilani, the prime minister, said: "It was a great loss to the party and the family." Traders and bus drivers in Karachi stayed at home yesterday (FRI). Streets were deserted as many people feared a slide into renewed ethnic violence.
It remains unclear what happened in London. But it is clear that the repercussions of what happened there will be felt in Karachi and beyond well into and after the 10-day “mourning period” declared by MQM.