Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza’s explosive and unprecedented press conference was the first of its kind in Pakistan’s history. As dumb-founded millions watched, it was the probably the first time a senior provincial minister accused a federal interior minister and a top member of his own party of being a killer, liar, and a traitor. Dr. Mirza lambasted the MQM in a way no politician has done openly on national TV. What Mirza said was hardly surprising. It is common talk in the living rooms, bedrooms, restaurants, and the streets of Karachi. But why now? Mirza’s attack on the MQM was hardly surprising – although the allegations about treason were – but what was behind his vicious attacks on Rehman Malik?
It is irrelevant whether he is a political clown or a crusdaer or a backer of gangsters, as alleged by his political opponents. The charges he levelled are grave. If they are false, he should be held accountable. If there is some truth in them, the law must take its course. But neither is likely to happen because Pakistani state is a criminal enterprise and criminals do not settle matters in courts.
56 years- old Dr. Zulifiqar Mirza (ZM) has been a close friend of Asif Zardari since their secondary school days in Cadet College Petaro in the 1970s . He is son of a former Supreme Court judge Zafar Hussain Mirza and comes from a distinguished and land-owning Sindhi family noted for its role in literature, judiciary, and education.
Mirza was discharged from Pakistan Army’ service after Ziaul Haq’s sham referendum of 1984 in which he did not cast his vote. When Benazir Bhutto came to power in 1988, Mirza’s business career took off as Asif Zardari was generous in “taking care” of his old friends. His first venture was a sugar mill, courtesy Asif. Mirza and Asif share more than their high school days. Both are proud and tough macho characters with a tribal sense of “honour”. No less significant is the fact that both are “pakka” shias. This also brought Mirza closer to Benazir who used to visit majalis and imambargahs during Moharram. Mirza makes no secret of the fact that he owes entire his own political and business career to Asif Zardari.
Some have questioned who speaks for Zardari? Rehman Malik or Zulifiqar Mirza? It may sound odd to say this after Mirza’s marathon press conference during which he resigned from all government and party offices, but ZM is closer to Asif than Rehman Malik ever was or ever will be. In fact, Asif may have turned to his old buddy to bail him out of the tight spot he finds himself in and may have used this “trump card” to kill many birds with a single shot from a double barrel gun.
A little away from the media’s focus, the most critical development in the recent months in the backdrop of the mayhem in Karachi may have been the progress made by the Scotland Yard (London’s police) into the murder of MQM’s onetime secretary general Imran Farooq whose 1999 escape from Karachi to London was allegedly facilitated by the British secret service MI6.
It is alleged that Imran Farooq’s murder was carried out by hirelings of the MQM in Karachi. According to these press reports, two men were arrested at Karachi airport a few days ago in connection with the killing of MQM leader Imran Farooq in London in September last year. According to DAWN and the Nation, the suspects are said to be affiliated to “a political party”.
Officials privy to details told a DAWN correspondent that the arrested men had travelled to UK on student visa, stabbed Dr Farooq to death and then flown to Sri Lanka.They were apprehended soon after they came out of the airport in Karachi after having travelled from Colombo. It is learnt that they were arrested on a tip from British intelligence and other sources. It is almost certain that the UK government would demand that the murder suspects be handed over because the crime took place in London. Altaf Husain has been mysteriously ill and “hospitalized” since.
It would not be surprising that the real reason for the dramatic escalation in violence in Karachi during the recent months has to do with Imran Farooq’s murder case, notwithstanding the turbulent and often bloody history of ethnic relations in Karachi which has grown beyond an ethnic issue into a war of the mafias protected by the politicians, some of whom are courted by the Western powers. Just look at this graph (source: DAWN) and dramatic escalation in violence in the number of killings in July and August.
It has been an old technique of the MQM… when cornered, paralyse Karachi. This is what has happened for last twenty five years. Governments have come and gone but the MQM has continued to rule the streets of Karachi.
However it seems that Zardari’s patience with the MQM’s never ending game of blackmail, threats, securing concessions, and cutting deals may have reached its limits. He knows that he can’t face the MQM on the streets despite the anguish his policy of “reconciliation” has caused among the more militant and nationalist elements of the Sind PPP. Qaim Ali Shah has been the face of that policy. Zardari still wants to bring the MQM back into the government and win a majority in the Senate elections next March but on his own terms. He has till now used Rehman Malik (who shares with Altaf Hussain a close relationship with MI6) to do that.
But the investigation and the arrest of the ‘alleged killers’ of Imran Farooq may have given Zardari a trump card with which to re-negotiate with the MQM. Furious, the London mafia apparently decided to strike back with even more violence. Much was made of Zulifiqar Mirza’s provocative language and unfortunate remarks but the history of violence in Karachi did not start last month. MQM has always found excuses to flex its muscle and demonstrate its street power. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GMI1BbeJHA&feature=player_embedded). This time, it is also facing serious resistance from other armed gangs backed by political parties including the PPP, ANP, and others.
Recently, Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry took suo moto action on Karachi’s killings and a five-member Supreme Court (SC) bench started hearings in Karachi. Faced with Mirza’s grave allegations against the MQM and its leader Altaf Hussain, it would now be impossible for the court not to call Zulifiqar Mirza who seems to have enough material to present the SC with difficult choices. So far, the PPP has been the sole target of SC’s selective accountability and Justice Chaudhry has played more to the galleries than deliver justice. He may now have to play on the back foot at a time when the NRO is history and Pakistan faces grave existential threats.
While the murder investigation of Imran Farooq, SC hearings, and the need to shore-up the PPP’s rural vote-bank may have prompted Zardari to turn to one of his most trusted and loyal friends to spill the beans, why the diatribe against Rehman Malik?
Rehman Malik is a special character and a colourful operator. As a former police officer, he gained influence by getting close to Begum Ziaul Haq. His former bosses say he would do anything to please Mrs. Zia. A former IG Police described Rehman as Mrs. Zia’s glorified orderly. Rehman rose to the rank of deputy director FIA during BB’s second term as Prime Minister. BB once remarked in the presence of some top aides that “you need a thief to catch a thief’ when questioned about her decision to send Rehman Malik on a sensitive mission.
Rehman Malik became closer to the US intelligence agencies for his supportive role in the capture of terrorist Ramzi Yousef and his extradition to the US in 1995. Ramzi had also been accused of conspiring to kill Benazir Bhutto. Rehman Malik thus became closer to BB as an additional Director General of the Federal Investigation Agency. But this association cost him his job when Nawaz Sharif came to power after BB’s dismissal in 1996.
It is alleged by some close relatives of BB that it was Rehman Malik who got BB involved in setting up companies (e,g. Petroline) in Sharjah (in 2000-2001) that were later named in the oil-for-food program scandal - in a United Nations report – and in the money laundering cases in Valencia in Spain. Rehman Malik’s fellow director of this company, Ali Hasan Jafri was married to Benazir’s maternal relative Laley, daughter of Begum Fakhri Gulzar. According to Ali Jafri, getting involved with Rehman Malik was a mistake on BB’s and his part. Rehman Malik later made millions in other business ventures and established himself in London despite ongoing court cases in Europe against him that continued till 2006-2007 before they were suddenly dropped or not pursued further.
In fact, the US used the threat of “constraining” her overseas bank accounts to accede to its terms when Americans were trying to broker a deal between BB and Musharraf in 2006-2007. According to Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and best selling author (The Way of the World) Ron Suskind, “A US official let her understand that the United States could, if need be, constrain her assets.” Rehman Malik was the only non-family person closely involved in some of the bank accounts’ cases she was implicated. Ron Suskind also confirmed that the US intelligence agencies did electronic eavesdropping to monitor BB’s movements and conversations.
Rehman Malik is also believed to be close to MI5 and MI6. When someone asked Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US Husain Haqqani (it was in April 2008) as to why did BB keep Rehman Malik so close during negotiations with Musharraf and thereafter, Husain Haqqani quoted a famous line from “Godfather” movie: “You keep your friends close and your enemies closer.”
Was Rehman Malik the man through whom the British government dealt with BB? It should be noted that it was the UK that initiated the “reconciliation talks” that culminated in the infamous NRO deal.
But was he also the man who was used by the UK and US secret services to keep tabs on BB and deliver warnings? His behaviour has been very suspicious, to say the very least. He escaped to his house, instead of protecting BB when she was assassinated near Liaqat Bagh Rawalpindi on the 27th December. A noted journalist and TV anchor, Mazhar Abbas, told me he ran into Rehman Malik around the midnight of the 27th and 28th at the Regents Hotel in Karachi with no explanation as to what he was doing there when BB’s dead body was still lying in the hospital in Rawalpindi?
Apparently, not only Rehman Malik knows too much but is also backed by powerful foreign agencies. What else could explain his mysterious and inexplicable rise to the role of a power broker during BB-UK-US negotiations, his stay in London, his business ventures, despite court cases in Europe implicating him in money laundering?
Now, could it be that the wily and cunning Zardari also wants to get rid of this “international baggage” that came with an “international deal”? Only his old school buddy Zulfi Mirza could have been trusted and taken into confidence if that was part of the plot.
One “sacrifice” by a loyal and devoted friend and look at the potential results: MQM rejoins government, Rehman Malik is cut to size and sidelined, and PPP gains a majority in Senate. It won’t be the first time Mirza would be repaying his debts to Asif. He did it before after BB was thrown out in 1996 and Asif was charged in several cases. ZM stood by him. It is unlikely that Mirza has ditched him. He is just playing the loyal friend he always has been.
But in doing so, he has made grave allegations against Altaf Hussain and Rehman Malik; the charges of no less than treason and murder. It remains to be seen what would be response of the Supreme Court and the Army generals. Or they too are “constrained” as Ron Suskind put it to describe how the US blackmailed BB. There is little doubt that Rehman Malik reflects that face of the US policy if Pakistan survives. The US would like a docile government that fights it terror war. But if Pakistan falls apart, God forbid, Altaf Hussain is definitely an important part of American contingeny plans.
Originally published: August 30, 2011