India’s Research and Development Wing is funnelling money into the London account of Muttahida Qaumi Movement, a political party in Pakistan, through a company in Dubai for it to buy weapons in Pakistan for use in terror attacks.
This may sound like a plot from a Bollywood film but it is, in fact, the summary of reports filed by UK-based BBC journalist Owen Bennett-Jones and a London-based Pakistani reporter working for one of Pakistan’s main channels, Geo. While Jones referenced a statement by an MQM leader to the British authorities regarding the money from India, the Geo reporter Murtaza Shah gave greater details such as account numbers, dates and amounts transferred at different times in 2012 and 2013.
It is as if Pakistan military and intelligence agencies’ long-standing wish of catching India with its pants down in the act of financing terror and instability in its neighbouring country has finally come true. Islamabad had in the past complained about India’s involvement in Baluchistan. Its military had even feted an American academic for giving a statement regarding India’s involvement in Pakistan’s south-western province. But thus far, the evidence never went beyond photographs of some Baluch separatist leaders visiting India. This time, however, we are talking about money changing hands.
How Pakistan goes about proving these allegations remains to be seen. The best bet would be for the evidence to come from the UK, where the MQM is under investigation in two cases. One of these is a money-laundering case initiated in July 2013 after a large cache of money was found in MQM leader Altaf Husain’s London house. The other is related to the murder of MQM member Imran Farooq outside his London residence. It is believed the Metropolitan Police has greater interest in solving the murder and it was while investigating this case that the London police might have exchanged information on MQM funds with Pakistani authorities.
In any case, a judgement from a British court will also be more credible in the context of an India-Pakistan conflict, making for better optics.
Losing moral authority
All this doesn’t mean that a final court judgement matters for Islamabad. It doesn’t. It believes it has enough information to remind its people and the world that Pakistan is not the only one disturbing a neighbour’s security. Any evidence in the MQM case would only serve to fill in the gaps left by statements of India’s National Security Advisor Ajit Doval and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Doval spoke of raising the cost of conflict for Pakistan by conducting covert operations of its own, Modi mentioned India’s hand in East Pakistan in 1971. In the past, veteran journalist and terrorism expert Praveen Swami had mentioned India’s involvement in financing and training people in the 1990s, possibly in response to Islamabad’s involvement in Kashmir.
An indictment in the MQM case will certainly dilute India’s moral authority to point fingers at Pakistan for aiding and abetting terrorism. The bottom-line is that if India succeeded in breaking up Pakistan in 1971 and has continued to facilitate different groups to carry out acts of violence against it, then the presence of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and Hafiz Saeed may be justified.
Indeed, such non-state proxies are the biggest gainers from this story on both sides, certainly in Pakistan where most of those arguing against their presence are now feeling weak-kneed. They will have a problem in future responding to the counter-argument that if India destabilises Pakistan, then surely there is justification for keeping Jamaat-ud-Dawa around.
Of course, this is just a short-term implication. The medium- to long-term result will be weakening of the civil society in Pakistan, and the long- to longer-term effect will be strengthening of the security state. The military and the intelligence agencies can easily publicise the case and make it accepted wisdom that anyone they accuse of being a R&AW agent is indeed one. The space to argue for greater friendship and tolerance vis-à-vis India will reduce further. The ruling Pakistan Muslim League (N) came to power, with the stated agenda of improving bilateral relations. But anyone seeking peace now could run the risk of finding accusatory fingers pointed at them.
Shrinking space for dialogue
From the perspective of domestic politics, the story will have a direct bearing on how Baluchistan and its separatists are treated. This is not a matter of drawing an exact linear connection because the state will not wait for that. It will use this case anyway as an example to strengthen its position on using coercive methods to control the situation in the south-western province.
In this tit-for-tat, Ajit Doval may want to respond to Pakistan’s interference by paying back in the same coin, presuming that Pakistan would come under greater pressure due to internal problems. But that would be ignorant of the gradual strengthening of the security state in Pakistan.
The words and concepts many Pakistanis never grew up with, such as reference to Pakistan as “motherland”, is now part of official language and imagination. This is also a different age and time, where the requirement of material advancement has put ideology on the backburner. Given Pakistani military’s ability to manipulate narratives in the country, the civil-military divide is no longer a linear issue. This means that the average bloke is now happier to see a stronger and more efficient state. In the next few days and months, the not-so-independent media will no doubt turn the tables on the MQM, which is already stigmatised due to its manipulative behaviour in Karachi. With more negative publicity, it will have fewer sympathisers. This will also narrow the space for political forces, leaving them perennially under the threat of being seen as an Indian agent.