In Pakistan, Syed Safdar Ali Baqri was a senior official in a political party called MQM, but since moving to Toronto in 1998, he has become an active supporter of the Conservatives.
During the past two federal elections, Mr. Baqri has been photographed with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day, House Speaker Peter Milliken, Conservative campaign cochairman John Reynolds and several other Conservative and Liberal MPs.
In some of the pictures, the 42-year-old is shown handing the politicians a booklet listing the “issues that matter most” to the MQM’s Canadian chapter, MQM-Canada, which Mr. Baqri heads.
MQM-Canada endorsed the Conservative party in 2004 and 2006, and held a Support Conservative Car Rally and a “Picnic and BBQ” for the Conservative candidate in Don Mills. It says its volunteers worked on campaigns in seven cities.
“We welcome MQM-Canada’s support and hope to receive cooperation from all chapters of MQM-Canada,” says a statement attributed to Conservative MP Leon Benoit and posted on the group’s Internet site in 2004. (Mr. Benoit said he does not recall making the comment.)
The ties between MQM-Canada and the Conservatives continued post-election. When MQM held its three-day annual convention in Toronto last June, Conservative MP Patrick Brown gave a speech. But what exactly is the MQM?
The Conservatives are apparently beginning to ask that same question. The Privy Council Office did some background research on the group last year and sent a memo to Mr. Harper’s chief of staff, Ian Brodie.
The four-page memorandum, released under the Access to Information Act, says the MQM is a Pakistani political party with a history of involvement in ethnic riots, kidnapping, torture and murder.
A Q&A with Syed Safdar Ali Baqri
A report from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on the MQM
1996 Amnesty International report on the human rights crisis in Pakistan
Federal Court decision: Baqri v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration)
Federal Court decision: Ali v. Canada (Solicitor General)
“Terrorist elements” in the MQM have engaged in harassment of opponents and used crime to raise money for the party, it says, adding that MQM leader Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in Britain, faces “numerous” criminal charges.
While the MQM was at one time considered a security threat to Canada, it has not been a serious concern since it renounced violence and curbed the extremists in its ranks.
But some still wonder why the Conservatives have aligned themselves with a Pakistani political party that human rights groups and even Canadian officials say has a violent past.
“The MQM has a long and well-deserved reputation for violence, extortion and other criminal acts such as murder,” said Tom Quiggin, a former RCMP terrorism expert now working at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.
When they were the Opposition, the Conservatives often criticized the Liberals for attending events hosted by organizations close to violent groups such as the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka. But since taking office, the Conservatives are apparently finding it is not always easy to avoid such situations. Which of the many community associations that want the ear of the Prime Minister are worth meeting and which are fronts for extremists? Which photo ops are harmless and which could prove politically damaging down the road?
Conservatives said in interviews they had no idea that even as they were posing for photos with MQM-Canada reps, the Canada Border Services Agency was working to deport dozens of former MQM party workers –and continues to do so — on the grounds the group was involved in crimes against humanity.
Among those that immigration officials have claimed were complicit in atrocities in Pakistan: Mr. Baqri, the MQM-Canada leader, who was an MQM party boss in Karachi before coming to Canada.
A former minister of industries in the Sindh region of southern Pakistan, Mr. Baqri served as the head of an MQM zone in Karachi. He fled Pakistan and eventually made his way to the United States, where he was part of a committee that tried to build the MQM in North America.
In 1994, an anti-terrorist court in Pakistan convicted him in absentia of kidnapping and torturing an army major, but a higher court overturned the ruling.
When his U.S. asylum claim was rejected, he came to Canada in 1998. The Canadian immigration board’s Convention Refugee Determination Division turned down his refugee claim on the grounds that he was aware of abuses committed by MQM members while he was a party leader.
That decision was set aside in 2001 by the Federal Court of Canada, which said immigration officers had failed to query Mr. Baqri about any specific incidents. The court sent the case back for another review, but Mr. Baqri still does not have landed immigrant status.
“He has continued his political activity while in Canada,” Mr. Justice Allan Lufty wrote in his 2001 decision on Mr. Baqri’s case. “He has organized protests in Ottawa and in Toronto against the government in Pakistan. There are some 9,000 MQM supporters in Canada.”
In interviews, Mr. Baqri said it was not unusual that he had met so many of Canada’s most powerful politicians despite his unresolved immigration status.
“I’m legally residing in Canada under the prevailing Canadian immigration laws. Also, regarding those politicians, Canada is still a free country and one of the freedom leaders in the world. Therefore, any democratic-minded person can meet with the politicians with [a] common agenda.”
A physician by training, Mr. Baqri said he has been unable to work as a doctor in Canada because of his ongoing immigration case. He estimated 100 other former MQM party workers are in a similar limbo.
But he said neither he nor the MQM had ever been involved in violence, and the memo sent to the Prime Minister’s Office is inaccurate.
Mr. Baqri said that while individual members of the MQM may have committed crimes on their own, the party did not sanction their activities and those involved were expelled.
Made up partly of MQM party workers who have moved to Canada, MQM Canada describes itself on its Web site as an “active unit” of the MQM. Mr. Baqri said the Canadian group reports to the exiled British leader rather than to MQM headquarters in Pakistan.
MQM-Canada has never been linked to violence. It has chapters in Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Calgary and Montreal and describes itself as “perhaps one of the most dynamic Pakistani organization[s] in Canada.” A Vancouver chapter is to open soon.
In 2003, MQM-Canada formed a Political Action Committee, and when the writ dropped the following year, the group backed the Conservatives.
“Our workers and supporters in Windsor, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, Winnipeg, Calgary and Vancouver were very active with their candidates in their respective cities,” Mr. Baqri said.
He said their main objectives are to become part of mainstream Canadian politics and to bridge the gap between immigrants and non-immigrants. “In this process we also like to clarify misunderstandings towards the MQM in Canada,” he said.
Political action is just one of the MQM’s activities in Canada. In an attempt to stop immigration officials from deporting party members, an MQM activist filed a $50-million lawsuit against the Canadian government in 2005. The suit alleged that MQM members were being routinely refused permanent residency in Canada because immigration authorities have concluded the group has been involved in terrorism. A judge dismissed the case last May.
Supporters of the group also took their complaints to the Security Intelligence Review Committee, the watchdog over the Canadian Security Intelligence
Service. A decision is expected any day, although the government is not obliged to follow its recommendations.
The MQM was formed more than two decades ago to represent the interest of Muhajirs, Urdu-speaking Muslims whose families migrated to Pakistan from India at partition in 1947.
Many Muhajirs settled in the southern cities of Karachi and Hyderabad, where they dominated business and the civil service– until the Pakistani government purged them from key government posts and nationalized their businesses. A quota system was imposed to limit their access to universities and government.
A student leader at the University of Karachi, Altaf Hussain, formed the MQM in 1984 to defend the rights of Muhajirs, and confrontations followed. Tensions between Muhajirs and ethnic Sindhis, Pashtuns and Punjabis led to violence. “MQM was the main player in the ethnic riots of 1986-87,” the Canadian government memo says.
Mr. Baqri disputes that, saying: “We were the victims of the riots.”
He said the riots were instigated by Pakistan’s ISI military intelligence service.
Human rights groups acknowledge that the MQM was the target of a brutal crackdown by Pakistani government forces, but they say MQM activists engaged in violence as well.
“Despite protestations by MQM leader Altaf Hussain that the MQM does not subscribe to violence, there is overwhelming evidence and a consensus among observers in Karachi that some MQM party members have used violent means to further their political aims,” Amnesty International wrote in a 1996 report.
The rights group said there was evidence that opponents of the MQM were tortured and killed while in MQM custody. Pakistani forces in Karachi allegedly found torture rooms used by the MQM.
“During its early history,” the Canadian government memo says, “MQM drew its power from terrorist elements in the party, who helped it maintain a stronghold over the densely populated poor areas of Karachi and Hyderabad.
“In addition to the harassment of political and ethnic opponents, these insurgent elements were also responsible for generating funds for the party through criminal activities. The resulting lawlessness effectively crippled Karachi until the Pakistan army launched an operation to restore law and order in 1992.”
With Karachi in chaos, the military was sent in to intervene and a repressive campaign against the MQM ensued. “Before the Pakistan army launched its 1992 operation,” the memo says, “Altaf Hussain had already fled to the UK in order to avoid prosecution; he remains there in self-imposed exile.”
The MQM split into two factions, called MQM (H) and Mr. Hussain’s group MQM (A). The MQM (H) was allegedly supported by the Pakistani government to weaken the MQM(A). “Since 1992, the MQM factions have directed their violence against each other, as well as against the Pakistani government,” the memo says.
There were almost daily killings between the factions in 1994, and the following year there were up to 10 political killings a day in Karachi, according to a research paper published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Mr. Baqri said the human rights groups are wrong. They were relying on locals for their information who were either biased or influenced by the government, he said. “It was an organized campaign to malign MQM in the eyes of the West.”
In Pakistan’s 2002 elections, MQM emerged as the leading party amongst Urdu-speaking Pakistanis. It now has 18 members in the Pakistan National Assembly and is an ally of President Pervez Musharraf against the Islamist militant groups in the political opposition.
The Canadian memo adds that nine MQM members were sentenced to death for the murder of the Governor of Pakistan’s Sindh province. While it says Mr. Hussain was acquitted of charges stemming from the kidnapping of an army major, “There are still numerous other criminal cases pending against him.”
The memo concerning MQM-Canada was written by Kevin Lynch, the Clerk of the Privy Council. Why it was sent to the Prime Minister’s Office is not explained in those parts of the document made public.
“We have no comment on specific pieces of correspondence,” said Myriam Massabki, the Privy Council Office spokeswoman.
Mr. Benoit said he knew nothing about the group, although he did remember attending an MQM-Canada campaign event with several Torontoarea Conservative candidates.
He said a news conference was held following the meeting, but he does not believe he made the statement that is attributed to him on the MQM-Canada Web site. “I do know what they had attributed to me, I absolutely didn’t know that that was being attributed to me. I mean, they’ve done that on their own.”
Wajid Khan, the Pakistan-born MP who ran for the Liberals but crossed the floor to the Conservatives, had no recollection of meeting the MQM, although his photo is shown on the Web site with Mr. Baqri.
“I can tell you that Mr. Khan has no affiliation, nor has he ever, with the group you mentioned,” said his executive assistant Stefano Pileggi.
“He barely remembers meeting someone from MQM ? He doesn’t even remember the man’s name, and no he had no knowledge of any criminal allegations.”
Melisa Leclerc, Mr. Day’s spokeswoman, said the Minister had no idea Mr. Baqri had been accused of atrocities. People often see Mr. Day and ask to have their photo taken with him, she said. “I don’t think the Minister knew. He’s a strong defender of human rights.”
More info. on this terrorist can be found here:
The hidden risks of the photo op
http://www.nationalpost.com/news/story. … dc304164e1
Canadian federal court upholds MQM’s ‘terrorist character’
MQM is a terrorist organization not a political party: Munawar
Muttahida Quomi Mahaz, Terrorist Group of Pakistan
This is list of MQM Terrorists cases in Canadian courts
1 Baqri v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (T.D.), 2001 FCT 1096,  2 F.C. 85 Date: October 9, 2001
http://reports.fja.gc.ca/eng/2001/2001f … t1096.html
2 Jalil v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2006 FC 246,  4 F.C.R. 471 Date: February 24, 2006
http://reports.fja.gc.ca/eng/2006/2006f … fc246.html
3 Ali v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2004 FC 1174,  1 F.C.R. 485 Date: August 26, 2004
http://reports.fja.gc.ca/eng/2004/2004f … c1174.html
4 Jilani v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration), 2007 FC 1354,  2 F.C.R. D-6 Date: December 21, 2007
http://recueil.cmf.gc.ca/eng/2007/2007f … c1354.html
5 Naeem v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2007 FC 123,  4 F.C.R. 658 Date: February 7, 2007
6 Mohammed v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2006 FC 1310,  4 F.C.R. 300 Date: October 30, 2006
http://reports.fja.gc.ca/eng/2006/2006f … c1310.html
7 Samimifar v. Canada (Minister of Citizenship and Immigration) (F.C.), 2006 FC 1301,  3 F.C.R. 663 Date: October 30, 2006
http://reports.fja.gc.ca/eng/2006/2006f … c1301.html