MQM leaders receiving ‘extortion letters’ from Taliban

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KARACHI: Militants of the Pakistani Taliban have been demanding extortion money from at least 11 key members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi, the party revealed on Monday. Speaking to reporters, MQM senior leader Farooq Sattar said that party leaders have been receiving threatening letters from the banned outfit in the recent past, asking them to immediately pay up extortion money or face dire consequences. Among the leaders said to have received the ‘extortion letters’ are Farooq Sattar, Haider Abbas Rizvi, Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, Nasreen Jalil, Babar Ghauri, and Abdul Rasheed Godil.

“Our leaders have also been receiving threats over telephone and SMS. They have been threatened to pay up to Rs1.5 million within one week otherwise they will be targeted along with their families,” Sattar told reporters at a press conference.

“We’ve been warned that we will be punished by death if we seek help from security agencies,” he said.

The MQM says it is being warned for its ideological stance against the militants.

The last letter was received on Sept 15, a copy of which was attached to a letter the party wrote to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif informing him of the situation.

Ghauri said MQM had received threats in Karachi as well as London, where the party’s chief Altaf Hussain has been living in self-imposed exile for the past two decades.

Pakistan’s commercial hub Karachi is considered a political stronghold of the MQM, which draws its majority support from the Urdu-speaking population of the port city.

The party has for years claimed that the Taliban and other extremist militants have increased their foothold in Karachi, with Sattar saying earlier this year that the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) nowcontrols up to 25 per cent of the city.

The party has been the target of several bomb and gun attacks by Taliban militants in the past, with at least three MQM leaders killed in such attacks

Last year, the banned outfit vowed to target the MQM – along with the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and the Awami National Party (ANP) – for its secular ideology, badly affecting the party’s campaign for the May 2013 general elections.

MQM chief Altaf Hussain has also been a vocal critic of peace talks with Taliban militants.