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Pak leader questioned by Canadian official

September 09, 2006 10:42 IST
Pakistani Senator Syed Mashhadi, belonging to the Mohajir Quaumi Movement, who was travelling with a Canadian visa and on Pakistani government passport, was reportedly stopped for questioning by the immigration officials when he landed in Ottawa this week.

He was taken to an interview room for an hour of questioning by a Canadian lady immigration official about the purpose of his coming to Canada. There were implicit insinuations of terrorism and that, report in the Globe and Mail claims, Canadian official said 'he might be part of a terrorist group.'

Mashhidi reportedly travelled to Canada last week to appear before the Canadian Security Intelligence Review Committee hearing on behalf of one of over 200 MQM Pakistani exiles living in Canada. One of these MQM supporters was declared a political refugee but he cannot get citizenship because of his MQM membership.

MQM came into being in March 1984 as the 'All Pakistani Mohajir students Organisation' and it became a political party in 1986.  Its members are Urdu speaking people, who settled down largely in Karachi (Sindh area) after Pakistan was created in August 1947. They are migrants from India.

Some reports say MQM supporters have indulged in all kinds of violent activities. MQM has not been declared as an illegal organisation in Canada and its members say Prime Minister Stephen Harper has appeared on their events and Conservative Party has sought their support in the recent Federal election in several ridings, including Calgary East which's the riding of Indo-Canadian Conservative MP, Deepak Obhrai.

Obhrai told this reporter, "I don't know what's going on. I have no idea. You have to ask the department of Foreign Affairs for a briefing."

But when asked as to whether he has met Pakistani politicians belonging to MQM, he only talked about Muhammad Farooq Sattar, MQM parliamentary leader in the Pakistani National Assembly, who too came with Senator Nashhadi, "To me the bottomline is that this person is a member of the government. He's a member of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the Pakistani National Assembly. I met him in that capacity. We talked about the situation in Pakistan. I don't know anything beyond that."

Safdar Ali Baqri, a top of MQM activist in Toronto, reportedly said, "Conservatives remain willing to meet MQM members, recalling a meeting last week with Deepak Obhrai."

Baqri says he arranged Sattar's meeting with Obhrai. Like Mashhadi, Sattar also testified before the SIRC. It was an in-camera hearing. He also reportedly tried to dispel the idea that the MQM is a terrorist group.

As stated earlier, MQM is not on the official Canadian list of terrorist organisations. But it is reported that immigration officials in Canada keep a second, unofficial blacklist of political groups they consider trouble.

Globe and Mail claims a classified immigration memo says the MQM is 'an organisation that there are reasonable grounds to believe is or was engaged in terrorist activity.'

There have been dozens of acts of terrorism in Karachi and surrounding areas and the Pakistani government has accused MQM members and supporters of fomenting those acts.

But a number of experts in Canada call such allegations as being without foundation.  The MQM in fact is one of the most progressive and democratic political parties in Pakistan, claims Gowher Rizvi, a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

To him MQM members have in fact been targets of violence. Immigration lawyer, Lorne Waldman, who represents many of the MQM members exiles in Canada, reportedly says they are being railroaded by a secretive Canadian government process that unfairly makes individuals guilty by association. Its members, in fact, are political enemies of real terrorists in Pakistan.

Ajit Jain in Toronto