Roots of Impunity
1. The Murder of Wali Khan Babar
On January 13, 2011, Wali Khan Babar, a 28-year-old correspondent for Geo TV, was driving home after covering another day of gang violence in Karachi. Babar was an unusual face on the airwaves: Popular and handsome, he was a Pashtun from Zhob in Baluchistan near the border with Afghanistan. For Geo, it was a rare boon to have a Pashtun in Karachi, and so the station planned to send him abroad for training to become an anchor.
Pashtuns, represented by the Pashtun nationalist Awami National Party, and Muhajirs, represented by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, have been enmeshed in violent attacks and counterattacks at a level not seen since the 1990s, and Babar was passionate about covering and stopping them. For a time, he was able to mingle easily among the competing forces. He reported on clashes, extortion, drug dealing, and land grabbing. He knew he was in treacherous water, but he was optimistic and, as he told one of his colleagues, he thought he could forge a truce between the ANP and MQM. But lately he was nervous. He told his boss that the MQM was after him. He told a Pashtun colleague that he thought people were following him home and watching his movements. “I get phone calls every day with threats,” said a Geo supervisor, “and unfortunately we didn’t realize the gravity of why he was saying that.”
The day before, on January 12, 2011, Mohammad Shahrukh Khan, aka Mani, was ordered to follow Babar home, but he couldn’t find the reporter. Mani, a young Muhajir and MQM member, had worked in his father’s paan and confectionary shop until he got involved with the MQM’s Faisal Mota, a community organizer and squad leader. Once Mani joined the MQM he did various jobs—selling cigarettes, brokering, election campaigning. On January 13, he got another call from Mota, who told him to go back to Geo offices where another MQM comrade would give him a car to follow Babar.
Mani arrived outside the offices of Geo around Asr, the afternoon prayer. Two MQM guys named Zeeshan and Liaqat were already there and gave him the keys to a silver Suzuki, parked behind Babar’s car. They had put a 50-rupee credit on Mani’s mobile and told him to call when Babar pulled out. Around 8:30 p.m., Babar got in his car and began his drive home. Mani called Zeeshan: “He’s leaving.” He then called his boss, Faisal Mota, who kept him on the phone to narrate the exact route—through the Saddar area, by the lines for cricket, past the post office and the Esso station. And then suddenly there was Zeeshan. Babar was stuck in traffic in Liaquatabad, an exclusively Muhajir neighborhood, with Mani behind him. Zeeshan, wearing a cap, went in front of Mani up to Babar’s car, raised a black pistol, and fired six or seven times through the window. We know all this from Mani’s videotaped confession, which can be found online.
Mani panicked and fled. He called Faisal Mota. What’s going on? By the time he got to Faisal Mota’s house several MQM guys were already there—men with names like Waseem Commando and Shahid Commando. Zeeshan arrived soon after and then Mota walked in. Mota told Mani to relax and say not a word, but Mani left the next day for Lahore, where he stayed for two months. Upon his return to Karachi he went to Mota’s office in Gulshan. By now the police were on to them, and Mota ordered them to head to Hyderabad where Liaqat, another plotter, was in hiding. It was too late. Shortly after they left Mota’s office, Mani and four others saw the police moving in. A firefight broke out. Somehow Mota, the ringleader, got away.
On April 7, 2011, the police held a news conference announcing the arrest of Mani and four others. Twelve days later, stories began appearing in Pakistan Today with details of the murder culled from the suspects’ statements to a Joint Investigation Team. According to the team’s report, Mota had apparently received the assassination order around January 1 from Agha Murtaza, a South Africa-based MQM operative who investigators said has controlled several hit cells for years. Mota had convened a meeting at his house on January 7 and assigned different MQM members to monitor Babar at various locations, including the reporter’s residence and a Peshawari ice cream shop near the reporter’s house.