February 7, 2024
By Xari Jalil
It has been 28 days and Nisar and Mohsin Panhwar’s family is still waiting for them to return home safely. The father and son were abducted by police in masks accompanied by some people in plain clothes on January 9, at around 2:30 a.m. Besides the fact that Nisar Ahmed Panhwar, who was contesting elections from NA-248, and his son Mohsin, who was contesting from PS-85, were both candidates of the MQM, a party that has been in the crosshairs of the establishment, there is no apparent reason why they could have been abducted.
They were only the first few to disappear like this. On Sunday, January 28, as party leader Altaf Hussain announced the names of the 81 candidates that the party would be backing, a crackdown against them ensued, especially in Karachi and Hyderabad.
On the night of February 6, at 3:30 a.m., Dr. Osama Anjum from PS-127 was picked up from his home. While speaking to Voicepk, his younger brother Abdullah said that there was simply nothing he could think of to understand why his brother was taken the way he was.
“When the bell rang, my mother and aunt were there to see who it was,” he said. “My brother and I were following, and we never suspected there could be anything suspicious. However, we noticed there were some people dressed in police uniforms, along with some plainclothesmen carrying walkie-talkies.”
At first, they tried to identify him – asking him whether he was Osama. Then, they requested his CNIC, which Abdullah went to get.
My mother and aunt were getting very worried, so the men told me to take them inside,” says Abdullah. “By the time I came back, there was no one around. They had taken my brother away.”
Apparently they were not real police officers either.The street lights had been turned off – intentionally it seemed – and it was very dark outside. The street was clear and there was no sign of Osama or the men anywhere. The family immediately started reaching out to senior party leaders, who, in turn, instructed them to connect with lawyers. Apparently they were not real police officers either.
“Running for elections is not a crime,” asserts Abdullah. “The constitution grants us the right to run and vote for our chosen candidate. Despite not knowing who took my brother, we are certain he committed no wrongdoing – he was merely exercising his fundamental rights. I suspect this occurred due to the support we have received from our party leader, and that our rivals might be involved.”
He is unsure how and why, but he says that since campaigning was not even allowed it is strange that Osama would have been a threat to anybody.
Apart from this, others have been picked up as well. PS-108 candidate Tehseen Abbasi was arrested the same day as Osama was from Karachi. PS-65 candidate Iqbal Arain was also taken into custody in Hyderabad by Rangers and the police. Speaking to Voicepk, Advocate Johar Abid says till present there have been at least 20 people out of the 80 announced by MQM who were arrested or picked up and were missing. Today he is representing 12 of these petitions.
“In some of the cases, when they had conducted raids upon the homes of candidates, and there were not at home, their male relatives were taken instead,” said Abid, who himself was abducted in January, possibly alongside Nisar Ahmed and Mohsin Panhwar. Abid says he was taken in a Vigo and he was not aware of his surroundings. There were two others with him and when he asked his captors who they were he was told they were the father and son.
“I know they are in detention at the moment, and the only reason why I am not still in detention is because the Karachi Bar Association and the others protested for me,” he says. “An FIR was also lodged regarding my abduction in the Mobina Town Police Station, and this probably made them uncomfortable so they let me go.”
Abid is of the view that as the elections take place on Thursday, February 8, and the counting process begins, the pressure will increase on those who have been abducted or arrested.
“They told me to stop advocating for MQM, telling me to join the GDA instead,” he says. “I told them I’d sooner join them than join the GDA. He says those who picked him up identified themselves as the Counter Terrorism Department (CTD).
“They just don’t want free and fair elections,” he says. “Only today I was at the Baldia Town police station having an FIR lodged for the abduction of Fayyaz Naseem who is contesting from PS-114. He was arrested after being charged with possession of hashish. Likewise, a candidate from NA-238 Shoaib Akhtar was intimidated after his brother was arrested from PIB on charges of possession of 220 grams of hashish. Others have also been picked up on similar charges.”
MQM leader in London Mustafa Azizabadi said that a large-scale crackdown began soon after the party announced the backing of independent candidates. “Our PS-126 candidate Dr. Osama Anjum and PS-108 contender Tehseen Abbasi have been arrested in Karachi, while Iqbal Arian, who is contesting from PS-65 Hyderabad, has also been detained. Our candidates Nisar Ahmed and Mohsin Nisar are already missing,” he said while speaking to media. He urged the chief justice of Pakistan to help with the release of the candidates immediately. “Raids have also been conducted on the homes of at least 15 people.”
Hussain’s party supports 81 candidates, with 27 vying for National Assembly seats, including 19 in Karachi, two in Hyderabad and one each in Mirpurkhas, Tando Allahyar, Sanghar, Multan and Muzaffargarh. Additionally, among the 54 provincial seat contenders, 37 compete in Karachi constituencies, while others run in urban areas. Twenty-five of these candidates, marked with the symbol “A,” were backed by Hussain from the beginning, a revelation made by MQM-London after ballot papers were printed.
Among all the abductions and arrests, that of Nisar Ahmed Panhwar stands out. The senior party leader has remained a member of the National Assembly (2004 to 2007), as well as the Sindh Assembly (2008 to 2013) in the past. But since the last few years he was abducted at least three other times for various reasons. His other son Mansoor Panhwar spoke to Voicepk and said that the night he was taken away by the ‘men in the Vigo’, he had gone to bed happy, because his nomination papers had been finally accepted after an appeal in the high court. In fact forms of all three of the MQM (Altaf) candidates were rejected. These included Nisar Panhwar, Johar Abid and Aftab Baqai.
Mansoor Panhwar says that at about 2:30 am, the bell rang and when he opened the gate he saw men in police uniforms with their faces hidden.
“I shut the gate and went inside to alert my father and brother,” he said. “They said to my father, ‘Nisar sb aap ko chalna parega’ [Mr Nisar you have to come with us]”.
The last time Nisar Panhwar was taken away like this, he was missing for nearly 50 days. Mansoor said they tried hard to resist, but the men insisted and when Mohsin – Nisar’s older son and another MQM candidate tried to resist, they also took him outside.
“Their officer promised us that nothing would happen to my father, that he would be released soon,” says Mansoor. “But we knew better. We took videos of them. They were upset about us taking videos and said if we played them my brother and father would suffer for that. But we know their methods to intimidate us.”
Panhwar’s first abduction took place three years ago when he had gone to G.M Syed’s memorial and had given a salute there. “It was on behalf of our leader Altaf Hussain, but as soon as he reached Karachi, the Rangers arrested him,” says Mansoor. The second time he was detained was after he filed a petition for Altaf Hussain after he had made the controversial speech in August 2016. This petition did merely sought to bring attention to political victimization and forced abductions that MQM workers were suffering from. The third time he was arrested from the Karachi Press club after he raised the Pakistani flag on August 14, and chanted Long Live Pakistan, says MQM’s member of the Rabita Committee, Hassaan Butt.
Now Panhwar’s own case lies in the court of Justice Iqbal Kalhoro, who has directed SSP East to produce the missing persons immediately.
“We will definitely receive votes because of our ‘wafaparast’ (party loyals),” says Johar Abid. “Because we have not been allowed to campaign at all. We have been taking pictures in the guise of the night, hiding ourselves in case we are caught asking directly for votes. But we have hopes that out of the 22 NA seats, 10 to 12 will be ours at least. Otherwise, we could not identify with our party, we couldn’t put up banners, or a picture of the party head Altaf Bhai.”
— Hassan Butt (@IHassanButt) February 5, 2024
At the same time, others including the other two factions of the MQM have been campaigning freely, he says. “I came across their rallies last night, while we had to sneak door to door. It’s not fair at all.”
Hassaan Butt from the Rabita Committee says that there is no ‘manifesto’ given out since they will not be contesting as a political party.
— Hassan Butt (@IHassanButt) February 7, 2024
“But MQM has always been progressive and wants to protect people,” he says. “In that context, we have always spoken out for missing persons and enforced disappearances, especially of the Baloch people – our million march is on record. Ironically we have been its victims too.”
Butt says it is sad that the spirit of the election has been taken over, and the establishment has identified its favorites this time.
“Let the voters decide,” he says. “It is their mandate.”