Political crisis deepens in Karachi as MQM office sealed

MQM chief seeks forgiveness for anti-Pakistan speech and inciting supporters to ransack the office of a news channel. One person is killed and a dozen others wounded, while several vehicles were torched in violence that followed the speech.

Photo by: AFP
Photo by: AFP

Pakistani paramilitary Rangers officials stand outside the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party after it was sealed during a raid in Karachi on late August 22, 2016.

Pakistani paramilitary forces on Tuesday sealed the headquarters of a powerful political party in the commercial hub of Karachi and detained five of its top leaders, a day after supporters of the party stormed the office of a television channel.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain, who lives in self-imposed exile in London, had in a telephone address issued anti-Pakistan statements and criticised the local media for failing to report on his workers' recent hunger strikes.

He also instructed supporters to attack the offices of three media houses for not showing his image and broadcasting his speeches. 

MQM supporters rushed to the office of ARY News on Monday shortly after the speech and attacked the private news channel's office, firing shots and smashing the premises.

They later clashed with police outside, leaving one person dead and several wounded. The rioters also set fire to several vehicles, including a police mobile.

"We have sealed the MQM headquarters, their media office and (their) hostel, some weapons have also been recovered," Khurram Shahzad, the sector commander for the regional paramilitary Rangers force told reporters on Tuesday.

Officials of Pakistani paramilitary Rangers stand alongside the weapons recovered from the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party.

The country's fourth-largest political party said five of its leaders had been taken into custody.

The latest developments came two days before the mayoral elections are scheduled to be held in the country's largest city.

The MQM is expected to win the election comfortably as it has 214 out of 308 elected members of the council of the Karachi Municipal Corporation.

MQM'a mayor nominee, Wasim Akhtar, is set to become the first mayor to be elected while remaining within the confines of prison.

Akhtar is facing several cases related to hate speech and alleged involvement in providing medical assistance to criminals.

He was arrested last month from an Anti-Terorism Court in Karachi after the rejection of his bail plea.

In a statement issued from London later on Monday, Altaf Hussain asked for forgiveness from the army and Rangers chiefs saying he was under a lot of stress when he made the anti-Pakistan statements.

Hussain, who left Pakistan in 1992 after an operation launched against criminals began targetting members of his political party, is known for his fiery addresses to his supporters in Karachi though a loudspeaker connected to a telephone in his London home.

His hold on parts of the sprawling and crime-ridden metropolis is so strong that he has been known to bring entire areas to a standstill and disrupt life for millions in the city.

A Pakistani policeman walks past a torched police vehicle following a clash with activists of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party and police officials in Karachi on August 22, 2016.

The MQM is accused of racketeering, abduction, torture and murder in its bid to maintain power. 

The party, which denies any link to crime, has accused the Rangers of carrying out dozens of extra-judicial killings of its members since a crackdown on crime in Karachi in 2013.

Altaf Hussain has blamed the military for targeting his party following arrests of hundreds of activists allegedly for being involved in the killings of political opponents and security forces and other crimes.

A court had slapped a complete ban on the publication of Hussain’s speeches and the broadcast of his images in the national media following anti-army remarks made by the MQM chief in August 2015.

The party also denies allegations by defectors, law enforcement personnel and political oponents of having received funding from India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) spy agency.

The MQM supremo, who received British citizenship after staying in London for a decade, is also facing a money laundering case.

Karachi is a financial centre that is home to 20 million people and generates more than half of the government revenue.

The MQM holds the majority of the city’s legislative seats and claims to represent the descendents of Urdu-speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

TRTWorld and agencies