KARACHI, Pakistan – Pakistan’s largest city was on edge Wednesday after troops raided the headquarters of a well-known political party, arresting about 20 suspects and seizing weapons, a spokesman said.
The early morning raid in Karachi, the country’s economic hub, took many in this teeming metropolis by surprise, especially since it targeted a prominent party with a presence in the national parliament.
The troops seized a large cache of assault rifles and detained suspects – including six “known criminals” – from the Muttahida Quami Movement’s offices in the heart of the city, said Col. Tahir Mahmood, a spokesman for a Pakistani paramilitary force known as the Rangers. The force is deployed to aid police and other forces to control law and order and militancy in the violence-riddled city.
The spokesman showed the media heavy weapons he said were seized from the offices and for which he said the party did not have licenses. Mahmood claimed MQM sheltered criminals and obstructed life in the neighbourhood by placing barricades in the streets.
Soldiers sealed the building and handed responsibility for it over to police, he said. It will remain in police custody until an investigation is completed, he said.
But MQM officials hotly disputed Mahmood’s account of the raid. Party leader Faisal Subzwari accused the Rangers of killing one MQM worker and said the weapons were licensed and necessary to guard the offices against Taliban threats. The party has been outspoken against the Taliban and other militants who have a major presence in the city. Another party leader, Farooq Sattar, condemned the raid as politically motivated.
The Rangers spokesman made no mention of any firing. A police officer, Saleem Akhtar, said they were investigating the death of one MQM worker.
The MQM controls most of Karachi but is often accused by opponents of using violence to bolster its power. Its leader, Altaf Hussain has lived in self-imposed exile in Britain since 1992. The party has complained in recent months that their operatives have been targeted in military and police operations designed to quell violence in the city.
Hours later, local media reported that businesses in Karachi and other cities where the party has a presence had started to close.