Islamabad, Pakistan – The headquarters of the dominant political party in Pakistan’s largest city of Karachi has been raided by paramilitary forces, who claim to have recovered “illegal weapons” from the premises, party officials have told Al Jazeera.
The raid on the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) offices in the Azizabad area of the city was carried out early on Wednesday morning, with party officials saying that several party workers had also been arrested, and at least one had been killed.
“The Rangers [paramilitary force] came into [party leader] Altaf Hussain’s residence, his sister’s residence and the Khursheed Memorial hall [the party’s secretariat], and they ransacked the whole area. They have had all the offices opened up,” Saman Jafri, an MQM member of parliament and witness, told Al Jazeera.
“All our workers were peaceful, and even us lawmakers were remaining silent while the operation was ongoing.”
Colonel Tahir Mehmood, a spokesperson for the Rangers paramilitary force, told local news media after the raid that the authorities had carried out an “information-based operation” and recovered “some illegal weapons” from the premises.
He confirmed the detention of at least 15 people during the raid. The MQM said that Amir Khan, a member of the party’s central co-ordination committee, was among those detained.
“We have captured some people who have been sentenced to death [by the courts] previously,” Colonel Mehmood said. “During this operation, we found such weapons whose import is prohibited in Pakistan. We will investigate how such weaponry was imported into the country. […]
“We appeal to people to keep their businesses open and to keep public transport running.”
Speaking after the raid, Faisal Sabzwari, an MQM leader and member of the Sindh provincial assembly, said that the weapons that had been seized were licensed and legal.
“We accept that according to the laws of Pakistan, the weapons have been obtained through licences and are in the knowledge of the government,” Sabzwari said outside the party headquarters.
“They are all of permitted bore, not prohibited bore. Those weapons are here – were here – for our protection.”
Day of protest called
Following the raid, the MQM called for a day of “peaceful protest” to be observed in the city, which saw shops hurriedly closed and public transport urged to stay off the streets. Previous such days of protest have seen MQM activists forcibly shut down markets and public transport, with some breaking out into violence.
“I appeal to my workers and supporters to remain calm. I believe that time will show this to be a wholly unjustified abuse of power on the part of the establishment,” said party leader Altaf Hussain in a statement issued from London, where he resides, following the raid.
Hussain is facing money laundering charges in the United Kingdom, where he has been living in self-imposed exile since 1992. After an arrest in June last year, he is currently out on bail.
Sporadic incidents of gunfire were reported from parts of Karachi following the conclusion of the raid, while dozens of party workers congregated at the party headquarters.
The MQM is the largest political party in Karachi and nearby Hyderabad, with 23 seats in the National Assembly, all elected from those two cities. It also holds eight seats in the Senate, the upper house of parliament.
It has been dogged by allegations of involvement in violence, intimidation and criminal activity since it was formed as a party representing the city’s ethnic Muhajir community in the early 1980s, a tumultuous time for Karachi’s politics.
In recent years, party leaders have vowed that the party has given up arms. In 1997, it changed its name from the Muhajir Qaumi Movement (Muhajir National Movement) to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (United National Movement).
Allegations of the party’s involvement in violence, however, have persisted, and Karachi, the party’s heartland, continues to see the regular targeted killing of political activists, including many of the MQM’s own workers.
On February 6, the Rangers released an investigation report that said that the MQM was responsible for a 2012 factory fire in the Baldia area of Karachi that killed 258 people.
According to that investigation report, an MQM official had ordered the fire be set after unsuccessfully extorting the owner for $1.9m. The MQM has denied any connection to those who were responsible for the fire.
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