Karachi Ruling Party Disowns London-Based Chief After Violence

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To go with Pakistan-Britain-Politics-MQM-Hussain,FOCUS by Ashraf KHAN Kashif Ahmed Shaikh , a supporter of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), gestures with a photograph of MQM party leader Altaf Hussain.

Photographer: Asif Hassan/AFP via Getty Images
  • Security forces detain MQM leaders, seal offices in the city
  • One killed after party supporters attacked television station

The Pakistan political party that runs Karachi said it would operate independently of its London-based chief after he made a speech that sparked deadly clashes in the financial capital and a security clampdown on the group’s offices.

The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, an ethnic party that has held a decades-long grip on Pakistan’s biggest city, announced that its local leaders would now make important decisions, not self-exiled founder Altaf Hussain.

In an address delivered by phone to supporters in Karachi on Monday, Hussain had denounced the government in remarks branded as “anti-Pakistan.” Activists fired up by Hussain’s comments unleashed a wave of violence, including an attack on a leading television channel in the city. One person was killed and about a dozen injured.

“We are the MQM. It exists in Pakistan. It’s registered in Pakistan. So we’ll take decisions,” the party’s top official in Karachi, Farooq Sattar, told a news conference on Tuesday. “Even out of emotion, anti-Pakistan slogans are unjustified, unacceptable and intolerable.”

Stocks ‘Off Color’

Pakistani paramilitary rangers raid the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party headquarters on Karachi on Aug. 22.
Pakistani paramilitary rangers raid the Muttahida Qaumi Movement party headquarters on Karachi on Aug. 22.
Photographer: Rizwan Tabassum/AFP via Getty Images

Paramilitary troops detained MQM leaders and sealed its offices, extending a crackdown that began in 2013 as security forces sought to restore order in a city that generates almost half of Pakistan’s revenue. The MQM aims to represent descendants of Muslims who moved from India to Pakistan after their independence from Britain in 1947. Protests by its followers -- often triggered by statements by Hussain, who has lived in London since 1992 -- have over the years triggered stock-market gyrations and political upheaval.

The benchmark equity index was little changed at the close of trading on Tuesday, after swinging between small gains and losses during the day. The market seems “off color” as political uncertainty rises, said Muhammad Rameez, international equity sales trader at Foundation Securities Ltd. in Karachi. Offices and shops were open in the city.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif condemned Hussain’s remarks. “We can’t tolerate any word against Pakistan nor spare anyone who speaks against it,” he said in a statement from Islamabad late on Monday.

The MQM, part of the federal opposition to Sharif’s government, regained power in Karachi in local elections last year. Its top candidate for mayor is in jail and is yet to assume office. The party’s often-fatal feuds with rivals, and the gangs that thrived amid general lawlessness, came to symbolize life in the port city before the 2013 security offensive delivered safer streets.

Hussain sought to row back his comments, saying he had been distressed by extra-judicial killings and arrests of party workers. 

“I’m ashamed of the words I used against the establishment,” including army chief General Raheel Sharif, General Bilal Akbar, who leads the paramilitary Rangers force in Sindh, and Pakistan, he said.

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