Pakistan MQM leader Altaf Hussain’s arrest in London: Thousands block roads in Karachi
Karachi: Around 4,000 people blocked the main thoroughfare of Pakistan’s port city of Karachi late Tuesday to protest the arrest of Altaf Hussain, the powerful exiled leader of the MQM party.
They were responding to a call by a senior party figure, Haider Abbas Rizvi, who said “Everyone should come to endorse his or her love and solidarity to Altaf Hussain.”
He called for the sit-in on the city’s MA Jinnah road to continue until Hussain, who was arrested in London on suspicion of money-laundering, was released.
The MQM’s parliamentary leader inside Pakistan appealed to party workers to remain calm and pray for Party leader Altaf Hussain.
We should stay calm, we should not become impatient in any condition. The workers must be aware of developments, keep in touch with the party office, stay united and also look around you,” Dr Farooq Sattar said.
“We should act on the teachings of Altaf Hussain. We should pray for his health, we should say that he should be given medical treatment and his medical tests should be conducted,” he added. Karachi is Pakistan’s economic heart but is frequently rocked by ethnic, sectarian and militant violence and has one of the world’s highest murder rates.
Unlike Pakistan’s other major political leaders who are largely drawn from the elite, Hussain was born to a lower middle class family that migrated from Agra in India during Partition in 1947.
He founded the MQM party in 1984 to safeguard the rights of the city’s Urdu-speaking community which fled from India. Many of them revere him for bringing them relative prosperity after the turbulent ethnic clashes of the 1980s.
But critics accuse the party of resorting to extortion and violence to maintain its grip on power.
Hussain left Pakistan for Britain in 1992 after a military operation to end ethnic unrest in Karachi, gaining British citizenship in 2002.
His residence in London was raided on suspicion of money-laundering in 2012 and 2013 by British police.
In 2010 the murder in London of Imran Farooq, one of the party’s founding members and a confidante of Hussain, sparked speculation of an “inside job — charges strongly denied by the MQM.
Pakistan Railways halted train service in Karachi and the rest of Sindh province for three hours. In the past, demonstrators in Karachi have torched railway cars.
“My wife informed me of the arrest of Altaf Hussain, and everybody in the bank wanted to go home as soon as possible,” said Tariq Ali, a banker in Karachi.
Sobia Ahmad, who was waiting for her brother to pick her up, said her mother had called her and demanded she return home immediately.
“We are all aware of the history of this city,” Ahmad said. “After a major incident the city panics, and agitators rule the streets and roads.”
But despite the appeal for peace, there were reports of scattered violence across the city, senior police officer Pir Muhammad Shah said. He said some vehicles had been burnt and there were reports of people firing guns into the air.
MQM condemned the violence and said in a statement that the people behind it were not related to the party.
Authorities have beefed up security at various parts of the city and at diplomatic missions, Shah said.