KARACHI: Karachi’s residents woke up to worrying news this morning as they switched on their TVs or went through their smart phones looking for the latest news of the day.
By 7.30am, WhatsApp groups were abuzz with reports of a Rangers operation underway at Nine Zero – Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) headquarters in Karachi. By 9.30am the operation was over. A Rangers spokesman said the office would be under the police's custody for some time before being handed back to the party.
Read: One dead, several injured as Rangers raid MQM headquarters
A video released by the party to news channels showed several men sitting crouched on a road, with their hands behind their heads. Another scene showed a Rangers official, wearing a mask to partially cover his face, talking to MQM leader Aamir Khan. The MQM vehemently protested the action by the paramilitary force and said it was uncalled for given that the party was more than ready to hand over any criminals within its ranks to law-enforcement agencies.
The Rangers, too, were quick to brief the media. They showed, what they said, were arms and ammunition recovered during the raid. “The arms that we seized during today’s raid include many whose import is banned in Pakistan,” a Rangers spokesman said. He also said that several “hardened criminals and target killers” had been detained during the raid, including Faisal ‘Mota’ who had been awarded a death sentence for involvement in the murder of journalist Wali Khan Babar.
Read: Wali Khan Babar murder: One by one, 4 men linked to investigations bumped off
That a paramilitary operation had raided the office of Pakistan’s fourth largest political party a day after that party refused to support the ruling PML-N’s candidate for Senate chairman is perhaps too much of a coincidence to be ignored. Perhaps, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), without whose consent the raid would not have happened, is sending a message to the MQM for its perceived disloyalty in the Senate chairman’s election.
That said, the raid put the MQM on the defensive, and it responded to the weapons allegation by the Rangers by saying that these weapons were all licenced and kept in the party’s office for security purposes after the party had received threats from the Taliban. (That is a fact. The party came under the ire of outlawed Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in 2012 as well as during the run-up to the 2013 general election).
Read: Luncheon meeting: Nawaz to host political parties' heads today
So what now? The party has appealed for calm but the city has all but shut down. Moreover, markets in several cities in Sindh such as Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah and Mirpurkhas have not opened for the day as well. The party’s response will depend to a great extent to what happens to the several dozen of its members it says the Rangers have taken into custody.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is expected in Karachi and it is likely that the MQM will register a protest with him in person. However, given what happened the last time there was a meeting in Karachi on the Karachi situation, the real shots in this are being called by GHQ and it may prevail on the premier to let matters take their course.
While the outcome of these events is awaited, the people of Karachi – a city of over 20 million – will have to wait and see. Economic activity for Wednesday will be halted and ordinary people are going to face considerable hardship in the force of lost pay (for the hundreds of thousands of day wage earners), a difficult commute to work or no petrol. The party is likely to calibrate its response for the coming days going on the days developments as they unfold.
Read: Taliban claim responsibility for attack on MQM camp
No party, in government or in opposition, would be against an operation against hardened criminals and target killers but let’s face it – Karachi has seen violence by armed groups operating across the political spectrum and even jihadi and sectarian outfits have a presence in the city. In the interest of fairplay and being seen as even-handed, operations should be conducted against all such entities lest the city’s biggest political party and its supporters were to feel that they were being unfairly singled out.