KARACHI, Sept 11: Life was paralysed in Karachi on Wednesday amid gunfire and arson attacks hours after police arrested a former lawmaker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on murder and terror charges over the killing of two cops.
This attracted a strong reaction from the opposition party which questioned the role of the Sindh government in the ongoing ‘Karachi operation’ and approached authorities in Islamabad to resolve the issue.
The midnight arrest of Nadim Hashmi, in charge of the MQM’s North Nazimabad unit and former member of the Sindh Assembly, in a raid on his home, sparked anger in the MQM ranks and in an immediate reaction senior leaders and legislators of the party approached the police, calling it an ‘unjust move.’
“Mr Hashmi was arrested from his home in North Nazimabad and booked on terror charges for killing two policemen and snatching their official rifles,” Central Karachi SSP Amir Farooqi said.
“He was arrested and booked by Hyderi Market police, but due to security concerns he was kept in Pirabad police station. The police are gathering more facts and due process of law will be followed.”
The MQM coordination committee, in a late night reaction, condemned the arrest and by the morning the city witnessed scattered incidents of violence, including firing and arson attacks. At least four vehicles were set on fire as transport stayed off the roads, commercial activities remained suspended and fuel stations were unable to do regular business.
The situation was not too much different in other Sindh cities as daily life was badly affected in Hyderabad, Sukkur and Mirpurkhas amid firing and arson.
Later in the day, MQM leaders called the raids on the party’s offices unjust, saying it gave an impression that the targeted operation was not transparent and being given a ‘political colour’.
“When authorities were approached following the unjust arrest of Mr Hashmi, the MQM was told about a government directive to the police that every in charge of the MQM unit concerned will be arrested in case of any crime in his local-ity,” MQM leader Haider Abbas Rizvi said at a press conference.
“We will continue to support the operation in Karachi if it would be conducted against the People’s Amn Committee, gang warfare, land and drug mafias... but we will not allow defamation of those having people’s mandate.”
In his address to the party’s coordination committee members and senior leaders, MQM chief Altaf Hussain warned his workers to “prepare themselves mentally and physically to confront state oppression with fortitude”. “A 1992-like operation against MQM has been launched,” an MQM statement quoted Mr Hussain as saying. “The PPP has always started a pogrom whenever they came to power. Now they have initiated organised persecution of Muhajirs again. The people have prepared themselves for the sacrifice and to face the state oppression with fortitude.”
In the evening, senior MQM leaders contacted Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan to convey the party’s concerns. Although an MQM spokesman said he could only confirm a telephonic contact of the party’s leaders Senator Babar Ghori and Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi with Chaudary Nisar, sources said the minister had assured them of the federal government’s role to remove their concerns and resolve the crisis.
However, the Sindh government emphatically reiterated that it owned the targeted operation against killers, criminals and extortionists in the city, and dismissed the MQM’s perception that it had veered away from its original objective towards political entities.
“The government is sincere in its efforts to make the city peaceful, for which Rangers and police are relentlessly conducting targeted operations,” Sindh Information Minister Sharjeel Inam Memon told Dawn.
Asked if Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah was overseeing the operation, as had been declared after a landmark federal cabinet meeting in Karachi, he said it was so but “he has given a free hand to both the forces to act independently”.