KARACHI: A heavy contingent of Rangers raided Nine Zero, the headquarters of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), in Karachi's Azizabad neighbourhood on Wednesday morning, prompting a protest by party activists and a subsequent call for a day of "peaceful mourning" across the country.
A number of party workers, including member of MQM's Rabita Committee Amir Khan, were detained during the raid. Rabita Committee is MQM's central coordination cell.
The operation was managed and executed by members of the paramilitary force alone and there was no sign of local police in the area.
The Rangers' raid at the headquarters of one of the largest political parties in the country today appears to have symbolic significance in the Karachi operation that has been underway since October 2013.
Schools to remain close on Thursday
According to a statement released by All Private Schools Management Association, the private schools in Karachi will remain close on Thursday. Moreover, the papers and entry tests scheduled for the day have been postponed and new schedule will be announced later.
Rangers have authority, not justice: Altaf
MQM Chief Altaf Hussain in a telephonic address denounced the raid by Rangers on Nine Zero.
Following is a summary of his address:
- Altaf said that this was the first time that the house of a political party chief was raided
- Addressing Rangers personnel, he remarked that Rangers have authority but they are unable to deliver justice
- He said that the establishment does not tolerate MQM's presence
- He maintained that the ammunition seized from Nine Zero by Rangers does not belong to MQM. He further said that if the weapons belonged to MQM, they would not have been stored in Nine Zero
- He claimed that the ammunition recovered was planted by Rangers personnel themselves, who carried it inside concealed in blankets
- Altaf demanded that "terrorism in the name of search operations" be stopped
- He claimed that more than 60 people were arrested during the raid by Rangers
- He said that the demise of party worker Waqas Ali Shah has deeply upset him.
Party office bearer killed: MQM
MQM spokesperson Wasay Jalil said a senior party office bearer, Waqas Ali Shah of the central information committee was killed by Rangers during the raid.
Jalil said that Shah was killed in straight fire by Rangers personnel around 7:45am Wednesday morning. “Dozens of mobiles of Rangers appeared at Nine Zero around 6 am. Personnel proceeded to raid the 50 offices in our headquarters. They went to each office, went through all the files and broke telephones.”
Additional Inspector General (IG) Sindh police Ghulam Qadir Thebo, while speaking to DawnNews, said that Shah was not shot by Rangers personnel, but that the bullet was fired from a hand-held gun.
Rangers Director General (DG) Major General Bilal Akbar has said that MQM activist Shah did not die of gunfire by Rangers personnel. He added that the young man was shot with a TT pistol and the fact would become clear once the medical board's report is received.
A Rangers spokesperson said no one was killed during the raid but that 'unidentified men' opened fire injuring an Express News cameraman.
Rangers personnel after breaking barricades leading to MQM headquarters cordoned off the area and searched through departments of the party's offices .They also raided adjoining houses and arrested a number of MQM activists and leaders.
Speaking to media, Col Tahir called the two hour raid a "purely information-based operation" and divulged that the Khursheed Memorial Hall at Nine Zero has been sealed and will be handed over to police for further investigation.
During the raid, Rangers cut off the telephone lines at Nine Zero, disabling communication with MQM's international secretariat.
Party leader Haider Abbas Rizvi, who is in Islamabad, confirmed the raid to Dawn.com and said that communication with party workers at the headquarters could not be established during the raid.
Rizvi maintained that all the weapons seized by Rangers are licensed.
Scores of activists and party members protested the raid by Rangers by chanting slogans. Aerial firing also ensued outside Nine Zero as activists attempted to break Rangers' cordon.
A large number of female activists protested the raid by chanting "Go Rangers Go".
MQM announced a day of peaceful protest against the search operation by Rangers and urged for transport services to be suspended throughout the day.
The incident has emerged on a day when Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif himself is due to visit the metropolitan today.
Rangers issue details of raid
A press release was issued by Rangers soon after the raid on MQM's headquarters.
It said: "Pakistan Rangers Sindh has conducted a series of targeted raids at Surrounding areas of Nine Zero including Khursheed Memorial Hall today. During the above mentioned action, following hardcore criminals have been arrested."
Following is the Rangers press release with details of those arrested:
- Faisal Mota (involved in murder of Wali Khan Babar and convicted and sentenced to death by court)
- Farhan Shabbir aka Mullah
- Nadir (convicted and sentenced 13 years)
- Ubaid K 2
Faisal Mota had been awarded the death sentence in absentia on Mar 1 2014 by an anti-terrorism court in the murder case of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV reporter.
Express News cameraman Waseem Mughal who was at Nine Zero among other media personnel has been injured due to firing.
An employee of the Express Media Group confirmed that Mughal has been shot in the arm and that his condition is stable.
‘Stolen ammunition seized’
According to Rangers spokerperson Colonel Tahir, ammunition stolen from Nato containers was also seized during the search operation at Nine Zero.
'Weapons kept for security purposes'
Speaking to media, MQM leader Faisal Subzwari admitted that weapons were seized during the raid, but said that they were all licensed and were being kept for security in view of the threats being received from “the Taliban and other extremist elements”.
“After the Army Public School attack, even schools and colleges are now being asked to keep weapons for security. We were also told to keep weapons for our security,” he said.
MQM demands answers
Soon after the news of the search operation broke, MQM leaders and activists started to gather outside the headquarters but were not allowed to enter its premises.
Speaking to DawnNews, prominent MQM leader Farooq Sattar termed the raid deeply upsetting. He said that MQM is compliant of all laws and instead of appreciating the party’s efforts of promoting peace, it is being treated with contempt.
He demanded of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Interior Minister Chaudhary Nisar and Governor Sindh Ishratul Ibad to play their due roles. Sattar also warned that the situation could be a setback to the enhancement of democratic process.
Opposition stages walkout from Senate
Members of the opposition parties staged a walkout from the Senate to register their protest against today’s raid on the MQM headquarters.
Petrol pumps, private schools shut down
Petrol pumps and private schools in several areas of Karachi were shut down as activists in large numbers protested against the Rangers.
Examinations in Karachi University have also been postponed as citizens fear violence.
Business centres and gas stations Hyderabad, Nawabshah, Jamshoro and Mirpur Khas were also shut down.
Bus, rickshaw torched
While the MQM has maintained that the protest against the Rangers raid will be peaceful, a bus was set alight at Gulistan-i-Jauhar while a rickshaw was torched in Karimabad.
'PML-N has no contention with MQM'
Leader of the House in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, belonging to the Pakistan Muslim League - Nawaz (PML-N), categorically stated that the ruling party has no contention with the MQM.
Addressing media representatives, he denied speculation that the raid on Nine Zero was carried out in retaliation to the MQM's support to the PPP during the elections of the Senate chairmen.
He said that the details of the raid would be presented in the Upper House of Parliament once they were received from Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah.
MQM chief telephones Zardari
MQM chief Altaf Hussain held a telephonic conversation with Pakistan Peoples Party co-Chairperson Asif Ali Zardari, during which the former president was briefed over the Rangers’ raid conducted at the MQM headquarters Nine Zero and residence of Altaf’s sister.
The MQM supremo also informed Zardari about the arrest of MQM activists and the killing of Waqas Ali Shah, who died of gunshot wounds during the raid.
It was still not clear who had fired the fatal bullet which took the life of the MQM worker.
Hussain added that the nature of the raid at the MQM hearquarters was condemnable.
The former president expressed sorrow over the incident and said that MQM was one of the biggest political parties in the country.
The raid on MQM headquarters came hours after a consensus was reached on who will chair the Senate with the MQM on board with the government. Senior members of the party have been expressing their shock at the latest turn of events and have been denying the claims made by Rangers of the party harbouring “hardcore criminals” at its headquarters.
Last month, the Rangers had implicated the MQM in the Baldia Town factory inferno fire that claimed the lives of at least 258 factory workers, a charge the party vehemently denies. The JIT report also contains several other disclosures about the involvement of MQM workers in several criminal cases as well rigging in the 2013 general elections.
The city reacted to the developments with fear and apprehension. Commercial activity was suspended with shops, markets and educational institutions closed not just in Karachi but in other cities of the province, such as Hyderabad, Sukkur. Children who managed to get to schools were sent back to their homes and examinations were cancelled in colleges and universities.