KARACHI • Paramilitary forces raided the headquarters of a powerful Karachi political party and arrested two members yesterday, officials said, in a sign of deepening tensions between the army and politicians controlling the biggest and richest city in Pakistan.
Many fear the showdown could threaten the stability of the financial hub that generates half of government revenue and is home to 20 million people. There are also fears it may upset the delicate balance between the fledgling civilian government and powerful military, which has a history of launching coups.
The paramilitary Sindh Rangers, under the military's command, said they raided the Muttahida Qaumi Movement's (MQM) headquarters because the party was making hate speech.
The MQM, Pakistan's fourth-largest party, traditionally represents the descendants of Urdu speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.
It was involved in bloody factional battles in Karachi in the 1990s and now holds the majority of the city's legislative seats.
"Those apprehended tonight... have been arranging and facilitating hate speeches against the peace of Karachi," the director-general of the Sindh Rangers, Major-General Bilal Akbar, said on Twitter.
MQM leader Altaf Hussain, who lives in exile in London, has repeatedly accused the military of targeting his party.
Hundreds of party workers have also been arrested in a crackdown.
"Workers should be mentally prepared for more such raids; we will see how many workers are arrested," Mr Hussain said in a broadcasted telephone address after the raid.
British authorities are currently investigating Mr Hussain for money laundering. They are also seeking to question MQM members over the murder of a dissident MQM activist in London.
Two MQM members - a former provincial legislator and the chair of the decision-making central committee in Karachi - were detained in yesterday's raid. "More arrests will be made in the near future," a Rangers spokesman, Major Sibtain Rizvi, said in a statement.
MQM spokesman Farooq Sattar condemned the raid in a speech to party members, who gathered to protest against the military action.
"MQM is the only political party whose head office is being raided by the Rangers," he told the crowd.
The arrests came after a raid took place at the same place on March 11, when the authorities said dozens of weapons were recovered and a suspect in a journalist's murder was detained. MQM said the weapons were planted and the suspect was smuggled in.
Police officials privately accuse MQM of operating like a mafia to maintain its tight control on power but the party has always strongly denied being involved in violence.