By Syed Raza Hassan
KARACHI, Pakistan, March 3 – A former mayor of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest and richest city, returned home from self-imposed exile on Thursday and launched a new political party to challenge the iron grip of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) on the city.
The MQM political party is under pressure from the paramilitary Rangers force, which launched an armed operation in the southern port city late in 2013 to tackle soaring crime rates.
Since then, hundreds of MQM workers have been arrested and a Pakistani court has issued an arrest warrant for party boss Altaf Husain for threatening the army in a television address.
Mustafa Kamal, who won wide support as mayor of Karachi from 2005 to 2010 for his efforts to ease traffic and improve public services, levelled blistering criticism at Husain’s strongarm tactics.
“Today we are launching a new political party,” a weeping Kamal said at a news conference. “Children have been slain and generations have been destroyed by Altaf Husain. This is my challenge.”
Hussain could not immediately be reached for comment. Wanted in his homeland over a murder case, he has been living in self-imposed exile in Britain since 1992.
Kamal left Pakistan in 2013 over reported differences with Husain, and had lived in Dubai since then.
In a tirade that lasted almost two hours, Kamal accused Husain of the murders of party workers, and of delivering speeches and making party policy while drunk. He said Husain personally ran the party’s militant wing.
MQM senior leader Saif Ali dismissed Kamal’s accusations, adding there was no doubt Husain was the “undisputed leader of the people.”
Karachi is home to Pakistan’s stock exchange and handles all of the cash-strapped country’s shipping. It generates most of Pakistan’s tax revenue, and some of its most wanted men.
The Rangers crackdown and Kamal’s unprecedented attack have raised questions over who will control Pakistan’s financial heart in the future.
Husain is known for his fiery addresses to supporters in Karachi via a loudspeaker linked to a telephone in his London home. His hold on the sprawling and violent city is so strong he is capable of shutting down entire neighbourhoods.
In 2010, MQM founding member Imran Farooq was stabbed to death in London. Party insiders say he had had major differences with Husain before his death.
Husain is now under investigation in Britain for Farooq’s murder, as well as charges of money-laundering.
Last year, Pakistani officials arrested two men suspected of killing Farooq. Both are affiliated with the MQM.