Security forces on high alert in Karachi after arrest of London-based politician Altaf Hussain

 

Security forces in Karachi have been placed on heightened alert after police in Britain arrested a powerful London-based Pakistani politician as part of an investigation into money laundering. The arrest sparked panic among many in Karachi, fearful of a violence backlash from the politician’s supporters.

Officers from the Metropolitan Police confirmed they had arrested Altaf Hussain, head of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), at his home in north-west London where he has lived for more than 20 years. The 60-year-old was later taken to hospital for a prearranged check-up.

The MQM, which was established in 1984 to represent Urdu-speaking Muslims who originally travelled from India to Pakistan after Partition,  has a power base in Karachi and has been a major player in local, regional and national politics in Pakistan.

Yet in Karachi, like most other parties, it has over the years been blamed for seemingly endless cycles of violence and killing between gangs linked to various political factions. The MQM has always denied the allegations, claiming it is peaceful and stressing its secular nature.

News of Mr Hussain’s arrest triggered chaos in parts of the city as people rushed home in an attempt to avoid any violent backlash. Roads were jammed and police struggled to deal with traffic as shops, markets and businesses closed early and sent their staff home. The British consulate in the city of 25 million people was temporarily closed.

On Tuesday night, as thousands of supporters held sit-down protests, leaders of the MQM appealed for calm and restraint among their workers. There were reports of sporadic burning of vehicles but the party claimed its members were not responsible.

In a statement issued by Nadeem Nusrat, a member of the MQM’s central committee, the party said Mr Hussain was loved and adored by millions of people who were now concerned about his welfare. “We also feel and share those sentiments and appeal to all people to control their sentiments and maintain peace at all costs,” it said.

Mr Nusrat later added: “This ongoing investigation is part of due process and the party is prepared to assist the British police with all their enquiries as neither Altaf Hussain nor the party have anything to hide.”

Mr Hussain fled Karachi in 1992. His supporters say it was no longer safe for him in the city while others say he was the subject of investigations by the police.

For many years he was able to maintain an iron grip on the party and addressed large gatherings by telephone. But in recent years, with Mr Hussain suffering health problems, there has been evidence of disagreement and even fissures within the senior leadership. A year ago, the central committee was dissolved and a new one formed after Mr Hussain had publicly criticised it,

In London, the MQM has also been part of an investigation by police into the stabbing to death of another senior party member, Imran Farooq, who was murdered on a street in Edgeware in 2010. He had also been living in self-imposed exile.

Scotland Yard last week released the names of two Pakistani men who they said were suspects for the murder of Dr Farooq. He was found dead outside his London home in what police believe was a politically motivated killing after rumours emerged he was planning to split from the party.

The murder, which police said was carefully planned and involved a number of people, saw the politician stabbed multiple times with a kitchen knife and battered with a brick.

Police want to interview the two men, Pakistani nationals aged 29 and 34, who were in London at the time of the murder and left Britain that night. They had registered to study at an east London college having come into the country on student visas.

Scotland Yard on Tuesday declined to name Mr Hussain and would only say that a 60-year-old had been arrested on suspicion of money laundering. The home was being searched was in north-west London.

Imtiaz Gul, an Islamabad-based analyst and director of the Centre for Research and Security Studies, said it was difficult to assess what impact the arrest of Mr Hussain would have until any legal process was completed. “The party is urging its supporters to remain calm” he said. “If he is convicted, then we might see violence in Karachi.”

News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
peopleBenjamin Netanyahu trolled by group promoting two-state solution
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie performs during her Kiss Me Once tour
musicReview: 26 years on from her first single, the pop princess tries just a bit too hard at London's O2
Life and Style
fashionEveryone, apparently
Voices
The erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey has already been blamed for a rise in the number of callouts to the fire brigade for people trapped in handcuffs
voicesJustine Elyot: Since Fifty Shades there's no need to be secretive about it — everyone's at it
Arts and Entertainment
A new Banksy entitled 'Art Buff' has appeared in Folkestone, Kent
art
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Arts and Entertainment
The White Sails Hospital and Spa is to be built in the new Tunisia Economic City.
architectureRussian billionaire designs boat-shaped hospital for new Dubai-style Tunisia Economic City
Sport
Husain Abdullah returns an interception off Tom Brady for a touchdown
nflLeague has rules against 'sliding to ground on knees'
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
tech
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style