Shrugging off allegations of being politically motivated, the law enforcers showed Wednesday morning that even the big guns could be silenced. A heavy contingent of Rangers raided Nine Zero, the headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in Karachi’s Azizabad area, detained around 20 criminals and seized a large cache of illegal weapons and ammo.
In the operation, which was managed and executed by members of the paramilitary force alone, a number of party workers, including MQM’s Rabita Committee member Amir Khan, and notorious convicts were detained during the raid which also incidentally claimed the life of a young MQM supporter.
After breaking barricades leading to MQM headquarters, Rangers personnel cordoned off the area and searched through departments of the party’s offices. During the raid, the Rangers cut off the telephone lines at Nine Zero, disabling communication with MQM’s international secretariat.
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 the Rangers’ cordon. As the situation turned chaotic, Waqas Ali Shah of MQM’s Central Information Committee was killed during the raid while Express News cameraman Waseem Mughal was injured in the firing.
Shah’s death invoked the need of an enquiry into the incident as it remained unclear if he died due to Rangers’ aerial firing or someone at the spot killed him.
MQM spokesperson Wasay Jalil claimed that Shah was killed in straight fire by Rangers personnel around 7:45am Wednesday.
“Dozens of mobiles of Rangers appeared at Nine Zero around 6am. Personnel proceeded to raid 50 offices in our headquarters. They went to each office, went through all the files and broke telephones.”
Sindh Police Additional IG Ghulam Qadir Thebo said that Shah was not shot by Rangers personnel, but that the bullet fired was from a handgun.
Rangers Director General (DG) Major General Bilal Akbar said that MQM activist Shah was shot with a TT pistol and the fact would become clear once the medical board’s report is received.
SINDH CITIES COME TO A STANDSTILL:
MQM announced a day of peaceful protest against the search operation by Rangers and urged for transport services to be suspended throughout the day.
MQM leader Farooq Sattar termed the raid “deeply upsetting and worth investigating”. 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 Sindh Governor Ishratul Ebad to play their due roles. Sattar also warned that the situation could be a setback to the enhancement of democratic process.
Commercial activity was suspended with shops, markets and educational institutions remained closed not just in Karachi but in other cities of the province, such as Hyderabad, Sukkur, Nawabshah, Jamshoro and Mirpur Khas.
Petrol pumps and private schools in several areas of Karachi were also reportedly shut down as activists in large numbers protested against the Rangers. Children who managed to get to schools were sent back to their homes and examinations were cancelled in colleges and universities.
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.
MQM leaders and activists gathered outside the headquarters but were not allowed to enter its premises.
RANGERS MAKE IT CLEAR:
A press release issued by Rangers soon after the raid on MQM’s headquarters said: “Pakistan Rangers Sindh has conducted a series of targeted raids at surrounding areas of 90 including Khursheed Memorial Hall today. During the above mentioned action, following hardcore criminals have been arrested: Faisal Mota, Farhan Shabbir aka Mullah Amir, Nadir and Ubaid K 2.”
Faisal Mota was awarded the death sentence in absentia on March 1, 2014 by an anti-terrorism court in the murder case of Wali Khan Babar, a Geo TV reporter while Nadir had also been convicted and sentenced 13 years imprisonment.
Rangers spokesperson Colonel 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.
Col Tahir added that ammunition stolen from NATO containers was also seized during the search operation.
Speaking to media, MQM leader Faisal Subzwari and Haider Abbas Rizvi 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,” Subzwari said.
MQM CHIEF DILLYDALLIES:
Contrary to his party leaders’ statement, MQM chief Altaf Hussain claimed that the weapons presented were “brought by the Rangers themselves in blankets”.
Claiming 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.
In a telephonic address, Hussain denounced the raid by Rangers on Nine Zero and said that this was the first time that the house and office of a political party chief was raided.
Addressing Rangers personnel, he remarked that Rangers have authority but “they are unable to deliver justice”. Claiming that more than 60 people were arrested during the raid by Rangers, he demanded that “terrorism in the name of search operations” be stopped.
However, later retracting from his stand point, MQM chief told a news channel that he was supportive of cracking down on criminals irrespective of where they were. In the same breath, he maintained that his party headquarters was not harbouring terrorists but “they were just living in the vicinity”.
Earlier, the MQM chief had stated in a telephonic address that “people who had committed mistakes should not have stayed at the MQM headquarters as they had jeopardised the security of others”. “Such people should have sought refuge elsewhere as I have been staying in Britain for the last 20 years,” said the MQM chief.
After condemning the raid, Altaf Hussain apparently appreciated the “valour” of Rangers personnel for “having dared to raid his house”. In an apparent naked threat, Hussain said that the Rangers’ officers who participated in the raid at his elder sister’s house “would soon become a part of the past”.
The MQM has in the recent past accused the Rangers of involvement in illegal detention and extrajudicial killings of its members and the raid and arrests appear to be the climax of the complex dynamics between the two sides.
The Rangers last month in a report 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.