Pakistan's largest city on edge after Imran Farooq's assassination

Karachi, Pakistan, was tense on Friday amid fears that the assassination of exiled political leader Imran Farooq could spark ethnic violence.

Athar Hussain/Reuters
Shopkeeper Muhammad Hussain sits outside a closed market in Karachi September 17. Pakistan's biggest city Karachi was shut on Friday after Imran Farooq, a senior politician belonging to the city's dominant Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), was stabbed to death in London.

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Much of Pakistan is on edge following the assassination of exiled political leader Imran Farooq in front of his London home on Thursday. In Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, schools and shops closed and public transportation shut down as members of Mr. Farooq’s Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) gathered to grieve.

MQM officials have announced a 10-day mourning period.

While several cars were burned and shots were fired on Thursday, the BBC reports that the situation remained “tense but peaceful” on Friday. However, if members of MQM, one of the largest political parties in Pakistan, accuse rivals of involvement in the assassination it could ignite serious sparks in the restive nation.

Last month, dozens of Pakistanis were killed and more than 100 injured in violence that erupted after MQM leader Raza Haider was gunned down while attending a funeral in Karachi.

MQM members have spoken out against Pakistani Pashtuns, largely because of their support of the Taliban. As a result, authorities are most concerned that violence will erupt in the western region of the city that is a mix of Pashtuns and native Urdu speakers, reports Pakistan’s The Nation. Pashtuns make up 4 million of Karachi’s 16 million residents.

Security authorities in Karachi have been put on “red alert" and additional police and security forces have been deployed throughout the city to stop the escalation of any demonstrations, reports Pakistan’s The News International.

Meanwhile, police in London say it is too early to know whether Farooq’s killing was politically motivated. He was stabbed on his way home from a canceled birthday party at MQM’s London headquarters. Police have not yet arrested any suspects, reports The Daily Telegraph.

A leading member of MQM, Farooq has not returned to Pakistan since he fled the country in 1992 after spending seven years in hiding. He’d been accused of a number of crimes, including murder and torture. He denied the charges, saying they were politically motivated, reports the Daily Mail. The party, which largely represents Urdu-speakers, has urged members to “rise up” against the government.

The MQM is accused by critics and independent observers of being heavily involved in illegal activities and gangsterism in the city. Hundreds of its supporters have been killed over the last 20 years, including top leaders, in gang warfare in Karachi, including dozens this year alone.

Although Farooq was a founding member of MQM, differences between he and other leading members of the organization emerged several years ago. Since then he has had no official role in the party’s affairs.

While still an active member, he is credited with helping to craft the group’s original ideological tenets and educating core party members. When the group’s leader, Altaf Hussain, also went into exile in 1992 facing a military crackdown, Farooq was a key figure in resurrecting the party from abroad.

Despite Farooq’s falling out with the party in recent years, The Dawn reports that his killing has sent MQM “rank and file into a daze, leaving them searching for answers.”

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