Masked paramilitary forces carried out an armed raid on the headquarters of the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM), Pakistan’s fourth largest political party this week. One person was killed, at least 27 party workers were arrested and a collection of small arms was confiscated by the Pakistan Rangers. The immediate aftermath of the operation, however, is more questions than answers.
Waqas Ali Shah, a member of the party’s Central Information Committee died of gunshot wounds, though a spokesman for the Pakistan Rangers, Colonel Tahir, has told the media that “no one was killed.” The case is currently under investigation by local police.
Col. Tahir has also announced that weapons and ammunition stolen from NATO transport containers was found in MQM offices, however Pakistan’s Foreign Office has historically denied that weapons were being transported through Pakistan. The US State Department has also historically denied that arms were stolen from NATO transport containers in Karachi. The State Department reiterated this on Twitter this week.
After dawn raid on 90 and discovery of weapons, US says Karachi has never been used to ship weapons and ammunitions pic.twitter.com/1K5T1p9ebH
— Murtaza Ali Shah (@MurtazaGeoNews) March 12, 2015
Party officials claim that they have licenses for the weapons that were seized, and that they were held for defense. MQM has taken a strong anti-Taliban position in government, and their offices have been the target of repeated Taliban attacks.
Questions also remain as to what prompted the operation. Col. Tahir told reporters that “the raid was carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court and under the powers granted to Rangers by the federal government,” but a Tweet by Pakistani journalist Ali Kamran Chishti on March 3rd suggests that the operation was carried out under the authority of Pakistan’s Army leadership.
Major targeted operation by Rangers expected in #Karachi. Sources confirm they got the nod from GHQ.
— Ali Kamran Chishti (@akchishti) March 3, 2015
These and other questions notwithstanding, one thing is clear. The spectacle of a paramilitary raid on a civilian political party office sends a strong message about the balance of power in Pakistan, and the very tenuous position of Pakistan’s democratically elected civilian leaders.