Pakistan says it has formally asked British authorities to take action against the self-exiled leader of a Pakistani political party for inciting this week’s deadly violence in Karachi.
The man in question is Altaf Hussain, a longtime British citizen, who has been running his Muttahida Quami Movement, or MQM, party from London since fleeing the country 24 years ago.
The party represents Karachi’s majority Urdu-speaking community who migrated from India to Pakistan in 1947 when it got independence from Britain.
On Monday, MQM activists assaulted offices of three private television stations in the city and clashed with police shortly after Hussain delivered a speech by phone from London that was broadcast through loudspeaker. Hussain ordered followers to stage the violence and chanted “Down with Pakistan.”
The attacks left at least one person dead and seven wounded, including journalists and security personnel.
Authorities condemned Hussain’s speech as “anti-state speech” and quickly moved to detain party leaders as well as workers for their alleged role in the violence. Paramilitary forces also raided and sealed MQM offices in the city and other urban centers of Sindh Province, of which Karachi is the capital.
“We have formally asked Britain that Scotland Yard and Metropolitan Police must take action according to the evidence and facts available with them,” Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan told reporters Wednesday in Karachi.
He added that Pakistani authorities are sending more evidence to the British government, including video footage of the destruction Hussain’s followers caused during Monday’s mass riots.
He said Pakistan “hopes and expects” British authorities to bring Hussain to justice because “he is their citizen and used their soil for inciting violence in Pakistan.”
The British Foreign Office in a statement deplored Monday’s attack on Karachi’s media. “UK laws on incitement of hatred and violence are clear and the police are responsible for the investigation of any allegation of criminal acts,” it added.
Khan also vowed to take legal and constitutional action at home, giving credence to media reports the government plans to institute a high-treason case against Hussain in absentia.
The self-exiled leader, in a statement late Monday, apologized for his anti-Pakistan remarks, saying he was under “mental stress” during the speech.
But on Tuesday, top party leaders in Pakistan in a joint news conference distanced themselves from Hussain’s speech, condemning it as “intolerable” and unacceptable.
MQM second-in-command, Farook Sattar, a national parliament member, also promised to operate the party from within the country until Hussain’s “mental health” issue is addressed, though opponents dismissed the assertions as merely “a damage-control” attempt.
Hussain’s supporters describe him as the undisputed leader of MQM, though critics and renegade party leaders accuse him of being a terrorist and fanatic.
Authorities have long accused MQM of being behind political and ethnic violence in Karachi in its bid to either remain in power or put governing parties under pressure.
A London-based party leader, Wasay Jalil, while speaking to media by phone denied the allegations MQM was involved in extremism or used British soil for any such acts. He also dismissed reports of a spilt in the party because of Hussain’s controversial speech, reiterating he remains the undisputed leader of the Urdu speakers.
The controversy did not appear to have undermined MQM's popularity, because one of its imprisoned leaders, Waseem Akhtar, on Wednesday won the election for mayor of Karachi.
While Hussain’s calls for protest strikes in the past paralyzed business in Karachi, home to 20 million people, analysts say a security crackdown on his party since 2013 has weakened MQM’s power base.