KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Paramilitary troops in Pakistan’s biggest city arrested a prominent politician on Thursday, fuelling jitters about a showdown between the powerful Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party and the military-run Rangers.
Months of action by the paramilitary force against the party that runs Karachi has raised fears of bloodshed in the city of 20 million people. The campaign has also sparked a row between the police and the military over civilian detentions.
The MQM, which has controlled the southern city for decades, said Rangers arrested a senior party member at his house in an early morning raid. He is the fourth member of the party’s steering committee to be detained.
“The MQM is being pushed up against the wall,” said party spokesman Farooq Sattar.
Political parties and activists have accused Rangers of abducting and killing party members and residents during a crackdown on crime. The Rangers deny the accusations and say they are acting to preserve law and order.
Their campaign has led to a row between the police and the Rangers in a country where rivalry often simmers between the powerful military and the police, invariably mirroring friction between the military and civilian governments.
On Tuesday, Karachi police placed newspaper advertisements asking for information about missing people they said were detained by “unknown Rangers”.
“If anyone has information about the whereabouts of this person, please inform the police station,” the advertisements read. “The identity of whoever provides information will be kept confidential.”
The Rangers denounced the advertisements as “absolutely based on lies” and aimed at degrading their “superb performance” in the eyes of the public.
“Its purpose is to undermine the Karachi operation,” the Rangers said in a statement.
Police said they placed the advertisements in response to the order of a court looking into cases of missing people.
Most Pakistani politicians are wary of the military, which has ruled the nuclear-armed nation of 190 million people for about half its history.
Many worry that the military is expanding its powers in Karachi by weakening political parties, just as, they say, it is doing on a national level, though less forcefully.
The MQM, which controls Karachi, says Rangers have extra-judicially executed more than 50 of its members. The Rangers deny the accusations.
In turn, many law enforcement agencies and Karachi residents accuse the MQM of racketeering and abduction, torture and murder. The party denies the accusations.
It is not just the MQM that is complaining.
Its rival, the Pakistan People’s Party, which heads the provincial government, says the army is usurping government powers after Rangers raided government offices and arrested politicians for corruption.
Additonal reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Robert Birsel