Shops, businesses and schools were shut yesterday across Pakistan’s financial capital, Karachi, braced for further unrest after the killing of a politician and a night of sporadic shootings.
Manzar Imam, 42, a lawmaker from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a coalition partner in the federal government and the dominant political party in Karachi, was shot with three of his guards in a drive-by shooting on Thursday.
Pakistan’s umbrella Taliban faction claimed responsibility for his death and threatened further attacks on the party.
“This was a first gift to MQM and we assure the people of Karachi that we will soon free them from MQM’s clutches,” Tehreek-e-Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said by telephone from an undisclosed location.
“MQM is a secular party and we will increase such attacks against them,” he said.
Karachi last year saw its deadliest year in two decades, with about 2,000 people killed in violence linked to ethnic and political tensions, raising fears over elections due this year.
Overnight violence, linked to ethnic and politically linked tensions in Karachi, left five people dead and about 30 wounded, police said.
Markets shut, streets were deserted and schools closed, with office attendance thin although government departments, the port and stock exchange remained open.
Hyderabad, the second-largest city after Karachi in the southern province of Sindh, was similarly shut down and people burnt tires to protest Imam’s killing.
It is the second shooting of an MQM provincial lawmaker in just more than two years in the city, Pakistan’s business center with a population of 18 million.
The death of MQM lawmaker Raza Haider in an ambush in August 2010 sparked a fierce wave of ethnic and politically linked violence that killed scores of people.
In other news, police yesterday said that an officer who was investigating a corruption case against Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was found dead in the nation’s capital.
Senior police officer Bani Yamin said the body of Kamran Faisal was found hanging from a ceiling fan in his room at a government dorm in Islamabad yesterday. Yamin said police were investigating whether Faisal committed suicide.
Faisal’s death came days after the Supreme Court ordered the arrest of Ashraf and 15 others in connection with an old corruption case the officer was investigating.
The prime minister was implicated in the case when he was minister of water and power. At the time, he oversaw the import of short-term power stations that cost the government millions of dollars but produced little energy.
Meanwhile, a cleric who has been pushing for electoral reforms will resort to street protests again if the government does not abide by an agreement that eased a political crisis, an aide said yesterday.
Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, who has a history of ties with the military, reached a deal with Pakistan’s ruling coalition on Thursday that will give his party some say over the formation of a caretaker government ahead of elections this spring. Qadri’s party may also participate in the elections.
The cleric’s reappearance on Pakistan’s political stage a few weeks ago after years of living in Canada and his calls for the military to play a role in forming an interim administration have raised speculation he may be backed by the country’s powerful army. Qadri and the military deny this.
The cleric, who led four days of street protests in the heart of the capital aimed at forcing the government to resign, will keep pushing for political reforms and a halt to corruption, his spokesman said.
Aside from giving Qadri a voice in who leads the caretaker administration, the government also agreed to dissolve parliament before a scheduled date of March 16, although it did not specify a date.
It also said elections would be held within 90 days of the dissolution and electoral reforms would continue to be discussed.
An announcement of an election date could come during a parliament session on Monday.