It’s looking increasingly likely that MQM mayoral candidate Waseem Akhtar will be the next mayor of Karachi. What’s particularly remarkable about this is that his election will mark a first for Pakistan: it will be the first time a city in the nation will be run from behind bars. But there’s much more than meets the eye here, as revealed by an examination of the case against him.
Waseem Akhtar still in jail
The election is set for Wednesday, but media outlets throughout Pakistan are already proclaiming Waseem Akhtar as the next Karachi mayor. He has been in jail for over a month now, and it doesn’t sound like he will be released any time soon, reports The Guardian. The former MP is being held at the central prison in Karachi on several charges, including instigating some riots that happened throughout the city in May 2007. Officials also accuse him of connecting wanted terrorists with medical care.
If he is convicted of the charges, he could spend years in prison, but his political party stands behind him and says the charges are bogus. According to The News, Akhtar faces charges in seven different terrorism cases related to the May 2007 riots in Karachi. Even though he was arrested before the Election Commission of Pakistan released the mayoral election schedule, the MQM party kept him as its nominee.
Charges against Waseem Akhtar are false: MQM
MQM’s Rabita Committee issued a press release denying the report that Akhtar had confessed to playing a role in the May 2007 riots that resulted in 50 deaths, according to Daily Pakistan. The Sindh Police had previously claimed that he had confessed to taking part in the violence.
The deadly riots occurred on May 12, 2007 when workers for multiple political parties were engaged in a shootout in Karachi as Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, who was deposed as chief justice of Pakistan at the time, traveled to Karachi to make a speech at a public event. MQM has repeatedly said that it did not instigate the violence that occurred on that date and stated that some of its own workers died in the violence as well. At the time of the carnage, Akhter was home minister of Sindh.
In the press release this week, MQM also called out police officials in the December 2007 incident in which former Prime Minister and PPP Chairperson Benazir Bhutto was killed in a bombing. The Rabita Committee questioned how officers could stand by and do nothing as Pakistan was buried under anarchy and violence as a result of her death.
Logistics issues for Waseem Akhtar and Karachi
If Waseem Akhtar is indeed elected as the next mayor of Karachi — and it seems very unlikely that he will not be — there will be many questions about the logistics of running the city from a prison cell. Instead of having personal staff members to take care of his daily wants and needs, prison guards will be handling things for him, reports the Financial Times. Guards will have to be the ones to arrange visits from officials in the city council and figure out how to provide a private telephone line for the mayor’s use only.
Further, a Karachi government official told the media outlet that the jail doesn’t have a conference room that is large enough for the entire city government to meet in. As a result, the arrangements could become quite awkward. The official told the media outlet that Akhtar might have to empower his deputy mayor to preside over some city government meetings.
Akhtar’s imprisonment part of the political chaos
The MQM party is expected to sweep the elections on Wednesdau, reports the Financial Times. MQM has dominated politics in Karachi even though it has been at odds with Pakistan’s military forces.
Because of how outspoken the MQM and its members have been against Pakistan’s powerful military, there seems to be a high likelihood that Waseem Akhtar’s imprisonment is the result of pressure being brought to bear. The paramilitary force referred to as the Rangers, which is operated by the military, arrested other MQM leaders in overnight raids this week following demonstrations in which a private TV station was attacked and cars in the city center were set on fire.
Riots broke out late Monday following a speech by the exiled MQM leader Altaf Hussain. He has lived in London in self-imposed exile for 20 years and continues to speak out against the establishment in the country.
Akhtar’s plight has recently attracted the attention of international media outlets as well as those located in Pakistan. Political experts warn that the politically motivated violence in the nation threatens to make it easier for Islamists to gain a foothold there. The power struggle between the military and political factions could be creating a gaping hole allowing Islamists to slip in undetected and expand their influence in Pakistan.