The chief of Pakistan’s main spy agency is spearheading a campaign to wrest control of the teeming port city of Karachi from a powerful political party, the military’s latest, and some say boldest, foray into civilian life in recent years.
According to military officials, police officers and members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party which has traditionally dominated Karachi, Rizwan Akhtar has decided the time for policing the city from the sidelines is over.
“There is a quiet, creeping takeover of Karachi by the military,” said a government official close to Akhtar, head of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, which traditionally acts as an extension of army power in Pakistan.
“Karachi is just too big … too much land, too much business, resources. No one party will be allowed to rule Karachi from now on,” added the official, who declined to be named.
The sweltering, violent metropolis is Pakistan’s largest and wealthiest city. It accounts for half of national revenues and hosts the stock exchange, central bank and a giant port.
The military’s crackdown in Karachi started late in 2013, when the murder rate soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily.
The operation, which escalated last month, is officially aimed at criminals and militants, but some say MQM is the real target.
Army spokesmen did not respond to requests for comment.
Weakening the MQM’s grip, and particularly that of exiled leader Altaf Hussain, would free space for other political parties seen as more sympathetic to the military, like Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, led by former cricketer Imran Khan.
It would also give the army leverage over Pakistan’s economic hub. That complements other steps taken in the last two years to tighten its grip on national security, foreign policy and the judiciary through the introduction of military courts.
The army’s increasing influence could make it harder for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to deliver a rapprochement with India that he promised when he won elections in 2013.