Pakistan court issues arrest warrant for head of key political party

KARACHI: A Pakistani court issued an arrest warrant on Wednesday for the head of the political party that controls Pakistan's biggest and richest city, court officials said, highlighting rivalries between army and politicians there.

Many fear the tensions threaten the stability of Karachi, a financial hub that is home to 20 million people and generates half of government revenue. The city is plagued by militants and violent crime and is ruled by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) political party.

MQM's leader Altaf Hussain lives in London, where he went into exile in 1992 after arrest warrants were issued against him for charges that included murder. The cases were later dropped.

"The court is issuing a non-bailable warrant for the arrest of Altaf Hussain," the court official said, and provided Reuters with a copy of the warrant from an anti-terrorism court.

Hussain is unlikely to be arrested by Pakistani police. But the issuing of the first Pakistani warrant for Hussain in 15 years is an unmistakable sign of worsening relations between his party and the powerful military, raising questions over who will control Pakistan's financial heart in the future.

The warrant alleges Hussain threatened a colonel of the paramilitary Rangers force on a television talk show after the Rangers raided the party’s headquarters in March.

The MQM, Pakistan's fourth largest party, traditionally represents the descendents of Urdu-speakers who migrated from India after the creation of Pakistan in 1947. It was involved in bloody factional battles in Karachi in the 1990s and now holds the majority of the city's legislative seats.

Police officials privately accuse the MQM of operating like a mafia to maintain its tight control on power. The party has always strongly denied being involved in violence.