Pakistani paramilitary raids opposition party headquarters -

Pakistani paramilitary raids opposition party headquarters

By Sophia Saifi and Azadeh Ansari , CNN

Updated 1915 GMT (0315 HKT) March 11, 2015

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN)Pakistani Armed Forces paramilitary personal stormed the headquarters of one of the country's most powerful regional opposition political parties in a predawn raid on Wednesday, seizing a stash of weapons and arresting several wanted criminals, officials said.

The Rangers arrived unannounced early Wednesday morning, arrested five men and sealed off the party's headquarter for four hours. According to a press release from the MQM (Muttahida Qaumi Movement) one of their party workers was shot fatally by rangers during the raid.

"All telephone lines have been disconnected and premises ransacked. Computers and other electronic items have been confiscated. The Rangers also destroyed the electronic surveillance system that had been set up following the May 2013 bomb attacks by the Pakistan Taliban (TTP)," the release said.

Rangers officials have not responded so far to these accusations. In a statement to the media, the Pakistan Rangers released a list of those arrested, including Faisal Mota, a former MQM worker who had been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia for the murder of journalist Wali Khan Babur. Speaking to the media, Rangers spokesperson Col.Tahir Mahmood also confirmed that a large amount of illegal weapons had been seized during the raid.

"The weapons that we had were legal and there as a precautionary measure to deal with real threats from the Taliban against our party and its workers," Faisal Sabzwari, a senior MQM party leader told CNN.

MQM is based in Karachi and is one of Pakistan's largest political parties. It has the second-largest contingent in the provincial assembly, with 54 of 130 seats. It styles itself as a voice for the downtrodden, the middle class and immigrants from nearby India, but political rivals accuse the party of using heavy-handed tactics, including intimidation, to stay in power.

"The raid is meant to send a clear message that law enforcement agencies and Rangers in particular are not going to bow to any political convention," said Zarrar Khuhro, a senior journalist and political analyst in Karachi.

MQM's party leader Altaf Hussain, who has been living in self-imposed exile in London called for calm, but criticized the raid saying that "it should not be the role of the armed forces to conduct extrajudicial operations on lawful organizations, least of all the headquarters of a democratically elected political party."

Pakistan's Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan said late Wednesday night that the raid was legal.

The MQM has the clout to shut down the city in an hour, sparking general strikes which could last for days, locals say.

In the aftermath, locals say businesses in Karachi have shut down, and gas pumps and schools are closed for fear violent protests could erupt in the streets.