WASHINGTON: The United States has responded carefully to the ongoing political strife in Karachi, urging the MQM to respect ‘critical opinion’ and advising the government not to overreact.
At the Tuesday afternoon news briefing, State Department’s deputy spokesman Mark Toner said of the current situation in Karachi, “We’re still assessing, gathering information about what took place. And we’ll reserve further comment until that time.”
The US official, however, was less reluctant in condemning Monday’s mob attack on media offices in the city and called it an act of ‘vandalism’.
Mr Toner noted that Pakistani security forces had arrested several members of the MQM after the attack and sealed the party’s headquarters — Nine-Zero.
“In a democratic society, critical opinion should be encouraged, not silenced,” said the US official while condemning the mob attack on media offices.
When asked to comment on the arrest of MQM officials, Mr Toner said the United States was always concerned when members of a political party were detained.
But even as supporting the right to express political dissent through protests, the US official emphasised that such protests should be peaceful.
“We obviously uphold the importance and believe in the importance of public assembly, freedom of speech, as long as it’s peaceful. And we would emphasise that any kind of protest, any kind of demonstrations, would need to be conducted peacefully,” he said.
The US media, however, noted that MQM chief Altaf Hussain’s “dial-in diatribe” on Monday had not only irked most Pakistanis but could also split his party down the middle.
The media noted that senior MQM leader Farooq Sattar denounced Mr Hussain and asked the chief not to run the party from London.
The Washington Post noted that Mr Hussain’s speech was “met with anger and derision from the rest of the Pakistani political establishment” while Mr Sattar’s speech was “received well in the Pakistani press’’.
Underlining the irony of the situation, the Post noted that Waseem Akhtar, the elected mayor of a city of about 25 million people, “will do the job from prison’’.
Calling Karachi a city of “mayhem, vendettas and street warfare,” the paper warned that Pakistan’s political landscape was “scarred by rifts, as almost every political party had multiple factions, consumed as much by in fighting as anything else’’.
A report in The New York Times noted that troops had raided and sealed several MQM offices in Karachi and Hyderabad and “other party leaders (had) distanced themselves from Mr Hussain’’.
While the NYT reported that Pakistan was seeking London’s cooperation for prosecuting Mr Hussain for inciting violence, other media outlets reproduced British Baroness Sayeeda Warsi’s tweet, saying: “We mustn’t allow British citizens to use the UK as a base to incite violence against our allies.”