The power-play in Pakistan between the armed/paramilitary forces and the political class has intensified with the raid by the Pakistan Rangers on the Karachi headquarters of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), one of the most powerful parties in the spectrum and known as much for its professed secularism and its track-record of violence in an ethnically volatile city. The unprecedented dawn offensive has jolted the party to its foundations, with its press officer killed and three other office-bearers wounded. On the face of it, two factors appear to have provoked the raid – the presence of suspected terrorists and the stockpile of arms. The first has not been denied by the party whose leadership has been forthright enough in admitting to the presence of “wanted men”, as many as 20 of whom – including six ‘wanted terrorists’ – are officially stated to have been arrested. The number, according to the MQM, is larger. No less a complex issue is the arms arsenal, a potential powder-keg that has not been denied by the party, and one that has been reaffirmed with the seizure of a substantial cache.

The procurement of the arsenal and its source will remain a puzzle for sometime yet; if the version advanced by the Rangers is any indication, the seized weapons may have been acquired through a raid on NATO supplies on the way from Karachi&’s port to Afghanistan. The military argument has ruled out “legal import” of weaponry into Pakistan; yet the movement of contraband has as often as not exposed the underbelly of international law. Even the alleged raid on NATO&’s supply chain will be news to the comity of nations, most particularly the subcontinent. After all, the sailing out of terrorists from Karachi had marked the origins of 26/11.

The Rangers’ suspicion lends an international dimension to the operations of MQM, NATO, and possibly Taliban militants in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The MQM&’s plea that the weapons were licensed and "we have our own security system, thanks to threats from the Taliban and other groups who threaten us,’’ is unlikely to convince. Further comment on the arsenal and the presence of terrorists must await the outcome of the investigation. The party has a substantial following in Karachi, and fears of a backlash are not wholly unfounded.

A retaliatory strike by the MQM will only deepen the involvement of the paramilitary, if not the Karachi-based corps headquarters as well. Such prospects are fearsome, but instability in the country&’s financial capital and port city is bound to have an impact on the political dispensation in Islamabad. Most particularly because the Taliban and other militant groups are entrenched in Karachi. A fact that can be contextualised with the Pakistan Supreme Court&’s observation that the major political parties maintain armed militant wings of their own in the city.