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Pakistan's Karachi on knife-edge after 'Godfather's' arrest

KARACHI--For more than two decades, Altaf Hussain has wielded control of this freewheeling, violent city of 20 million half a world away from his drab London suburb home.

His arrest on Tuesday by British police has left Pakistan's biggest city on edge and fuelled questions about the future of his political machine.

The 60-year-old is revered by his fiercely loyal supporters — mainly ethnic Mohajirs who migrated from India at the time of partition, while critics accuse him of running his party as a violent mafia-like organization.

Party workers appeared to be in a state of shock Wednesday at a protest rally organized on the main thoroughfare of this city and attended by thousands.

Kashif Ahmed Shaikh, a die-hard party supporter, showed off razor-blade cuts on his upper arms.

“I wasn't able to vent my anger on anyone so I did this for my leader,” said the 32-year-old at a protest rally over Hussain's arrest in London on money-laundering charges.

“He has done a lot for us and these wounds are just a humble way to express our love and reverence for him. We can even lay down our lives for him,” he added.

The sentiments are indicative of how deep passion for politics runs in Karachi, which grew from a small fishing town in the 19th century to Pakistan's economic hub.

It is home to large numbers of all the country's religious and ethnic groups, whose political parties developed armed wings during the 1980s.

The MQM was founded by Hussain in 1984 in response to the marginalization of Mohajirs — migrants who fled India amid the violence of the sub-continent's partition.

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Supporters of Pakistan's Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) party hold photographs of party leader Altaf Hussain during a sit-in protest calling for Hussain's release in Karachi on Wednesday, June 4.

(AFP

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