AML and CTF specialists are likely paying close attention to events in Karachi, Pakistan over the last week. In addition to a big arrest in London last week, news broke this morning that Pakistani Taliban fighters had infiltrated the Karachi airport and engaged security personnel in a firefight that left scores dead and wounded. According to NY Times reports, this was the biggest and most sophisticated terror attack in Pakistan since 2011.
The Pakistani government has been in peace talks with the Taliban, but recent aggressions by both sides have shown that process to be faltering. Karachi has been known to be a contested area and rife with tension and “violent political turf battles,” according to the Times. Political tensions there intensified last week when Scotland Yard authorities arrested Altaf Hussain, the absent-but-powerful leader of MQM , arguably Karachi’s most powerful political party.
Hussain, who has lived in London in self-imposed exile for more than a decade, was arrested last week on charges of money laundering. He was released on bail yesterday, but he remains under investigation. His arrest prompted massive demonstrations, some outbreaks of violence, and some shutdowns of businesses and transportation in the city of 20 million, and the city was rocked further by the Taliban attacks in the last 24 hours.
Hussain’s MQM is known for its running of Karachi and also for its vast influence and alleged criminal activities, according to a report in the Washington Post. Though Hussain lives in London, quite remarkably he leads his party via teleconferences and satellite addresses beamed to masses of supporters.
In recent raids of Hussain’s London home, police there confiscated more than $600,000 in cash as well as other valuables. Scotland Yard is investigating the source and legality of Hussain’s personal finances and are reported to be pursuing whether political contributions are being used to launder other illicit funds from the party’s massive network of activities in Pakistan. London police are also seeking to tie the leader to the assassination of a political rival who was stabbed in London in 2010.
Hussain’s legal troubles in London will likely destabilize his authority in Karachi, and the resulting vacuum may further destabilize Pakistan’s largest city, a circumstance that could have far-reaching consequences for both the city and the nation and even far beyond.