Karachi’s next mayor to run city via ‘video link’ from behind bars

The imprisoned politician who is almost certain to be the next mayor of Pakistan's largest and richest city of Karachi will run the teeming metropolis via "video link" from his prison cell, his lawyer said on Wednesday.

Waseem Akhtar, who was arrested last month on suspicion of aiding alleged militants, arrived in an armored police vehicle at the British-era Karachi Metropolitan Corporation building to cast his vote in the final round of elections that has his party in an unassailable lead.

Akhtar is a member of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which swept local elections in December, but he could not take office because of legal challenges that prevented members of the city council from casting their vote. MQM controls the council.

"He will open an office in jail and via video link he will conduct council sessions," Mahfooz Yar Khan, Akhtar's lawyer, told reporters outside the council building as his client voted inside. "He can run Karachi via video link for five years."

The election of an imprisoned politician as mayor is symbolic of the ongoing power struggle for control of Karachi, a port city that is home to 20 million people, the stock exchange, central bank, as well as militants and gangsters.

Akhtar's secular MQM has dominated politics and commerce in the city for decades, but a paramilitary crackdown on crime since 2013 has undermined its power base.

On Tuesday, police lodged a case of treason against MQM's firebrand London-based leader, Altaf Hussain, and sealed the party's headquarters after Hussain had incited supporters to attack the office of a TV channel in clashes that left one dead.

How Akhtar will manage to run the city is far from clear, with the courts not expected to release him before he likely takes oath on August 30.

MQM officials have said they will ask authorities to provide him with a well-furnished office. Police will escort him to any meetings he is allowed to attend on the outside.

Security forces have arrested scores of MQM members in the last year and accuse them of torture, murder and racketeering in a bid to keep their grip on the city. MQM denies any link to crime and accuses paramilitary forces of a series of extra-judicial killings of its members.

Akhtar was arrested on July 19 on suspicion of sheltering and providing medical treatment to alleged militants and criminals. He also faces earlier charges of inciting riots.

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