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Pakistani’s Iron Grip, Wielded in Opulent Exile, Begins to Slip

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LONDON — For two decades, Altaf Hussain has run his brutal Pakistani political empire by remote control, shrouded in luxurious exile in London and long beyond the reach of the law.

He follows events through satellite televisions in his walled-off home, manages millions of dollars in assets and issues decrees in ranting teleconferences that last for hours — all to command a network of influence and intimidation that stretches from North America to South Africa.

This global system serves a very localized goal: perpetuating Mr. Hussain’s reign as the political king of Karachi, the brooding port city of 20 million people at the heart of Pakistan’s economy.

“Distance does not matter,” reads the inscription on a monument near Mr. Hussain’s deserted former house in Karachi, where his name evokes both fear and favor.

Now, though, his painstakingly constructed web is fraying.

A British murder investigation has been closing in on Mr. Hussain, 59, and his party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. His London home and offices have been raided, and the police have opened new investigations into accusations of money laundering and inciting violence in Pakistan.

The scrutiny has visibly rattled Mr. Hussain, who recently warned supporters that his arrest may be imminent. And in Karachi, it has raised a previously unthinkable question: Is the end near for the untouchable political machine that has been the city’s linchpin for three decades?

“This is a major crisis,” said Irfan Husain, the author of “Fatal Faultlines,” a book about Pakistan’s relationship with the United States. “The party has been weakened, and Altaf Hussain is being criticized like never before.”

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