Karachi on a knife-edge as MQM launches protest
KARACHI: The city braces for a shutdown on Friday, as traders, petroleum dealers and transporters expressed fears and sounded reluctant to operate after the Thursday violence that claimed dozens of lives and left many others wounded.
Although the Muttahida Qaumi Movement announced that it would stage what it said would be a peaceful protest on Friday, quashing rumours about a strike call by the party, panic gripped the city in the evening amid reports of violence in different parts of the city that forced closure of fuel stations and markets in several areas.
When contacted, leaders of associations of the three key businesses — retail and wholesale markets, petrol pumps and transport — that are crucial to city life showed doubts about being able to do normal business on the day.
“I don`t think there would be normal business on Friday,” said Ateeq Meer, chairman of the Alliance of Market Associations, a platform for nearly 300 market and trader associations in the metropolis.
“We are very much thankful to the MQM leadership that they did not go for a strike.”
He said the markets, which opened on Thursday, started closing in the evening shortly after the media aired reports of violence in the city. The traders who returned home amid such reports would not be willing to keep their business open on Friday, he said.
`Impossible to run buses`
Similar concerns were shared by Irshad Hussain Bukhari of the Karachi Transport Ittehad. He said there was no call for a strike by the KTI, but it was “almost impossible to run buses on roads”.
He said: “Four buses carrying passengers came under armed attacks on two consecutive days. The attacks claimed more than a dozen lives and left transporters under immense fear.
“We have not announced any strike of transport for Friday but we can`t ask our members to ply vehicles in such a volatile law and order situation.”
He said the transporters kept their businesses normal during the past two days despite violence, though neither political parties nor the security administration had contacted them to show their support and offer security.
“To make the situation worse, fuel stations have started closing down. I don`t think there would be enough fuel available even if some transporters have the courage to bring their vehicles to roads amid violence,” Mr Bukhari said.
His thoughts matched the fears and concerns shared by chairman of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association Abdul Sami Khan, who said the body had not announced any closure of fuel stations but denied at the same time promising regular business on Friday.
“We are trapped in a tricky situation,” he said. “If we decide not to operate, petrol pump owners will face the wrath of motorists and if we do there is always a threat of heavy financial losses in case of violence.”
He said that instead of being offered security, the fuel station owners were mostly advised to close down stations.
He reiterated that his association had not issued any advice for the members about Friday`s operation. But he agreed with the assessment that it was very unlikely that majority of the stations would open on the day.
“Between 5pm and 6pm, most CNG stations and petrol pumps in the city were closed on Thursday after violence was reported in different areas. In such a situation, we don`t think that one can expect normal function on Friday,” he added.
In the late hours, the Karachi Electronics Dealers Association announced that all electronic markets across the metropolis would remain closed on Friday in view of city`s precarious law and order situation.
Meanwhile, a Karachi University spokesperson said that all papers of the ongoing MA exams for external candidates scheduled for Friday had been postponed while there would be no classes in the evening.
Offices of the university would stay open on Friday, he added.