MQM-backed shutdown across Karachi against extortion
KARACHI: As life came to a grinding halt in Karachi on Saturday in the wake of a strike call given by a trader federation and actively supported by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and some other political parties, or face a countrywide shutdown.
Every segment of daily life remained suspended after early morning arson attacks and scattered firing.
Though the strike remained comparatively peaceful with no major incident reported, most Karachiites stayed indoors for fear of violence often witnessed in the city after strike calls.
Almost all fuel stations, which had started closing on Friday evening, kept their business suspended with scant public transport on roads.
Gunshots were also heard in many areas that further convinced people to stay indoors. Early morning firing in Liaquatabad, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Federal B Area, Malir, Landhi, Lines Area, North Karachi, New Karachi, Soldier Bazaar and a few other localities sowed fear in the densely populated neighbourhoods.
Two vehicles were burnt in arson attacks near Liaquatabad. An official at the central fire station said a minibus and a van were set on fire on the main Pir Sibghatullah Shah Rashidi Road near the Gharibabad underpass.
“Two fire tenders were sent to the spot,” he said. “By the time we reached there, the blaze had destroyed the minibus while the van was saved from complete destruction. It took us half an hour to complete the job.”
The area police, however, were unaware of the details of the incident, saying only the drivers of the two vehicles witnessed random firing by some youngsters before they intercepted their bus and van and set them on fire.
Major city roads, including Sharea Faisal, Shahrah-i-Pakistan, University Road, Rashid Minhas Road, M.A. Jinnah Road, Korangi Road, Shahrah-i-Quaideen, Shaheed-i-Millat Road, Stadium Road, Shahrah Hakim Ibn-i-Sina and arteries linking the city’s residential areas to major thoroughfares, stayed deserted till the afternoon, when private vehicles began
appearing on the roads.
Life started returning to normality later in the day when a few commercial centres in residential localities resumed activity. An announcement in the second half of the day by a fuel dealers’ association and a transporters’ body helped normalise city life by sunset.
“Fuel stations across the city remained closed, and it was because of the element of political support to the strike call and fear as well,” said Abdul Sami Khan of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association. “But for the convenience of the people and commuters we with the consensus of the members decided to resume regular operation by the evening.”
Following in the petroleum dealers’ footsteps, the transporters also decided to bring their vehicles onto the roads. However, the number of buses, minibuses and coaches remained lower than the usual.
“The CNG stations of the city were already closed because of gas loadshedding. So there was no possibility of vehicles running on gas to resume business,” said Irshad Bukhari of the Karachi Transport Ittehad. “But the situation turned completely normal by the evening.”
An exchange of ‘greeting’ and ‘thanks’ messages between leaders of traders and political parties on ‘a successful and peaceful strike’ further lifted people’s confidence. MQM chief Altaf Hussain thanked Karachi traders for their role in making a ‘peaceful strike’ a success.
The traders reciprocated the gesture, but warned that their protest was not yet over.
“We appreciate the way the MQM and other political parties supported our cause,” said Ateeq Meer of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad to reporters after leading a traders rally from Regal Chowk that converged in front of the Karachi Press Club.
“But this is not the end. We have conveyed our concerns to the authorities both in Karachi and Islamabad, and if they fail again to root out the extortion menace within three days, we will go on countrywide strike. There is no business security in the city, and if the government fails to provide security, we’d better keep our shutters down.”
Legal proceedings at the subordinate judiciary in the city remained partially suspended due to the MQM-backed strike on Saturday.
Thousands of people, including litigants, their families, and witnesses, visit the city courts daily, but most of them did not turn up on Saturday for want of public transport and poor law and order situation in some parts of the city.
An official at the City Courts police lock-up said that a small number of undertrial prisoners were brought to the lock-up in connection with the hearing of their cases. However, most of the cases fixed for Saturday were simply put off due to the absence of witnesses and lawyers.
Most lawyers and litigants could not reach the courts while the attendance of court staff also remained thin.
A similar situation was also witnessed at the district courts in Malir while the legal work at the special courts of the city — anti-terrorism courts, control of narcotic substances courts, accountability courts, anti-corruption courts and banking courts — was also disrupted.