Panic hits Karachi after MQM call for ‘peaceful protest’

Anticipating a sudden shutdown of the city following a protest call by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, motorists and bikers rush to petrol stations on Wednesday afternoon.—PPI

 

KARACHI: Karachiites suffered another day of panic on Wednesday as daily business came to an abrupt halt in the evening after Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Husasin in a telephonic address from London asked his workers to hold a ‘peaceful protest’ against the killing of the MQM’s vice president in Sialkot, leading to the closure of key businesses and traffic jams on city roads.

Though the party did not call for a strike or a shutdown, bodies of traders and transport operators in several areas suspended all commercial activities as a precautionary measure after the MQM chief’s call.

Long queues of motorists were seen at the few open fuel stations, which also started wrapping up business in the evening after the MQM announcement. The number of buses also started decreasing and commercial areas were seen deserted by sunset.

Business leaders said though activity at major markets did not come to an abrupt closure as fuel stations did, the situation affected the regular dealings. A large number of shoppers rushed back home from markets after the MQM call for a ‘peaceful protest’ was flashed by news channels.

“There was no appeal from any party, neither did we receive any complaints of forced closure,” said Ateeq Mir of the Karachi Tajir Ittehad, a common platform of 350 wholesale and retail markets in the city.

“But, you see, fear has become so badly embedded in the hearts of Karachiites that they just take a decision on rumours. They can’t take any risk on the announcement of any political party and prefer to close business than to suffer losses.”

Irshad Bukhari of the Karachi Transport Ittehad also shared the same thought and denied that there was a call from a political party and violence in any part of the city. Transporters in a few areas, he said, on their own decided to stay off the roads in the evening.

“There was no major decrease in the number of buses on roads even after evening when the city situation turned panicky though markets and fuel stations were closed in different areas,” he said. He was also not sure about the city’s transport scene on Dec 12, when under the ‘plan C’ of its protest campaign the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf will stage demonstrations and sit-ins in different Karachi areas.

“We have not been approached by any PTI leader with an appeal for closure on Dec 12,” he said. “Ideally, we do not support any strike or shutdown by any political party, but if they insist and make a formal appeal to us, we leave it to our member transporters to decide on their own concerning Dec 12.”

With disturbed business and transport activity, the city roads also witnessed traffic jams as a number people left their workplaces much before their scheduled time to reach home amid the abrupt disruption of daily life.

An official at the traffic helpline 915 said the key roads such as the Metropole hotel to the airport track of Sharea Faisal, Sir Shah Muhammad Suleman Road, University Road, Shahrah-i-Pakistan and other roads witnessed more than an average number of vehicles between 4pm and 7pm that caused congestion at different intersections.

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