The city shut down abruptly on Wednesday afternoon amid confusion and rumours. As residents rushed to petrol pumps and grocery stores to stock up on essentials, gunshots rang through several neighbourhoods, alerting the residents to a complete shutdown.
Sometime before the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) announced its indefinite protest against the government for failing to catch the culprits behind the Abbas Town blast, the city already wore a deserted look.
At least five vehicles were set on fire and four people were wounded, while the law enforcers rounded up nearly two dozen suspects for disrupting the law and order situation. A few hours later, the MQM withdrew its strike call and the city returned to normalcy. However, during those five hours of uncertainty, the whole province had braced for a strike.
Traffic was also clogged on the main arteries, such as MA Jinnah Road, II Chundrigar, Sharae Pakistan and Sharae Faisal, as people left work early to make it home safely. The situation was worse in Landhi, North Karachi, New Karachi and alNoor Society where at least five vehicles were torched.
An activist of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat, Mohammad Taj, was also wounded when some men opened fire at his shop in New Karachi. They were forcing him to close down his shop. Three more men were wounded in similar cases in New Karachi, Korangi and Orangi Town.
According to a Rangers spokesperson, seven men – Jamil, Hashim, Hamid, Yousuf, Ali, Rahim and Khalid Raza – all members of a political party were taken into custody as they were torching a bus in North Karachi. Two more suspects were held by Rangers when they were firing in the air and trying to close shops in the Shahbaz commercial area of Defence.
Meanwhile, Sindh Assembly deputy speaker Shehla Raza and Information Minister Sharjeel Memon held press conferences to condemn the MQM’s strike call and insisted that they will not let anyone shut down the city.
Upon MQM’s earlier call for a ‘peaceful’ movement, businesses and education institutes invariably had to issue their own notices for closures.
Atrium Cinemas in Saddar shortly uploaded a photo on their Facebook page, which read “Due to the law and order situation in the city, Atrium Mall and Cinema Complex has been closed till further notice”. “Everything else is closed,” Nadeem Mandiwala, the visionary behind Atrium Cinemas, had commented. When asked about the financial loss if the cinema closed, Mandviwala did not disclose numbers. “What is the cinema owners’ loss compared to the loss of Karachi? Our loss is insignificant.”
Similarly, the associations of private schools had announced that all educational institutions would remain closed for an indefinite period of time. But after the MQM called off the strike, an announcement was made that schools would be open as per routine.
While talking to The Express Tribune, chairperson of the All Private Schools Management Association, Syed Khalid Shah, said that if educational institutions were subjected to such closures, it would have a detrimental effect on the future of the students. “Schools have opened for hardly 125 days during the current academic year,” said Shah, as he explained that a normal academic year goes up to 180 days.
Unrest in districts
The mayhem, which started in Karachi, also reached parts of Sukkur, Hyderabad, Benazirabad, Mirpurkhas and Tando Allahyar.
‘Unknown men’ fired aerial shots to shut down the markets in two of four talukas of Hyderabad district. Young men carrying sticks hit people and vehicles and burnt tyres as they roamed freely in City and Latifabad talukas. Bazaars and shopping centres in Sukkur, situated at Jinnah Chowk, Shahi Bazaar, Sarrafa Bazaar, Frere road, Mochi Bazaar and Neem ki Chari were closed immediately, while other areas remained open.
The Sindhi nationalist leaders termed the MQM’s call for an indefinite strike an attempt to ‘sabotage’ the Supreme Court’s order for the delimitation of constituencies in Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 7th, 2013.