Matter of minutes: City panics after arrest made 6,000km away

All traffic rules forgotten as vehicles create massive gridlocks on most major arteries.


Nearly all major roads in the city saw the worst traffic gridlocks as residents rushed out of their offices and colleges and tried to reach home, before the much-feared unrest in the city began. PHOTO: EXPRESS

SUKKUR/ HYDERABAD/ KARACHI:


It was merely minutes after television channels broke news of the arrest of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief Altaf Hussain in London that a city located over 6,000km away went into panic mode.


Nearly all major roads in the city saw the worst traffic gridlocks as residents rushed out of their offices and colleges and tried to reach home, before the much-feared unrest in the city began. Fortunately, no major cases of violence were reported as the MQM leaders repeatedly issued statements to their workers to stay calm and refrain from violence.

“It happened so suddenly that I did not even have a chance to fill the fuel in my motorcycle,” said Farhan Ismail, who was stuck in traffic at Drigh Road at around 4pm. “Now I have to walk home to Landhi.”

The law enforcement agencies were deployed in most parts of the city but unidentified men managed to torch 16 vehicles, including public buses and some cars. These cases were reported from Gulzar-e-Hijri, Abul Hassan Isphahani Road, Federal B Area, Korangi, Samanabad and Landhi.

“We extinguished the fire where we were given protection by police while the rest of vehicles were completely burnt,” said a spokesperson of the fire department. “Our vehicles could not reach certain areas due to the traffic jam and some people were pelting stones.” Over a dozen suspects were also reportedly detained for disturbing the law and order but the police and Rangers failed to confirm.

The police have called in the Special Security Unit, the Rapid Response Force and the Crime Investigation Department, Karachi Police spokesperson Inspector Atiq Shaikh told The Express Tribune. “Our jawans have already been on high alert,” said a senior Rangers official. “It is the right of every party to stage a protest but in a rightful way.” There was a brief exchange of fire between unidentified men and the Rangers near the MQM headquarters, Nine-Zero, but there were no casualties.

Traffic gridlocks

Most of the traffic police sergeants had no idea what has happened when hundreds of vehicles swarmed the roads at around 2pm on Tuesday. “It looks like the city has been closed forcibly,” said Mohammad Ashraf, a traffic police sergeant who was stationed at Shaheen Complex.

Vehicles took the wrong lanes and further clogged the traffic. “I was stuck for almost an hour at Punjab Chowrangi on my way from New Town and I did not see any traffic police on the roads,” complained Muhammad Haroon, a Clifton resident. “People were clearing up the roads on their own.”

Traffic DIG Arif Hanif denied that the police had ‘disappeared’. “Both tracks of Sharae Faisal were closed for traffic and whenever that happens, the entire city is affected,” he explained. “We removed the torched vehicles from the roads with the help of the local police and Rangers and then the traffic jams were cleared.”

Public transport also disappeared from the roads and hundreds of people were forced to walk to their destinations. Karachi Transport Ittehad directed its drivers to park their vehicles at their bus stands. “We will examine the situation of the city on Wednesday and then decide whether or not to bring the vehicles on the road,” said KTI general secretary Syed Mehmood Afridi.

The goods transporters representatives also said they will also decide in the morning whether or not to run their operation. “We have directed our drivers to be careful,” said United Goods Transporters Alliance Fazal Manan Jadoon.

The trains leaving the city were also delayed by three hours, said the divisional commercial officer of Pakistan Railways Karachi division, Nasir Nazir. A mob at Drigh Road railway station tried to torch a locomotive but the railway police intervened, he said. Petrol pumps and compressed natural gas stations’ association and markets alliances representatives will assess the situation in the morning before they decide to resume business.

Exams cancelled

The University of Karachi postponed on Tuesday the ongoing semester examinations. The Board of Intermediate Education, Karachi (BIEK), also postponed the papers scheduled for Tuesday. The new dates will be announced later, said the BIEK examinations controller, Muhammad Imran Khan Chishti.

Other parts of Sindh

Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Nawabshah and Tando Allahyar districts in lower Sindh, and parts of Sukkur, Larkana and Khairpur in upper Sindh also descended into chaos after the news of the London arrest spread.

Aerial firing was reported in several areas and all markets and transport was shut down. In Hyderabad, four people identified as Noor Daraz, 20, Faizan Masood, 24, Bilawal Chohan, 20, and Huzoor Bux, 30 were shot and injured. Meanwhile, the MQM workers staged sit-in demonstrations in several parts of Hyderabad, Mirpurkhas, Bhanbore, Nawabshah, Sukkur and Khairpur.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 4th, 2014.

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