KARACHI – Unrest flared up in Karachi and interior Sindh on Saturday following incidents of intermittent firing by unidentified gunmen and an unannounced strike by MQM supporters over the issuance of a contempt notice to their party chief, Altaf Hussain, by the apex court.
The protests that began late on Friday evening with the suspension of commercial activities across Karachi and in parts of the province continued throughout Saturday but with a massive show of power, forcing closure of offices, schools as well as filling stations, and throwing not only public transport out of gear but also putting off elections of the Karachi Bar Association.
Although the self-exiled MQM chief had asked his supporters to show restraint against the contempt notice, unidentified armed youths, flouting his directives, took to streets in Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, Mirpurkhas and Nawabshah on Friday evening soon after his telephonic address to a gathering at Nine-Zero, the MQM’s headquarters.
People were frozen in terror as gunshots reverberated in MQM-dominated areas of the provincial metropolis, such as Burns Road, MA Jinnah Road, Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, Landhi, Korangi, Orangi, Malir, Shah Faisal Colony and Guru Mandir. As a number of vehicles were set afire on Friday evening, public transport remained off roads throughout Saturday, bringing the normal course of life to a standstill.
Trade and transport bodies had already announced to keep their activities suspended for the day due to the near-certainty of lawlessness. Majority of petrol pumps, offices and industrial units also remained closed, while most public events scheduled for Saturday in Karachi were also postponed, including the annual elections of the Karachi Bar Association.
The unscheduled strike also affected port activities due to non-availability of transport vehicles in adequate number.
Markets and shopping centres in areas of North Karachi, Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Malir, Jahangir Road, Nazimabad, Saddar, Kharadar and Lyari gave a deserted look after unidentified armed youths, riding on motorbikes, forced shopkeepers to pull their shutters down. All the state-owned universities, colleges and Karachi Intermediate Board had postponed exams scheduled in view of the prevailing situation. Moreover, shops, medical stores and other outlets in Shireen Jinnah Colony, Banaras, Shershah, Baldia Town, Patel Para and some parts of the city dominated by other political parties remained opened.
Reports said that almost 90 per cent public transport remained off roads, as mobs of rock-throwing youths burnt tyres in several parts Karachi, while massive contingents of police and Rangers failed to step up their presence. Nevertheless, the Rangers claimed to have rounded up 28 armed miscreants. But people from the areas, where these men were arrested, insisted that the law-enforcement agency portrayed them as miscreants.
Witnesses said that supporters of the MQM held protest demonstrations across Karachi. They were carrying posters and placards inscribed with slogans in favour of their demands and against the judiciary. The protesters also burnt tyres against what they called “discriminatory attitude of the Supreme Court and Election Commission of Pakistan”. Moreover, no major or minor violent incident was witnessed in Karachi, where commercial activities resumed after the protests at 5 o’clock in the evening. Reports trickling from Hyderabad suggested that a partial strike was observed in the city as various bazaars, markets and commercial centres remained closed. However, normal activities were witnessed in suburban areas the city.