KARACHI, Sept 11: Life in Karachi came to a sudden halt on Wednesday when fear gripped the city amid early morning firing and arson attacks following the arrest of a former lawmaker of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement on murder and terrorism charges.
While the situation returned to normal in the evening, traders and transporters said by that time damage had already been done due to what they described as an unannounced strike.
However, they were loath to name the party or peo-ple behind the city’s sudden closure.
The violent situation obtaining in the city also forced public and private educational institutions, including universities, to suspend their activities and even cancel their scheduled exams. A large number of schools also announced a holiday amid a sudden breakdown of law and order.
Scattered incidents of violence that continued for a few hours in the morning caused residents to stay indoors and kept businesses closed.
Armed men remerged in parts of the city as several areas reverberated with gunfire followed by arson attacks.
An official at the central fire station confirmed that four vehicles were torched in different parts of the city in the morning.
A coach was set on fire in Korangi near Nasir Jump. Similarly a truck met the same fate near Nagan Chowrangi and after a few minutes a bus was set on fire in New Karachi. Another bus was torched in Gulistan-i-Jauhar near Rabia City.
The fire official said that in all cases fire tenders were unable to reach the spot timely due to a precarious security situation.The news of scattered violent incidents by the broadcast media convinced a majority of traders and owners of fuel stations to keep their business closed for the rest of the day. And the public transport disappeared from roads following arson attacks.
“In some cases, a few youngsters came to our terminals in North Nazimabad and Federal B. Area and asked us not to bring out buses today due to a strike,” said Irshad Bukhari of the Karachi Transport Ittehad.
“We were not aware of the unannounced strike and managed to convey the message to our members but still a large number of buses were on roads by that time, which led to attacks in a few areas.”
He said the buses would be on roads on Thursday as there was no protest call from any party and he saw the situation normalising by the next day.
“The situation has started turning better which boosted the confidence of many transporters to bring their vehicles on roads. I believe Thursday would be a normal day,” said Mr Bukhari.
Ateeq Meer of the Karachi Tajir Ittehad also blamed the security situation, saying it did not allow the traders to even start business.
He said markets, mostly in residential areas, reopened in the afternoon but major commercial centres remained closed.
“The situation turned better in the second half of the day and by the evening it was almost normal but the damage had already been done,” he said. “In the past we supported genuine causes of parties for business closures to condemn loss of lives and terrorism but this time we were not approached by anyone. Seeing the trend tomorrow (Thursday) would be a normal business day.”
In the second half of the day, some fuel station owners, mainly in residential areas, resumed their business.
“There are around 170 CNG stations in the city and 350 petrol pumps,” said a senior member of the Pakistan Petroleum Dealers Association. “In fact there was no advisory from our end for today (Wednesday).
The owners of stations decided on their own considering the security situation in their areas. Majority of the stations resumed business in the evening and some owners stayed at distance but we hope normal business on Thursday.”