KARACHI, Jan 15: Violent protests broke out in major cities of Sindh on Tuesday shortly after the Supreme Court ordered arrest in a multi-billion rental power scam in which the prime minister has also been named amid celebrations by anti-government marchers led by Dr Tahirul Qadri in Islamabad.
The protests were described by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) as a ‘spontaneous public reaction’ as it vowed to resist moves to derail democracy in the country.
In Karachi, charged youths took to the streets chanting slogans against the order and burnt tyres near FTC on the city’s main artery Sharea Faisal as well as on the Korangi Expressway and in the Sachal area of Gulistan-i-Jauhar.
The situation caused gridlock on Sharea Faisal, Sir Shah Mohammad Sulaiman Road, Korangi Road and other road linking the key thoroughfares.
“We brought the situation under control within two hours after additional deployment in the affected areas and diverting traffic to other roads,” said DIG Traffic Khurram Gulzar.
He answered in the affirmative when asked if the protest demonstrations in different parts of the city caused traffic jams.
In Hyderabad, violent protests were witnessed in Khokhar Mohallah where two motorcycles were set ablaze when shops along the road were attacked by charged youths.
The city reverberated with gunfire that forced traders to pull down the shutters.
Most parts of the city — including Saddar, Cantonment, Gari Khata, Qasimabad, Nasim Nagar and Khokhar Mohallah — witnessed a sudden shutdown in the second half of the day amid gunfire. Earlier, activists of the Sindh People’s Students Federation (SPSF) and Sindh People’s Youth Organisation (PYO) staged separate protest demonstrations on Fatima Jinnah Road and outside the press club, respectively, against the Supreme Court order.
Soon after the demonstrations, charged youths stormed into some motorbike showrooms, garment stores and other shops in Khokhar Mohallah. They ransacked the shops and damaged new motorbikes.
Shops were also closed in Tando Allahyar after PPP activists took to the streets and staged a protest demonstration outside the press club.
Life in Nawabshah, the hometown of President Asif Ali Zardari, was brought to a standstill amid violent protests against the SC order and Dr Qadri’s long march.
Shops in Mohni Bazaar, Liaquat Market, Sarafa Bazaar, Masjid Road, Hospital Road, Kuchehry Road, Mariam Road, Camp No 2, Police Lines and Sakrand Road closed amid gunfire.
A number of SPSF activists staged a protest demonstration outside the press club against the SC verdict and Dr Qadri’s long march, calling them ‘planned moves’ against democracy. They also burnt tyres and blocked the main road.A complete shutdown was witnessed in Khairpur where SPSF and PPP youth activists took out rallies in main markets, chanting slogans in favour of Prime Minister Pervez Ashraf.
In their speeches, leaders of the organisations ‘appealed’ to the traders to observe a ‘shutter-down’ that led to business closure in Shahi Bazaar, Sarafa Bazaar, Ayub Market and other business centres of the city. Random gunshots were heard at Jado Shah Chowk.
The situation was not very different in Dadu where armed men riding motorbikes fired into the air at New Chowk, Station Road, Shahi Bazaar and Cinema Chowk shortly after the news of the SC order was aired.
While residents preferred to stay indoors, traders reacted to the firing by taking to the streets against the violence and demanded protection.
The PPP youth wing rallies were organised in Badin, Talhar, Matli and other towns against the arrest orders by the Supreme Court.
In Matli firing incidents led to business closure and the situation in Talhar was similar.
A large number of charged youngsters in Larkana took to the streets and fired into the air causing fear and panic among traders who pulled down shutters.
Sindh police chief Fayyaz Ahmed Leghari claimed that he was ‘unaware’ of the cause of the protests but said he did not see any major incident of violence in any part of the province. Yet he vowed to take action ‘regardless’ of miscreants’ political association.
“We have obviously enhanced patrol in sensitive areas,” he said while speaking to Dawn. “No one will be given any relief due to his political association, but there was no major incident across the province though protests in some cities caused business closure.
“I can’t say right now what was the reason behind the protest but we are monitoring the situation very closely.”
‘Adventurism not possible’ The PPP leaders who distanced themselves from the demonstrators across the province called the protests a spontaneous reaction from the people. However, they ruled out any ‘adventurism at the crucial juncture of Pakistan’s history’.
“The people of Pakistan only want transparent, fair and timely elections,” said Sindh PPP Secretary Taj Haider.
“At the time we are moving towards smooth transition, people believe moves are being made to derail democracy and they have reacted to these moves spontaneously.”
Without discussing the Supreme Court fresh orders and Dr Qadri’s march, he warned of resistance from the PPP ranks if ‘non-democratic forces’ insisted on their plans and attempted to topple the elected government unconstitutionally.
However, the party rivals said the apex court verdict reflected aspirations and sentiments of people.
In a statement, Sindh Tarraqi-Pasand Party chairman Dr Qadir Magsi sought immediate arrest of Prime Minister Ashraf and also demanded an ‘honest’ caretaker setup at the earliest so that general elections could be held.
“The country is facing economic and political crises. An honest caretaker setup tasked with transparent and timely elections is the need of the hour,” he said.
Moving a step further, Awami Tehreek President Ayaz Latif Palejo did not only welcome the SC order but also wanted the same apex court action against the Sindh governor who he believed was a key culprit in the May 12, 2007 violence.
“The Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must restrain those from contesting election who are involved in corruption and terrorism,” he said.
“The situation demands that the Supreme Court take suo motu action over thousands of killings in Karachi, which is directly governed by the Sindh governor.”
Same were the sentiments expressed by the Jamaat-i-Islami over the SC order. But the party warned that the armed forces should restrict themselves to the job provided under the constitution.
“The Supreme Court order is in fact in line with people’s sentiments. However, the army should restrict itself to the constitutional responsibilities and should refrain from taking any unconstitutional step to keep larger interest of the nation in the fore front,” JI Karachi chief Mohammad Hussain Mehnati told a press conference at the party head office, Idara Noor-i-Haq.