ISLAMABAD, Jan 16: As losses loom high, the business community housed in Blue Area — directly affected by the Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran (TMQ) sit-in — are demanding of the government to make alternative arrangements for the marchers. Residents on the other hand remain reluctant to step out of their houses fearing a backlash if Tehrik-i-Minhajul Quran demands are not met.

Important to note, the business community had raised their concerns well ahead of the long march and had also petitioned the Islamabad High Court (IHC) praying to restrain Mr Qadri from holding the march.

But the petition was turned down by the court.

Losses

The business community has estimated that daily transactions of around Rs7 billion in Blue Area had been affected due to the ongoing TMQ sit-in.

The traders emphasised that the long-term impact on the business environment is even more serious.

“Apart from a few dozen money changers, there are 200 outlets of branded goods, 24 major restaurants and six hotels in Blue Area that remain closed due to the march,” said Malik Sohail, media coordinator of Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI).

The above estimate is minus the stock market crash and closure of offices.

“Besides FPCCI is not including the loss suffered by the stock exchange and the closure of government and private offices,” he added.

Alternative arrangements

Ever since Qadri’s long march was converted to a sit-in, on Monday, almost all of Blue Area’s 50 plazas have been shut, said Mr Sohail.

Expressing concerns, the business community has demanded of the government to move Dr Qadri’s sit-in to the Constitutional Avenue in order to revive business activities in Blue Area.

“The issues are political in nature, therefore the sit-in has to be in-front of the parliament, PM’s Secretariat or secretariat blocks,” Mr Sohail suggested.

It appears that the business community is irked by the attitude of Interior Minister Rehman Malik, claiming that they were victims of the minister’s doublespeak.

“We were assured by Interior Minister Rehman Malik that the long march will not cross Zero Point; he also assured that no one will be affected by the situation,” said Malik Sohail, hinting towards the irony, “but see the situation now”.

The city’s business community was of the view that the demands of Dr Qadri had nothing to do with trade and commerce, therefore the closure of businesses was unfair.

“The impact is not simple or limited to business turnover only – there is a horizontal effect and we will face vertical impact also,” said Zafar Bakhtawari, president Islamabad Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Mr Bakhtawari added: “I am not talking about any large industrial group – but those related to consumer products, having outlets in Blue Area, are the most affected by the long march.”

He said that Islamabad had a unique kind of customer base and many people came to the city from other cities to buy things. To explain his point, he made an analogy with Peshawar: “It is just like we used to go to Peshawar – Hayatabad — for shopping.”

Besides the odds, Mr Bakhtawari remains optimistic: “It will take time to rebuild confidence among customers — to bring them back — but they will come back, if the march ends soon.”

Residents in a quandary

While other markets in Islamabad were open, business activity remained lacklustre. Fearing the unknown, residents were reluctant to come out.

“I personally have been to Super Market, Aabpara, G-10 and there is no serious buying – people are only purchasing daily use items,” said Ajmal Baloch, chairman Traders Action Committee (TAC), Islamabad.

Even though TMQ head Dr Qadri claimed that his march was peaceful, the residents feared that if demand of marchers were not met, things might turn ugly, he added.

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