KARACHI, May 11: The city was in grip of fear and uncertainty on Friday as the threat of a showdown loomed large with two rival rallies planned for Saturday, one to welcome Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and the other being organized by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement in protest against what it calls politicisation of the issue of the presidential reference against the Chief Justice.
Both the rallies are expected to be massive, and going by the record of some of the sponsors, observers are of the opinion that the event meant to be in support of the independence of judiciary has the potential of degenerating into a violent ‘show of strength’.
Already on Friday evening, reports of incidents of firing were received from various localities while a man was gunned down. Transporters and some educational institutions accused political activists of hijacking their hundreds of buses and mini-buses. At the same time, opposition parties alleged that police had picked up hundreds of their workers after raiding their homes and subjected them to torture. Besides, they said, camps set up by various parties for the reception of the Chief Justice had been removed by police and party flags hoisted at various places taken away. However, they added, banners and party flags put up by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement were seen in place in major areas of the city.
Members of the family of Ziauddin Sardar, vice-president of the Karachi Bar Association, claimed that he had been missing since morning. Police said they had no clue to Mr Sardar’s whereabouts.
City police chief Azhar Farooqui said police had picked up about 150 people under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance because of apprehensions that they could ‘create problems’ on the arrival of the Chief Justice. But opposition parties disputed the number of arrests; MMA said 500 of its workers had been arrested, PPP put the figure of its workers picked up at 400 and PML-N at 150.
Some workers of a political party tried to get shops closed in different localities, including Lyari, old city and areas around the airport. Shopkeepers near Falak Naz Plaza about two
kilometres off the airport refused to pull the shutter down. They were fired upon and one of them died.
Transporters announced that they had decided to keep their buses and vans off the road on Saturday because they believed law-enforcement personnel would not be there to provide protection to their vehicles. The chief of the Karachi Transporters Ittehad, Irshad Bokhari, said that although some assurances had been given by the MQM high command, no member of the party’s Coordination Committee had contacted the transporters to work out a payment arrangement, and buses and mini-buses had been taken away at gunpoint. He said that the transporters had not received appropriate payment for their buses used on the occasion of previous rallies organised by the MQM.
Chairman of the National Transport Ittehad Saleem Bangash claimed that their members were being threatened with dire consequences if they did not send their vehicles free of charge.
Apparently, acknowledging that there was a feeling of uncertainty among the people, the Sindh government announced closure of all educational institutions on Saturday. Sindh Governor Dr Ishratul Ibad declared Saturday a holiday for government and private schools, colleges, universities and the IBA.
A spokesman for the Edhi Foundation in a statement announced that an emergency had been declared in the foundation to deal with any emergency situation and all the staff had been called on duty and ambulances placed on standby.
An emergency was also declared by the administration of the 1,800-bed Civil Hospital and weekly off of doctors, paramedics and other employees were cancelled.
Naib Nazima Nasreen Jalil directed all the departments concerned, including fire-brigade and hospitals, to follow the ‘standard operation procedure’ usually adopted on Ashura and Eid Miladun Nabi to deal with emergency situations. She directed all hospitals to ensure that their doctors and paramedics and other staff remained on duty and the availability of adequate stock of necessary medicines. Meanwhile, president of the MMA alliance of religious parties Qazi Hussain Ahmed and Leader of Opposition in National Assembly Maulana Fazlur Rehman in a joint statement appealed to the people of Karachi to accord a warm welcome to the Chief Justice and express their dissociation with ‘anti-Pakistan and anti-Islam forces’. They said that a historic welcome for the Chief Justice would be a referendum against the illegal and unconstitutional army rule.
Condemning the arrest of PPP’s workers, the president of the party’s Sindh chapter, Syed Qaim Ali Shah accused the government of pursuing a policy of victimisation against political parties.
In late-night press releases, the MQM claimed that caravans of its supporters had already arrived from Punjab and Balochistan and processions of its activists and sympathisers in interior Sindh started leaving their areas for Karachi to join the main procession and the meeting near the Tibet Centre to be addressed by the party’s founder, Altaf Hussain.