MQM call for business closure gets cold response

Source: Published in Politics on Thursday, June 09, 2016

KARACHI: The Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) call to keep business and transport closed in protest against the seizure of Dr Farooq Sattar’s home by the Pakistan Rangers failed to receive the traditional response on Wednesday.

Traders and transporters believed it was early morning security assurance to them by the Rangers director general and a warning to those who could have forced the closure of businesses “killed the strike momentum” before it could gather pace.

The MQM had never before come up with such strong reaction since the last year raid on the party headquarters, Nine Zero, as it tried to keep its protests limited to demonstrations and media statements.

Traders, transporters believe early morning security assurance and a warning to miscreants by the Rangers kept life normal

The fresh call attracted media attention and an immediate response from the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, within the next few hours. Major General Bilal Akbar, the paramilitary force chief, personally arrived at different news channels to give security assurance to the traders and transporters as well as warnings to “miscreants”.

“There will be no strike today in Karachi in the name of protest,” the news channels quoted Maj Gen Akbar in pre-dawn headlines as saying. “We ask the traders and transporters to keep their business open and assure them that the Pakistan Rangers soldiers would provide them all due security. If any miscreant tries to force the closure of business or transport, he would be treated with an iron hand.”

The traders and transporters, who had mostly supported such calls from the MQM in the past, avoided sharing their thoughts on record but appreciated the Rangers move while requesting anonymity. They believed it was the warning and the assurance given by the Rangers that kept the life normal in Karachi.

“One can’t imagine that the MQM’s call goes like this,” said a senior leader of an alliance of traders’ associations in the city. “Traders and shopkeepers never want strike whether it is from the MQM or any other party. The protest is a constitutional right of every individual and Pakistani but to keep life of your own voters and people paralysed can’t be called protest.”

Earlier in the wee hours of the day, the MQM had called for “protest” against the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, move which cordoned off the house of MQM leader Dr Farooq Sattar in PIB Colony for more than an hour on Tuesday night. The paramilitary force demanded search of his house but returned after the parliamentarian approached different news channels to complain against “harassment” from the law enforcers and question the action of the paramilitary troops.

The MQM and its parliamentary leader in the National Assembly called it humiliation and harassment from the law-enforcement agency of a senior politician. They “appealed” to the transporters and traders to keep their businesses closed to lodge protest against the action.

Within the next few hours, the Rangers chief came up with the counter statements.

As the Karachiites know it well that the MQM call for the closure of business and transport has never failed to meet the reality checks, the party blamed “forced” opening of shops, petrol pumps and markets for the cold response by the traders and business community to its protest call on Wednesday.

“In different areas government officials are going to houses of traders and shopkeepers to let them open their business,” said an MQM statement. “The MQM coordination committee strongly condemns the Pakistan Rangers move in which its officials are threatening shopkeepers, traders and petrol pump owners who are not opening their businesses. Considering such situation, we appeal to the traders and shopkeepers to open their businesses.”

The Rangers was not sounded convinced with the theory and in a tit-for-tat move came up with another statement in the afternoon. It announced the arrest of a senior MQM worker from Federal B Area, who allegedly forced shopkeepers and traders to keep their business closed on “orders from the party leadership”.

“Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, arrested Rizwan, who is in charge of the MQM unit 146, from Gulberg area,” said the Pakistan Rangers, Sindh, statement. “Rizwan, on the orders of the party leadership, was creating fear and harassment and was trying to forcibly close shops there to ensure success of the strike announced by the MQM. By doing so, the held party activist was also trying to maintain lawless atmosphere in the metropolis.”

Meanwhile, Speaker of the Sindh Assembly Agha Siraj Durrani on Tuesday praised the Rangers director general for writing him a letter about MQM MPA Kamran Farooqui and said that so far no proof had been found about the involvement of any member of the Sindh Assembly in crimes.

After Dr Sattar’s statements appeared on news channels about the siege of his house on Tuesday night, the Rangers sources came up with a plea that the action was conducted on reports about the presence of member of the Sindh Assembly Kamran Farooqi’s presence at Dr Sattar’s residence.

They said the speaker was formally informed that Mr Farooqi was wanted in several criminal cases and efforts were being made to trace and arrest him. “By writing a letter to the speaker, the Rangers DG proved that he had all due respect for the constitution and the relevant laws,” said Mr Durrani while talking to journalists at the Sindh Assembly on Wednesday.

He added: “No law-enforcement agency has a right to directly take into custody any member of the assembly. If an agency wants to interrogate a member, it needs to take its permission from the speaker before taking him into custody. A month had passed since the DG Rangers has written me the letter about Mr Farooqui. I am not aware of what progress has been made in this regard so far.”