Traders’ strike

There are times when the irony in certain situations in Pakistan shoots through the roof. The All-Karachi Tajir Ittehad Traders (AKTIT) have observed a complete shutter-down strike in the commercial capital to protest against the rampant extortion that runs like wildfire through their city. It is a matter of fact that almost all traders are victim of this crime and have been bearing it for many years now. However, what makes this strike almost comic is the backing it has received from the MQM. In a classic case of the pot calling the kettle black, the MQM — the original bhatta (extortion) mafia — has called the strike legitimate and has given the government yet another ultimatum in the form of a two-day deadline to reign in the extortionists or face a game-plan from the party. Truly ironic this sudden change in stance by a party reportedly well versed in the art of bhatta.

However, this strike really is no laughing matter and neither are the reasons behind it. In one day, the AKTIT has incurred a Rs 3 billion loss because of the strike. It is hard to imagine how fed up the traders are to be willing to bear such staggering losses. Extortion has sadly become a way of life in Karachi, a city that is no stranger to the ugliest face of crime and gang warfare. Extortion is another facet of the massive turf wars that have ravaged the city. The MQM has famously been called the godfather of bhatta and now it looks like other aspirants have joined in on this profitable gig. It is therefore little wonder that MQM Chief Altaf Hussain is backing the strike — after all, extortion really is a one-party affair. With layers and layers of extortionists continuously hounding the trader community in Karachi, it is in the interest of the MQM to chase all other bhatta grabbers away so as to reassert its turf.

Whether it is the MQM, other criminal gangs or even individuals belonging to, or operating under the false umbrella of, other political parties — as claimed by the protesting traders — extortion must be ended across the board. Unfortunately, it does not look like a strike is going to do that as once it ends, the many mafias will be up to their old tricks once again. What is needed is for the political leadership — a coalition of the PPP, MQM and ANP — to take serious steps to curb this menace. That implies empowering the police to act against all extortionists unfettered by political umbrellas or interference. It is time our business community is allowed to get on with its work so that our dire economic situation is turned around for the better. – Dailytimes