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By Zia Ur Rehman
KARACHI – Violence and targeted killings in Karachi have crippled the national economy, causing a loss of Rs. 7-12 billion (US $80m-$130m) per day, traders’ leaders say.
Karachi, home to about 18m people, provides nearly 70% of the government's revenue and accounts for a quarter of Pakistan's GDP. In 2011, Pakistan’s GDP was Rs. 18.4 trillion (US $202 billion).
“About 300 people have been victims of violent shootings in the last three months,” said Zohra Yusuf, chairwoman of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP). Of those, 49 were political activists, Yusuf told Central Asia Online.
Last year, the city had 1,715 homicides, according to HRCP’s annual report, “State of Human Rights in Pakistan 2011.”
Fresh wave of killings
The recent wave of violence started after the March 27 killing of two members of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) in PIB Colony. Nine people were wounded and more than 40 vehicles were set ablaze after those slayings.
And at least nine murders and 14 vehicle burnings followed the March 28 killing of a leader of the Awami National Party (ANP).
On April 3, three apparently sectarian killings occurred across the city, media reported April 4.
Seven lawyers have been killed in Karachi so far this year, most due to sectarian violence, said Akram Ali, a leading attorney.
Businesses, fuel stations, public transportation and schools closed for three days of mourning, and the MQM and the ANP denounced the killing of their workers.
All told, businesses were closed for 13 days in March because of violence or mourning, said Atiq Mir, head of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad traders’ association. For the quarter, shops and markets were closed for 22 days, he said.
Few industries can thrive with such violence because workers cannot reach their jobs, said Ehtesham Uddin, chairman of the Korangi Association of Trade and Industry, representing one of the city’s biggest industrial zones.
The city was partly or completely closed three times in one week at the end of March, and the continued strike-like situation has badly shaken industry, he said.
Even small businesses are affected During mourning days, traders could not open their markets for lack of public transportation, and customers staying away because of the law-and-order situation, Amjad Hussain, a medicine trader in Kachi Gali market, told Central Asia Online.
“Many businessmen including small traders, have been shifting their businesses to other cities because of (the) law-and-order situation in the city,” he said.
Hussain added that the trader community of Karachi is facing economic hardship and if the security situation doesn't improve in the next two or three months, its members will be compelled to shut their businesses - making the situation even worse.
Aside from transportation and a lack of customers, “goons of political parties threaten the business community to keep their business shut,” Amjad said.
The Karachi business community has asked the government to take strict measures to curb the violence. Terrorists want to cripple Pakistan's economy by fuelling ethnic and sectarian violence in the city, Mir told Central Asia Online.
“When in a city at least 12 people are killed on an everyday basis, how can business grow and the economy become strong?” Mir asked.
The law-and-order situation, particularly on mourning days, does not allow industry to resume production, said Mian Abrar Ahmed, president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He asked politicians to overcome their differences immediately, warning that the collapse of the economy would take them down along with it.
Daily wage earners are those most affected by the business slowdown.
“I couldn’t go out to work because of the prevailing riots in the city and the unavailability of public transport,” Arshaf Khan, a father of four, told Central Asia Online March 31. “Now my pocket is empty, and therefore my children will sleep hungry.”
President Asif Ali Zardari said the violence in Karachi should be handled with zero tolerance, PTV reported April 2.
Addressing a meeting convened at Bilawal House, the Bhutto family residence, Zardari ordered officials to give the police aerial patrol equipment and armoured personnel carriers, media reported.
The president called for a study to categorise crime on the basis of sectarianism, extremism, land grabbing, street crimes, targeted killing and political rivalries.
Every possible measure would be taken to bring peace to Karachi and to compensate the heirs of those killed in the city’s violence, Interior Minister Rehman Malik, said April 2. He added that he has personally visited the troubled areas of the city.
All political parties are working to develop a strategy to improve the situation, he said.
Security agencies have arrested more than a dozen suspects and recovered illegal weapons and ammunition in operations throughout the city, media reported.