• JI, traders associations, lawyers mark strike to vent off anger on worst economic situation, ever-rising cost of living
  • TAC, other trade bodies give 72 hours to reduce excessive electricity bills, withdraw POL price hike

KARACHI/LAHORE/PESHAWAR: A shutdown was observed across the country on Saturday with commercial hubs and business centres remained shut in all major cities across the country to protest against rising inflation and unprecedented electricity bills.

The strike call was given by the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and supported by most of the traders associations, lawyers and other segments of the society.

All commercial hubs and business centres remained shut in Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar as well as other major cities across the country while public transport were also restricted, reducing vehicular traffic on major thoroughfares.

In Karachi, the Tajir Action Committee (TAC) has given the interim government 72 hours to reduce excessive electricity bills and withdraw recently imposed petroleum levies. This announcement was made yesterday (Friday). While commending JI for raising its voice against increasing costs of living, TAC Convener Muhammad Rizwan said that there was no compulsion on traders in the metropolis to join the strike but skyrocketing inflation is worrisome.

The traders’ body warned that if the interim government does not follow through within the 72-hour deadline, they would hold a prolonged strike of 10 days, impacting commercial activities across the board.

He reminded Interim Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar that a caretaker government’s mandate is to hold elections not impose new taxes.

Most commercial markets remained closed in the metropolis with smaller shops remaining open.

The strike call by the traders’ association was extended support by the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI).


Speaking to the media KCCI President Mohammad Tariq Yousuf clarified that large-scale industries were not part of the strike while expressing verbal support for small traders and wholesalers to ensure its success.

Nevertheless, KCCI itself remained closed, suspending the issuance of certificates to exporters and the processing of visa documents for businessmen for one day. It was learnt that this impacted export consignments and shipments at the ports.

He expressed hope that the incumbent government would find a viable solution to emerge out of the crisis and said that a meeting would be held in a few days to review the situation.

Similarly, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FPCCI) President Irfan Iqbal Sheikh has said that the government is failing to read the writing on the wall. By increasing petrol prices once again, the interim set up is inviting a fresh wave of inflation, he said, adding that it is most worrisome that the petroleum levy has been raised to Rs60 per litre. “Out-of-box thinking is required to emerge out of the economic crisis,” he said.

The caretaker premier has on his part denied that the sudden increase in electricity bills is a concern and termed it a “non-issue” while asserting that consumers “have to pay the bills”, reported several media outlets.

Meanwhile, the Punjab Bar Council along with district and tehsil bar associations also protested against rising inflation by boycotting proceedings in lower courts. Lawyers also called for the arrest of those responsible for opening fire at the house of a local lawyer Nazia Nawaz.

The people staged protest demonstration on National Highway in Karachi and all the shops and restaurants remained closed. The Red Bus Service also remained suspended in Karachi. In Jhang, there was complete shutter down observed by the traders against the inflation and electricity overbilling.

The details showed that all the petrol pumps and shops remained closed in Thattha. The District Bar of Narowal also observed strike as lawyers boycotted the court proceedings.

The shutter-down was also observed in Taunsa and Jaccobabad while traders and workers of Jamaat-e-Islami staged protests in Karak against inflation.


‘Most successful shutter-down strike in Malakand division’

In Swat, the “most successful” shutter-down strike in history was observed in Malakand division and all commercial and business centers remained closed. All Private educational institutes, marbles industries and other industries also remained closed while the lawyers of the District Bar Association boycotted the court to take part in the strike while Jamaat-e-Islami took out protests against brutal electricity bills and inflation in all district and tehsil headquarters including Swat across Malakand Division.

On the call of Abdul Rahim, President of Malakand Division Traders Federation, all business communities, commercial centers, markets and shops remained closed in all nine districts of Malakand Division – Swat, Buner, Shangla, Upper Dir, Lower Dir, Upper Chitral, Lower Chitral, Malakand and Bajaur, while private educational institutions, marble industries and all industries and factories were also closed. The traffic in the entire division, including Swat, was less than normal and the roads wore a deserted look.

Speaking to the media on the occasion, Abdul Rahim, President Malakand Division Traders Federation, said that the poor people are worried and the traders’ communities have been almost crushed by the ever-increasing inflation. He said that along with electricity and gas bills, hike in petroleum products has made the people a victim of economic hardships.

“We are not ready to tolerate these atrocities any longer and there is a feeling of anger in the whole nation and I fear that the people may be forced to revolt, he added,” he said. “In the initial phase, we have only observed shutter-down strike, but if the rulers do not come to their senses and fail to give relief to the people, then we will be forced to start a civil-disobedience movement,”he said.

He further said that the job of caretaker government is only to conduct elections. But unfortunately, the present caretaker government has taken the contract to bury the people alive by taking the agenda of the IMF.


JI rallies across Swat region

Meanwhile, Jamaat-e-Islami held protests against uncontrolled inflation and continuous increase in prices of electricity, gas and petroleum products in the various parts of Swat district.

The biggest protest demonstration was held at Nishat Chowk in Mingora city, while workers in all tehsil headquarters and big cities also took to the streets, shouting slogans against inflation and unprecedented hike in electricity tariff.

Addressing the protests, Jamaat-e-Islami leaders including Akhtar Ali Khan said that the country has been left at the mercy of the IMF. They said the rulers were enjoying themselves while the entire burden is being put on the people. But we are not ready to bear this burden anymore.

This is the reason why the entire nation is protesting and if the rulers do not give relief, then the people will be forced into civil disobedience.


Sindh CM urges calm

Caretaker Sindh Chief Minister, retired Justice Maqbool Baqar, acknowledged the challenges faced by the citizens and affirmed that staging a protest was a fundamental democratic right.

In a statement, the chief minister noted that those participating in the protest should also be mindful of not causing inconvenience to fellow citizens.

He further pointed out that both the federal and provincial governments were actively working to alleviate the burden of the public.

All Pakistan Traders Community’s poster is hung on a pole along a street in Peshawar on September 2 during a nationwide strike by traders against the surge in electricity and fuel prices. — AFP

“The authorities should also take proactive measures to maintain a peaceful atmosphere during the protest,” stated the provincial chief executive.

In a separate statement, Karachi’s Deputy Mayor, Salman Abdullah Murad, affirmed that the right to protest is a fundamental aspect of democracy. However, he highlighted that any act resulting in harm to public property during such protests would not be tolerated.

He issued a stern warning, stating, “Law enforcement agencies will take decisive action against those who engage in anarchic behavior.”

Furthermore, the deputy mayor called upon the police to prioritise the safety of both the public and their property.


Mixed reaction in Peshawar

Despite business closures in various parts of KP, the response in Peshawar appeared to be mixed. While some shops remained closed, others chose to keep their businesses open.

A correspondent from Daily Relation Times during a visit at Peshawar’s Ashraf Road, noted that over half of the market was operational, with only a handful of shops closed. It’s worth mentioning that this area serves as a central market, drawing a substantial daily footfall.

Closure of business in Battagram

Meanwhile, the main market along the Karakoram Highway in KP’s Battagram wore a deserted look as it remained shut in response to the call by the JI.

Speaking to Daily Relation Times, local JI leader Anwar Baig stressed the need to set aside political affiliations and unite in these challenging times.


Naimatullah Khaksar, a local trader, highlighted that numerous traders had suffered significant losses due to inflation. Each morning brought new taxes and fluctuating rates, leaving them in a state of confusion regarding the viability of their businesses, he added.

He emphasised the urgency for the government to implement corrective measures to bolster the economy. “The continuous depreciation of the Pakistani currency against the dollar had eroded the purchasing power of traders, causing local consumers to bear the brunt of inflation.”


JI organises rallies in Punjab

According to the visuals shared by the JI on its account on X (formerly Twitter), traders in various cities of Punjab also observed a shutter-down strike.

Rows of shops can be seen shut in the pictures shared by the party from Punjab’s Jhang and Sialkot districts while those from the Nankana Sahib district show JI supporters carrying party flags gathered on the streets to protest against the power bills.


The JI said its district emir Hafiz Habib Zia addressed the protestors in the Panwan village.

Similar scenes can be witnessed in the pictures shared by the JI of Bahawalpur, where the party’s city emir Syed Zeeshan Akhtar was leading a rally, it said.

Meanwhile, Babar Mahmood, president of the Electronics Market Traders Union in Lahore, said the bills received this month “exceed our earnings”.

“There is a growing disconnect between the general public and those in positions of power,” he added.

On the other hand, Lahore’s Township Traders Union president Ajmal Hashmi told AFP that “everyone is participating because the situation has become unbearable now,” adding that “some relief must be given so people can put food on the table.”


‘PM’s Statement Misreported’

Later at night, interim Information Minister Murtaza Solangi claimed in a video statement that PM Kakar’s statement on exorbitant electricity bills being a non-issue was misreported.

The video also showed a clip of the PM from the interaction, where a journalist asked him about high electricity prices being a “serious issue of law and order”.


In his reply, PM Kakar said: “Let me assure you that it is not that it is a very serious issue of law and order. But it is an issue indeed, which is certainly being magnified.

“We also understand that all political parties are in election mode at present … all those who have contributed to [this problem] have turned this into an issue and trying to take this forward as a social cause.

“We understand this. If I had to contest the election, I might have done the same.”

Referring to this response, Solangi said PM Kakar had denied that the issue of high electricity bills had lead to “anarchy”.

“But he did not say that the problem of electricity bills was a non-issue,” he insisted, adding that the PM “did not say at any point that the pain of the people was unfair”.


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