Traders anti extortion drive gathers momentum

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KARACHI, March 15: The traders’ campaign against extortion gathered momentum on Thursday, when the Sindh police chief admitted that the number of extortion incidents had jumped manifold over the past few weeks and promised fresh measures to curb the crime.

City business and commercial market leaders, however, threatened to initiate ‘a last-year-like struggle’ against the menace if new police steps also failed to improve the situation.

Only on Wednesday dozens of marble traders in Pak Colony near Bara Board pulled down the shutters of their shops and industrial units over the growing menace of extortion. They burnt tyres and blocked the main road in protest against the police failure to rein in extortionists despites complaints.

“There has been an increase in the number of complaints against extortion,” Sindh IG Mushtaq Shah told reporters after attending the funeral prayers of Yaqoob Ali, who was killed in an encounter with bandits near Burnes Road in the early hours of the day, at the police headquarters in Garden.

“Efforts from our end are in place. A cell exclusively dealing with extortion threats has recently been set up, and in 10 days it has received 15 complaints. But there is a serious problem at the end of traders who mostly come to the police after paying extortion money, and keep us out of the loop when threatened to pay the amount.”

The issue that had triggered a serious political debate and kept the city on edge last year started re-emerging a few weeks ago as the traders last week announced that they would keep their businesses closed in protest against the growing threat. However, they withdrew their call after the city police chief requested them to face the challenge with the help of the newly formed ‘anti-extortion cell’.

The Karachi traders’ cries were heard in Islamabad on Thursday when the Muttahida Qaumi Movement staged a token walkout from the National Assembly session.

In the evening the Sindh IG with his senior colleagues sat at a table with leaders of the traders and markets to find ways to establish their writ.

“Some 800 newly recruited policemen are set to join the city police force, who would be deployed solely to handle that crime,” said IG Shah after meeting the traders’ representatives. “You must acknowledge police efforts. We have killed five armed bandits in a week and our policemen lost their lives fighting the crime.” The traders’ leaders sounded satisfied after their meeting with the police authorities. They, however, said that there had been a series of meetings between the two sides that ended with promises, but the number of extortion complaints had yet to show any decline.

“We have no choice but to trust their (police authorities) words,” said Ateeq Meer of the All Karachi Tajir Ittehad, a coalition of more than 300 city market associations.

His association had campaigned against extortion in April last year and paralysed the city’s commercial activities for a day. The protest strike call had also attracted support from different political parties, including the government’s coalition partner MQM.

“The police badly lack resources. They have their own handicaps apart from other reasons behind their below the required-level performance. We are back to the markets with renewed hopes, but if the situation doesn’t improve, we keep our options open.”

 

Courtesy: DAWN.COM


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