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- Sunday, March 18, 2012 - From Print Edition

Extortion has suddenly emerged as a huge issue in Karachi again as a strike backed by the MQM was observed by traders in the city on Saturday. The MQM played a key role in raising the issue by staging a protest in the Sindh Assembly on Friday. The party has said that it will act against the ‘feudals who run the extortion business.’ While a boycott of the president’s speech threatened by the MQM was called off, a few incidents of violence were reported. Activists were said to have forced the closure of markets since Friday evening and on Saturday a bus carrying university students was attacked, causing injuries to some. Matriculation exams had to be called off in Karachi on Saturday causing hardship to students, parents and staff alike. The strike of course meant the city remained paralysed through much of the day with people generally remaining off the streets.

In response to the MQM action, Interior Minister Rehman Malik has said the extortion issue will be dealt with within days. He does not quite say how but speaks of hundreds of police officers being assigned to carry out this task. There are things Malik does not explain. Last year, the Supreme Court had taken suo motu notice of extortion and resulting violence in Karachi and made detailed recommendations including depoliticisation of the police force and administration and tougher action against all those involved in extortion regardless of their political links or influence. The interior minister should tell us why nothing was done to carry out these recommendations or implement the suggestions made by the court. The government is as such responsible for the state of affairs and the situation that left the Sindh Assembly in disarray on Friday. Something has to be done to lower the level of all criminal activity in Karachi. The use of force and violence by political parties only makes matters far more difficult to sort out. But this is no excuse for the lack of action we have seen and as a result of which traders remain under threat and are forced to pay extortionists simply to stay in business, while political leaders capitalise on this situation.

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