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June 30, 2020

Trading continued unhindered after attack: PSX chairman

KARACHI: PSX Chairman Suleman Mehdi told the media on Monday that trading continued unhindered and business remained as usual after the terrorist attack.

“Security agencies had already alerted us about a possible attack on the PSX,” said Mehdi. “Due to this prior information, security had been tightened and standard operating procedures were in place.”

Admiring the security staff and law enforcement agencies in promptly neutralising the attackers, the PSX chairman said such attacks could not scare the market participants.

In 2016, a consortium led by Chinese firms acquired 40 percent equity of PSX for $85 million, in a move aimed at mobilising funds for the multi-billion dollar CPEC project and facilitating China’s entry into the Pakistani capital market.

A PSX official, requesting anonymity, said the Chinese had majority stake in PSX, and this was actually an attack on Chinese interest in Pakistan. “Baloch separatists view Chinese investment, including the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, as exploitation of local resources.”

“Although, we had intelligence about a possible attack on the exchange and we were alert but it was really frightening when it actually happened. We confined ourselves to the offices praying for safety.”

The official stated that most of the stock exchange and brokerage houses’ staff was working from home due to Covid-19, otherwise casualties could have been higher. Ahsan Mehanti, director of Arif Habib Corp, said he was on his way to the stock exchange when he was informed of the attack. “I was told not to come to the office as the premises had been attacked and all entry points were sealed.”

Mehanti said due to the earlier advisory, the attack was efficiently thwarted, “but such incidents send bad signals across the world and impact foreign portfolio investment.”

Mehanti said he made to his office in the stock exchange building by noon, adding the employees of the bourse and brokerage houses were quite worried. “PSX is the national stock exchange and the government should provide facilities and incentives to the exchange so that such incidents did not have a negative impact.”

Abid Ali, a broker and director of Pakistan Stock Exchange, said four attackers wearing police-like uniforms entered the compound and started firing but were killed by security forces.

"There were four attackers who came from the parking lot, they threw a grenade at the main entrance of the stock exchange and then started firing indiscriminately," Ali said in a media briefing.

Trader Asif Memon said people were in the trading hall when they heard a blast and gunshots. “We remained confined to the trading hall unaware how long and extreme could this be, but soon we came to know the attackers were killed,” Memon said.

The attackers couldn’t enter the trading hall or the stock exchange offices. However, at least five persons, including two private security guards, a policeman and two civilians also died.

Police said food supplies were found on the bodies of the gunmen, indicating they might have planned a long siege. Pakistan has suffered years of militant violence, but attacks such as this one have become rare in recent years.

“Pakistan Stock Exchange, a national institution of the country, is an important symbol of the economy,” Farrukh Khan, Managing Director of PSX, said in a statement. “Any attack on this institution is an attempt to damage the economy and scare away investors from Pakistan. The stock exchange continued to function normally and did not close for even a minute. PSX has robust protocols and processes in place that have allowed the exchange to continue functioning under such extreme conditions.”