ISLAMABAD (AP) — On Saturday, Pakistani merchants initiated a strike in response to the escalating cost of living, which includes increased fuel and utility expenses and an unprecedented depreciation of the rupee against the dollar, causing widespread dissatisfaction among the populace.
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Merchants across the nation closed their businesses, while demonstrators set tires ablaze on the streets to voice their frustration.
The strike was initiated by former senator Sirajul Haq, the leader of the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami, and received widespread support from trade and business organizations, market associations, legal associations, and transporters.
Karachi, the country's economic and commercial center, was nearly entirely shut down, with minimal vehicle traffic and all markets and shopping centers closed.
Fahad Ahmed, a Karachi merchant, stated, "We have closed our businesses in protest so that our message reaches the ruling class. If they don't address our issues, we will devise additional strategies. If you pay 100,000 rupees ($330) in rent for your store and have to pay an equal amount in electricity bill, how can you survive?”
In Lahore, the capital of Punjab province, all major markets were closed for the day, lawyers refrained from attending court, and intercity and local public transportation was not operational. The northwestern city of Peshawar and the southwestern city of Quetta were partially closed.
According to data from the state-run Bureau of Statistics, Pakistan's annual inflation rate was 27.4% in August.
Pakistan was on the brink of default before securing a bailout agreement with the International Monetary Fund. As part of the conditions for the bailout, Pakistan was required to reduce subsidies that had been used to mitigate the impact of rising living costs. This likely led to the price increase, particularly in energy costs.
Mohammad Sohail, a renowned economist and head of Topline Securities, stated that despite the IMF program, Pakistan is facing a difficult period. He said the government is attempting to implement the painful IMF-mandated reforms while political polarization is affecting sentiments.
“Inflation is a major issue for ordinary Pakistanis. And this inflation is primarily driven by the depreciating rupee. Strict stabilization measures with improving foreign exchange reserves can stabilize the currency and inflation in the future,” Sohail said.
The Pakistani rupee has depreciated significantly against the dollar, surpassing a historic 300 rupees to the dollar. Exchange rate depreciation has resulted in higher import costs, which can contribute to inflation.
Jamal Uddin, a shopkeeper participating in a protest rally in Dera Ghazi Khan, stated that he and other merchants are closing their businesses in protest because they can no longer afford to feed their families.
Shamim Bibi, a widow and mother of three in Multan, stated that her daughters had to leave school and her young son had to operate a food stall to meet the family's daily needs.
“But now our life is miserable due to extremely inflated electricity bills, high fuel and food prices and increasing house rent,” she said.
However, the interim prime minister, Anwaarul Haq Kakar, downplayed the significance of the protests, dismissing the complaints as a “nonissue.”
Contributors to this report include Mohammad Farooq in Karachi, Babar Dogar in Lahore, Asim Tanveer in Multan, Riaz Khan in Peshawar, and Abdul Sattar in Quetta.