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“In the last decade the number of buses and mini-buses in the city has decreased from 25,000 to a mere 8,000 and it is mainly because of torching of buses during forced strikes and political turf conflicts,”

By Zia Ur Rehman

March 20, 2017

https://www.thenews.com.pk/print/193313-Ethno-political-violence-brought-transport-business-to-the-verge-of-collapse

Syed Irshad Hussain Bukhari, a prominent leader of transporters, sits regularly in his office in the Akbar Road area, one of the most famous auto markets of the city. There he meets transporters to listen to and resolve their issues as well as talks to the media on public transport woes.

“It’s easy for the media to call us ‘transport mafia’, but plying buses on the city’s roads is not an easy task,” said 75-year-old Bukhari, who heads the Karachi Transport Ittehad (KTI), a city-wide alliance of various associations formed to protect the commercial interests of transporters, since it was formed in 1990.

Agreeing that the country’s largest metropolitan city was witnessing the collapse of its public transport; Bukhari said ethno-political violence was one of the key reasons behind it.

“In the last decade the number of buses and mini-buses in the city has decreased from 25,000 to a mere 8,000 and it is mainly because of torching of buses during forced strikes and political turf conflicts,” he told The News. “Because of shortage of buses, residents of the city have been suffering.”

Similarly, the city has witnessed the disappearance of more than 250 routes of buses and mini-buses, said the transporters’ leader. “In 2006 there were over 400 routes of buses, mini-buses and coaches. Now they have been reduced to a mere 150.”

He said that a lot of mini-buses and coaches had been converted into cargo trucks and water tankers, while buses had been sold for scrap, adding that a number of people had sold their buses and mini-buses to start other businesses.

irshad bukhari.jpg
Syed Irshad Hussain Bukhari

Because 80 percent of the transporters are ethnically Pashtuns, they are the prime target of ethno-political violence, said Bukhari. The KTI estimates that more than 45 drivers and conductors of buses, most of them Pashtuns, have been killed between 2007 and 2013, and that the incidents mainly occurred in District Central. “Because of their ethnicity, Pashtun drivers were reluctant to go into the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s strongholds,” he said.

Bukhari praised the Rangers-led operation for restoring peace in the city. “Since the launch of the operation in September 2013, not a single bus or mini-bus has been torched, nor has a driver or a conductor been killed or injured.”

Recalling the period from 2007 to 2013, he said it seemed imperative to torch five to 10 buses and mini-buses a day before a strike to make the protest successful. “In a year there were on average 20 to 40 forced strikes in Karachi. But since September 2013, the city has not seen a single strike.”

Fearing their vehicles might be burnt because of a protest or forced strike, Bukhari said the panicked transporters used to take their vehicles back to the stands to avoid any untoward incident.

“Na Maloom Afraad of a certain political party used to throw chemical to torch buses.” He said the government paid compensation for torched buses after prolonged efforts and hesitation.

Bukhari, originally from the Abbottabad district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, said his family migrated to Karachi in 1946, started working as drivers, then purchased a taxi, and in 1970 they bought six buses.

“I have seen peaceful eras of Ayub Khan, Yahya Khan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Ziaul Haq. But since the Bushra Zaidi case in 1985, although it was a mere traffic accident, the transporter business started facing difficulties when some elements turned the incident political.”

Also, after the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, the transporters suffered badly as hundreds of buses and vehicles were torched that day, he added.

Although violence and arson attacks have significantly decreased in the city, Bukhari said panicked transporters were now not interested in making investments in the public transport sector. “The transporters believe that it’s not a lucrative business any more. They encourage their children to pursue other businesses.”

He said the city needed 10,000 new buses on an urgent basis to resolve the problems faced by commuters. “To improve the bus network across the city, the Sindh government recently started negotiations with us to bring in new buses from banks through leasing and government subsidies.”