Karachi faces growing extortion menace
One afternoon a stranger called at Muhammad Faizanullah’s stationery shop in Karachi, Pakistan's commercial capital, and wordlessly handed the man behind the counter two items: a piece of paper with a phone number scrawled on it, and a bullet.
‘The letter contained a demand for 2,00,000 Pakistani rupees,’ Faizanullah, 20, said. ‘The man said just call this number and pay the amount, otherwise the bullet is meant for you.’
Businesses in Karachi are facing a surge inextortion demands from criminal gangs, forcing many owners to delay new investment or to relocate their families to escape the sense of insecurity gripping the urban heart of Pakistan’s economy.
The worsening law and order situation in Karachi, which generates 25 per cent of Pakistan's economic activity, presents one of the many challenges new Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif must overcome to fulfill promises to set Pakistan on a path to faster growth.
An expanding middle class is fuelling consumer spending but extortion is hurting confidence among thousands of family-run firms that form the backbone of the economy. With the Muslim Holy month of Ramadan due to start in July, a traditional time for extortionists to come calling, Karachi traders and shopkeepers are braced for what police say will be a record year of demands.
‘The extortion racket has blown out of all proportion with the previous year,’ said Ahmed Chinoy, chief of the Citizen Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), a Karachi body set up to help by providing crime