Shopkeepers closed their shutters across the country, while protesters burned tires on the roads to express their anger.
The strike was called by the former senator Sirajul Haqwho heads the religious political party Jamaat-e-Islami, and he has been widely supported by trade bodies, market associations, lawyers associations and carriers.
The country’s commercial and economic hub, Karachi, was almost entirely shut down and vehicular traffic was light on the roads, with all markets and malls closed.
“We closed our shops in protest to get our message to the ruling class. If they don’t take our problems into account, we will come up with other strategies,” said Fahad Ahmed, a shopkeeper from Karachi, adding “If you pay 100,000 rupees ($330) in rent for your shop and you have to pay an equal amount in electricity bill, how can you survive?”
In the eastern city of Lahore, capital of Punjab province, all major markets were closed for the day, lawyers stayed away from courts and intercity and local public transport was not functioning. The city of Peshawar in the northwest and the city of Quetta in the southwest have been partially closed.
Pakistan’s annual inflation rate was 27.4% in August, according to data released by the State Bureau of Statistics.
Pakistan was on the brink of default before striking a vital deal with the International Monetary Fund. As part of the conditions of the bailout, Pakistan was required to reduce subsidies put in place to cushion the impact of the rising cost of living. This likely contributed to higher prices, especially energy costs.
Mohammed sohaileminent economist and director of Topline Securities, said that despite the IMF program, Pakistan is going through a difficult period.
He said the government was trying to implement painful IMF-dictated reforms as political polarization affected sentiment.
“Inflation is a big problem for ordinary Pakistanis. And this inflation is mainly due to the decline of the rupee. Strict stabilization measures, accompanied by an improvement in foreign exchange reserves, can stabilize the currency and inflation in the future,” Sohail said.
The value of the Pakistani rupee depreciated considerably against the dollar, crossing a historical low of 300 rupees to the dollar. The depreciation of the exchange rate has led to higher import costs, which may contribute to inflation.
Jamal Uddin, a shopkeeper attending a protest rally in Dera Ghazi Khan, said he and other shopkeepers were keeping their businesses closed in protest because it was simply no longer possible for them to feed their families.
Shamim Bibi, a widow and mother of three in Multan, said her daughters had to leave school and her young son went to run a food stall to meet the family’s daily needs. “But now our lives are miserable due to extremely inflated electricity bills, high fuel and food prices and rising rents,” she said.
Acting Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakardownplayed the protests, however, calling the complaints “non-issue”.