KARACHI: Gulistan-e-Jauhar is in turmoil again. The Pathans of the area, especially blocks 14 to 17, have started leaving their homes and businesses out of fear for their lives after they were allegedly threatened on the basis of their ethnicity.
Several incidents were also reported in which party activists had threatened people of one ethnicity or abused them verbally. Residents said that many tandoors and chai shops had been abandoned by their owners.
One shopkeeper told The Express Tribune that his neighbouring shop owner, who ran a hardware store, had been threatened by “some young boys on bikes a few days ago”, after which he fled overnight leaving everything behind.
The situation is so bleak that one apartment’s union leaders in block 15 asked their seven watchmen and caretakers to return to their villages, giving them hardly a few hours’ notice. These men hail from Barikot-Kohistan, a small town in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, in the Swat Valley.
Gulistan-e-Jauhar is spread over 19 blocks – 1 to 7 are mostly occupied by Sindhi, Baloch and Punjabi people. Blocks 12 to 16 are generally considered the posher part as they are dotted with villas and luxury apartments. Blocks 17, 18 and 19 have gone commercial with restaurants, motels, general stores and grocery shops.
‘There is no work in my village… it was washed away in floods’
Long-faced and teary-eyed watchman Khursheed bade his apartment block’s residents farewell on Tuesday. He had been working there for over 17 years and considered it his own home.
“I really don’t know what I will do as there is no work in my village except more trouble as it was washed away in the floods,” he said.
Sultan was another watchman who was asked to leave. “I have five small children and I used to send all my money to support my family,” he said. “I begged the union (of the apartments) to let me stay behind, but they said that my life was more important and if I had that I would continue to earn forever.”
The watchmen and caretakers are concerned that they will not be able to find another job. “We are illiterate and not well built because we’ve been doing this our entire lives. Our choices are limited and we can’t even start our own business because our savings are nil,” said Shah Alam, another watchman.
However, before they could say any more, their taxi arrived to take them away.
For the last two days, since the target killings stopped in the city, the “well-wishers” of the shop owners and security guards have been warning them that another spree of target killings is in the offing.
Agha Jan, who represents the restaurant owners in the city, says at least 13 tea stall and restaurant owners left the area after the recent violence.
“Eight owners have shifted back to Quetta and KP, and five of them have gone to Banaras and Landhi,” he explained.
According to him, some of the restaurants were attacked and some received threats. “Everywhere there are good and bad people. The bad people threatened them to leave the area, whereas, the good people said they were helpless to protect them,” said Jan, who owns five restaurants in the city.
According to police records, at least 17 retaurant and tea stalls were targeted in the recent violence and around five workers from these restaurants were killed along with two security guards.
“A customer who used to regularly visit my tandoor, asked me to leave the area otherwise I would be killed,” said Gul Nawaz, who used to run a naan shop in block 15. Gul Nawaz saw the bloodshed in the area with his own eyes and decided to leave even without informing anyone.
“I am planning to go back to my city. They are killing us despite the fact that we serve them. It is all political,” said the 32-year-old Gul Nawaz. “But I had nothing to do with politics.” He was 15 years old when he came to Karachi. “All it will take is one bullet.”
with additional reporting by Fawad Shah
Published in The Express Tribune, August 11th, 2010.