“The policemen do one thing,” quipped a man sitting in a teashop on Napier Road. “They run.”
The proprietor of the tea stall looked out on the street, where bored policemen yawned at the corners. “They’ll be here shortly, asking to be fed.”
In Paan Mandi and Lea Market, there was a sense of calm acceptance for the bloody scenes that unfolded just a day earlier as a rally passed through the area. Witnesses to the shooting rampage only spoke on condition of anonymity but offered a near-identical view of what unfolded. “There were men in niqab,” said a newspaper vendor, referring to the men’s covered faces. “They drove up on motorcycles and shot directly at the rally’s participants.”
Another said he had seen the armed men throw ‘chemical’ on shops, which now present a blackened facade. He saw stores being robbed. Another man, who works at a warehouse in the area and also lives at Napier Road, said he saw the men set dozens of cars and motorcycles on fire.
In the tea stall, men pointed to the carcass of a burned motorcycle. “They even burned the drums of water standing outside,” said one man. “We ran in when they began firing.”
No one was willing to identify who the men were, or which buildings they reportedly took cover and shot from. “Women live in these houses. They couldn’t possibly be the ones firing,” said one incredulous resident.
The injured are adamant that they were shot at from all directions. Another witness, who works at a rescue service, said the same.
The list of the injured men and women brought to the Lyari General Hospital and Civil Hospital help one understand that the bulk of Wednesday’s toll of 11 people killed and injured actually came from Lea Market.
According to the Edhi list, six bodies were taken to Civil hospital. The Edhi list is the most comprehensive out of three received by The Express Tribune. It says a total of 23 injured people and the six dead were transported in their ambulances from Lea Market, Napier Road, Paan Mandi and Medicine market.
The profiles of those injured match the make-up of the rally: the victims largely hailed from the adjoining areas and from Lyari.
Six killings fell in the jurisdiction of Kharadar police station, one Napier and four from Garden.
According to Saleem Anwar, who works for the Edhi ambulance service and was stationed at Paan Mandi, the hail of bullets did come from above. “You can tell the difference,” Anwar said. He picked up around six of the injured.
Abdul Samad was one of them. Bullets lodged in his stomach, back and shoulder. “He was walking home with a group of men,” said his brother. “Then the firing started.”
At Lyari General Hospital, Noor Mohammad, 47, recalled how he was shot in the right arm. “Men began to fire at us on the street and from the buildings nearby,” he said. “We had so many women and children with us, so our first priority was to get them to safety.”
Noor said that the front of the rally largely comprised protestors on foot, the vehicles, and the police escorts, made up the rear. “The vehicles were at a considerable distance from us.” Since the rally ended up ‘splitting’ into these two, the brunt of the injuries appears to have been faced by the front end. He confirmed that attackers had fired from buildings. “We have friends whose bullets went through their head and into their face,” he said. “How else can you have those injuries unless they fired from above?”
Among those at the front was 16-year-old Jamshed from Nayabad. At his young age, he should have been in school, but Jamshed only studied till the fourth grade and now works in the fisheries. He was shot in the right foot. The bullet was set to be removed on Monday.
“I went to the rally with my friends. We ended up separating. Some guy brought me to the ambulance in his car,” he said. Ilahi Buksh’s grandmother, who sat on his bed at Civil hospital, couldn’t help despairing. “He goes to every rally!” she said. The 22-year-old grinned. “I go with my friends after work,” he explained. But on Tuesday, this excursion almost cost him his life. “There were four groups of attackers. Two fired from the buildings, two actually came close to us and shot us.”
The rally participants also said that while they did have weapons, it was not possible to retaliate with the same intensity because they had basic pistols. Another witness also said that there had been an exchange of fire among the attackers and the police, but others said that the police had turned their vehicles back once the gunshots were heard.
Back in Paan Mandi, those reluctantly sitting in their shops wondered aloud about the resurgence of violence. “Who knows what will happen after the afternoon prayers?” As the sound of gunshots rang in the distance, one asked the other: “Do you have your keys?” They went inside the warehouse, ready to wait out another day of violence.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 24th, 2012.