10 tips for surviving a riot in Pakistan

See where the ambulances are heading. Drive the opposite way.

Moizza B Sarwar July 23, 2011
Earlier this month, Zulfiqar Mirza went on live television to irresponsibly air an opinion about the legitimacy of a leader. While Shahi Syed made attempts to pull him back from the microphone, Karachi erupted in flames once again.

My friends, on their way back from the airport, saw cars turning back from Shahrah-e-Faisal, and people driving back towards the terminal for safety. The main road was overrun with protesters and so was the road leading towards Askari-IV and Gulistan-e-Johar.

To the occupants of a Honda Civic - who had to ask my friends to lead them to safety, jostled and bumping over a little known path strewn with dirt and bushes, I offer the following advice for surviving riots in our country:

1. Be informed at all times: Radio, television, Twitter or whatever is accessible.

2. Staying inside should be your option number one: Usually that would apply if your neighbourhood is the hub of violence. Lately however, the practice of barging into people’s houses to kill them renders it a less than ideal strategy. In which case, when trouble starts to brew and doesn’t look good for your community: have a back up plan. Appoint a place beforehand you can flee to and know your neighbourhood well enough to plan a route that avoids main roads.

3. For drivers - learn to pick up the signs of trouble brewing in the city: Cars turning back are usually the first one. Make sure you get a look at the driver’s face, there is a difference in the facial expression that distinguishes between the usual ‘oh a bridge fell’ or '7-hour traffic jam' as opposed to ‘run for your life’ U-turns made by drivers.

Also, see where Edhi ambulances are heading. Drive the opposite way.

If stuck in a situation where you need to go off the road, as was the case last week, follow rickshaw and taxi drivers. Part of their sales pitch in the last few months has become a promise to know the best way to get out of a riot.

For all those outside, the goal is get to your home or a safe place closest to you. Do not maximize the time you spend in the area of trouble.

4. For pedestrians - stay on the outside of a riot and closer to walls and buildings:  Pick a safe place – meaning it should have at least two exits, and duck inside. Avoid main roads and if you can, sidestep public transport (always an easy target).

5. Don’t wait: Don’t bother looking for an increase in the number of policemen or Rangers as one of the warning signs. They emerge from the woodwork when the rioting has lost steam and you can think of opening shop in a couple of hours.

6. Watch out for burning things: You will know you’re in the middle of the riot if you can see burning tyres lining the roadside and charred remains of buses and vans. Men will be wandering around with effigies and when they run out of that, they will focus their pyromania on Tigger and various other Winnie the Pooh stuffed animals.

7. Do not try to find out what is going on: Don’t go around asking the young men wandering around with a greater sense of entitlement than usual. Steer clear of being seen by them. Typically you will see them walking in the middle of roads, waving a stick or a gun.

8. Carry small amounts of cash: Use this to pay off looters, bribe policemen or anyone who may be manning a makeshift roadblock.

9. You can avoid a gun but you’re not quick enough to avoid a bullet: So, if you see a pointed gun, run for cover. If it’s too late, duck (even in a car), hit the floor, the ricochet effect of a gun fired always jerks the weapon upwards.

10. Don’t talk: Unless you have bought life insurance, don’t reason with a rioting crowd or its members and don’t try to protect any material property. It’s not worth it; your family won’t be able to replace you at the dinner table with a recording of your impassioned speech on national unity. It makes for poor conversation.


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Moizza B Sarwar A student at University of Oxford doing a PhD in Social Policy, who also works for the Oxford Poverty & Human Development Initiative (OPHI).
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.