Hospital chief threatened with scrawled suicide note

Fawad Shah/aisha Iqbal June 02, 2010

KARACHI: “Start counting your days from today...” warns the handwritten threat in Urdu addressed to the medical superintendent of the Sindh Government Hospital and signed by the ‘Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Karachi Wing’.

The letter received by the MS, Salma Gauhar, through ordinary post, sparked mild panic in the hospital around 2 pm on Wednesday. Although police, Rangers and the bomb disposal squad (BDS) arrived on her request, patients and doctors continued following their normal routine.

“It just didn’t cause much panic, all the patients stayed where they were while operations went on in the theatres,” a middle-aged man whose family was admitted at the hospital told The Express Tribune.

The BDS went over the winding corridors and maze-like rooms of the sprawling hospital and by 7:30 pm they left the premises. Two policemen were appointed outside the hospital while another will join them during the day, said an official at the Khokhrapar Police Station, Malir.

Meanwhile, a separate gunman has been assigned to offer 24-hour protection to Gauhar till ‘we reach the core of the matter’, the police official said. He believes the warning letter is a hoax and in fact, suspects that someone from the hospital staff might have been behind the whole thing.

“Does it look like the handwriting of a terrorist?” he asked. According to him, the medical superintendent has been working at the Sindh Government Hospital for around one and a half years. She has also had a longstanding quarrel with the rest of the medical staff over management issues. “It is probably one of them [staff] who wants to scare her,” he said.

Things at the hospital were quiet with the MS’s office locked shut. “It is five minutes past eight,” one of the doctors at the gynaecology ward said. “Her hours end at eight.”

Most of the hospital shuts down around 4 pm, with just the emergency and the gynaecology ward remaining open afterhours, however, even the few doctors available were on the defensive.

“What do you want?” demanded a doctor, who at first refused to admit she was a doctor, at the gynaecology ward. She relented that there had been ‘rumours’ of a terrorist threat. “There are police officers outside the hospital now,” she said, adding that one had also been in the MS’s office in the afternoon, “Usually we just have the normal security guard.”

Another doctor at the same ward denied seeing or hearing anything, with several indirect and direct hints to her colleague to keep quiet. “We have heard of the rumour, a bomb blast or such,” she said evasively. “But we don’t know anything. We barely step out of our wards.”

The emergency ward doctor admitted to having heard rumours but nothing factual. “I’m in the evening shift and by the time I came the whole event was over.”

The police also received a typed letter from Gauhar, requesting security.

The officer assigned to her will remain posted outside her house and then accompany her to her office, informed the police official at the station. Such investigations do not take too long, he said, adding that they will find out who was behind the threat soon enough.

Published in the Express Tribune, June 3rd, 2010.


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