Twenty-year-old Asmatullah was in for a rude awakening at 3am on Thursday. The young helper, who works with trucks at a factory in Korangi Industrial Area, was sound asleep on top of a truck when the gun-wielding man turned up.
“Wake up! Run!”
He scrambled off to see about 20 men standing around the truck. The young man fled and was given shelter by a security guard at a nearby garment factory. The truck he was sleeping on was set ablaze. It was one of the many vehicles that met the same fate in the violence that ensued after Sindh minister Zulfiqar Mirza made a statement about the Muttahida Qaumi Movement on Wednesday night.
A couple of hours later, truck drivers ventured out to investigate the fate of the vehicles, which had been snatched from them at gunpoint along with their cell phones at the factory’s parking area. They discovered the carcasses on the main road, but there was no sign of Asmatullah, who made his way back to the factory only later. According to the truck’s driver Nisar Ahmed, a police officer was at the scene, but he merely recorded the number of vehicles burnt and did not register a complaint.
Shah Alamzeb, whose truck was also attacked, was still standing on the main road in the morning, surveying the damage. “These trucks carry oil from the port to the factory. My truck was empty.” He estimated the damage to be about Rs350,000 to Rs400,000.
“I have witnessed many scenes of violence in my life,” said Ahmed. “I never imagined that this would happen to us.”
Shah Faisal Colony, where several cars were burned and where firing had started around 1 am, was ‘cordoned’ off by a group of gun-wielding young boys burning tyres on the road. Attempts by The Express Tribune to venture closer were met with warning shots.
Entering Shah Faisal Colony was off limits to its own residents. A worried Mohammad Iqbal stopped police stationed near the area to ask what route he could take. He was driving his three young school-going children back home. “I had to leave the house today since the children have exams. We took a different route to leave — near the naddi — but that area is dangerous because there are robbers there who take you to the cleaners.”
The officers said they had no orders except to “guard their position”. The road leading to Shah Faisal Colony was clear and calmer than the anger simmering in other parts of the city. The area’s mosque prayer leader said he had been hearing gunfire since 3 am. Nearby, children played a boisterous game of cricket and a vendor was serving up fried samosas and katchoris.
The only people at work on Thursday were the protesters spread throughout the city. At Nazimabad, the air was thick with the smoke emitted from the burning Tiggers and tyres, as effigies of Mirza - some made out of stuffed Winnie the Pooh toys - were burned along with tyres, piles of rags and shop signs.
A donkey that had been spray-painted with the word ‘Mirza’ was the star attraction as protestors shouted anti-Zulfiqar Mirza slogans and made allegations ranging from inebriation to cold-blooded murder. Protestors said they had not been told by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to protest, but were there out of love for their leader, Altaf Hussain.
At another protest in Nazimabad, a car full of women shouted anti-Zulfiqar Mirza slogans. One young girl, aged 18, proudly declared that she had paraded around a donkey as “Zulfiqar Mirza”.
Several protesters raged against Sindhis. “We built this nation with two million lives. We could ask for our own province but we will not do so,” said one man. “How dare he call us naked and starving ?”
But Mirza himself remained elusive throughout the day, having released an apology letter through the government.
But this was not about to put a dent in the anger. A call was issued by the Mohajir Rabita Council for Mirza and Awami National Party leader Shahi Syed to leave Karachi within 48 hours. Protesters - reportedly led by MNA Khushbakht Shujaat - headed to Mirza’s residence on Khayaban-e-Shamsheer. According to SP Clifton Tariq Dharejo, “We stopped them at the Gizri flyover and also requested the MNA to understand the situation. They have dispersed from here.” Gizri SHO Rana Amjad said, “This is a sensitive area, the Saudi consulate is here. So the protesters were told to leave.”
Rumours that the protesters were then heading to Mardan House, the ANP’s official headquarters, were unfounded. Defence SHO Rana Mushtaq said he had no reports and the normal security arrangements were in place.
Mirza’s residence was barricaded off by a couple of trucks with containers.
The former home minister proved to be elusive. He slipped out at around 5 pm and The Express Tribune followed his convoy to Governor House. “There are some political people with him,” said a police officer who had accompanied Mirza. “We don’t know what he’s here for.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2011.