Imran Ali’s kidnappers jabbed pistols into his sides and led him down a quiet street as fresh ethnic carnage spread fear in the city.
Two other people blindfolded and held with Ali had just been shot at point-blank range. It was his turn. Minutes later, he was face down in a ditch filled with sewage, playing dead until the men were satisfied that the three bullets had worked and walked away.
“It feels like people are just being picked off from the streets because of their ethnic background. How can we live like this?” said Ali, a member of Karachi’s Urdu-speaking community, from a hospital bed. “Apocalypse is coming to Karachi.”
“The political parties are giving their foot soldiers greater freedom. They seem to be doing whatever they want now,” said a senior security official who refers to the violence as “ethnic cleansing.” More than 400 people have been killed since July.
It’s not just supporters of political parties that are gunned down. There is a growing belief that anyone can be hunted, simply because of their ethnic identity.
Weapon sales on the rise
Kamran Muhammad, 23, was buying supplies for his family’s sweets shop when he was abducted, had his hands and feet bound, and was beaten with clubs before being shot in the head and jaw.
He was not a Mohajir, Pashtun or a Baloch but his killers probably thought otherwise.
“We showed the young children of the family his bruises and the bullet wounds,” said Kamran’s father, Muhammad Hanif, his eyes swelling with tears. “We want them to know how dangerous Karachi has become. From now on we will just kill whoever threatens us.”
According to an arms dealer, Bashir Ahmed, more and more of my customers are buying weapons for their own protection rather than for sport. “I am carrying a gun for the first time,” he said from behind a rifle rack. “I have seen the footage of the killings and body parts that are going around.” Some acts were filmed from cell phones and sent around to spread terror.
We will get you
Security officials have heard reports that the identity cards of murder victims were studied to determine people’s ethnicity before they were shot - scenes reminiscent of the Lebanese civil war in the 1970s. Even the leaders of political parties often get text messages saying “we will get you.”
Karachi police chief Saud Mirza said that the gaps between cycles of violence have grown shorter. “The police don’t have time to catch their breath or gather intelligence on what’s going on any more,” he said.
That’s one reason, believes Sharfuddin Memon who is the adviser of home affairs, more time and money must be poured into law enforcement. He runs a hotline for complaints against the police force.
“Karachi’s leaders have to find a way to set aside their differences and help the police,” he said, after listening to three angry factory owners complain that someone posing as an official of the Pakistan Peoples Party and extorting money from them. “But there is no political will,” he added. The leaders of political parties keep shifting blames from one to another.
The chief of Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), Ahmed Chinoy, revealed some estimates.
According to him out of 15 people reported missing, about eight or nine have returned home while five are still missing.
While being interviewed by Express 24/7 Chinoy received a text message alerting him of yet another case. It read that a 20-year-old boy was picked up from the Garden area. The message from the kidnappers was frightening but clear... “Pick up his body from Civil hospital by tomorrow by 5 pm.”
Simultaneously one CPLC operator also received a call about another case. Chinoy said that more than 36 deaths have been reported in this connection. “One witness told me that 20 people were kept in one room at an unknown destination. Eight people were separated and there were no calls for ransom.”
With additional reporting by Express 24/7
Published in The Express Tribune, August 29th, 2011.