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City under siege

As the country grapples with economic and political turmoil, Karachi finds itself once again engulfed by street crime

By Yusra Salim |
Design: Ibrahim Yahya
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PUBLISHED May 26, 2024

Amanullah, who never thought twice about going out at night, now fears stepping out of his house even in broad daylight. Any time a motorbike passes him by on the streets, the 36-year-old gets nervous. He gets triggered and instantly has flashbacks of the first day of April, a fatal day that he lived through.

After withdrawing cash from a bank that day, he was driving back along with his two friends when they were mugged. “As soon as we turned from Ajmer Tower, I saw two men crossing our car and stopping at a distance. The one sitting behind jumped off from the motorbike like we see in CCTV videos of mugging incidents. Instinctively I felt that something is wrong,” shared Amanullah.

As soon as the man toting a gun came toward him, he bent down to get his gun but heard a sound. “In a matter of seconds, there was blood dripping from my cheek down my chest. When I turned around, I saw my friend in the passenger seat unresponsive and covered in blood,” he narrated. His friend died on the spot. Amanullah was shot in the neck, the bullet piercing through his left cheek.

Pakistan's vibrant city of Karachi, brimming with potential and problems alike, has long been the centre of the nation's economy. But the city has been facing an increasing threat in recent years: a startling rise in muggings that frequently end in fatalities. With more than 22 million residents, Karachi is a melting pot of several cultures, ethnic groups, and economic endeavours. However, there is also a lot of crime in the city, especially in the form of street violence. Incidents of people being robbed of their possessions have become commonplace.

In the last few years, the number of people being killed has started to ruse again but now it’s not a tug of war between political parties neither is it the general breakdown of the law and order. People are losing their lives for merely a mobile phone or a small sum of cash.

More than 51 people have been killed in the country in the last three months. This includes the highest numbers of killings during Ramazan. The reasons behind this can be many varying from inflation to easy money and from lack of law and order to the helplessness of the residents.

Amanullah and his friends were carrying a huge amount from one of their payments on April 1, 2024 when this encounter took place. “Many local residents came out to help transfer us into other cars and rushed us to hospitals, called ambulances but there started the misery where if we didn’t have connections maybe I would not have survived too,” said Amanullah, who is still visibly traumatised.

The incident was life changing. “Now when a bike passes me by I get anxiety and become fearful. The only relief is if the bike has only one rider because snatchers come in pairs,” he explained.

Do police and hospitals provide any help?

Dawar Khan lost his close friend in a mugging incident this April. Dawar Khan who remained unhurt was the only eyewitness and the first person to shift the victim to the hospital and to speak to the police. “It is evident that the police and hospital staff face such cases on a daily basis. They don’t have empathy to help people and ease their trouble. Rather they add to it.

Before starting any treatment, the hospital staff asked me so many questions that were irrelevant. Where and how did the incident occur? How much money were we carrying? From which bank did we withdraw the money?” he told The Express Tribune.

The authorities are of little help to citizens during such a crisis, be it the filing of an FIR or getting emergency treatment, or getting the dead body released or obtaining a death certificate. “They add to your misery by asking questions such as why were we carrying that specific amount that was stolen or where is the amount now. Worst, why did we take that route after getting out of the bank,” he narrated, adding that such questions only made it more painful for him as he was dealing with losing his work partner and a dear friend.

“At the hospital, once we made some calls to some connected people, only then were we entertained. What about the majority of the citizens who are treated like lesser humans?” Dawar Khan lamented.

How do hospitals cater to such cases?

“I don’t understand why it’s an unsaid rule that every victim with a bullet wound injury is to be taken straight to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital,” said Dawar Khan. “It seems like ambulances are being paid for this that they rush straight to Abbasi Shaheed and not any nearby hospitals even though there are no state-of-the-art facilities to tackle such cases at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital.”

With the motto to save lives and help patients, hospitals work day and night tirelessly for such cases and have categories and codes to cater to cases depending upon the severity. “Saving a life takes precedence over everything and anything when it comes to bullet or knife wounds because that is the main source of injury in mugging cases,” said police surgeon Dr Summaiya Syed.

She also added that the first and most important thing is to make the patient stable, for which the emergency doctors and nurses cater to given the severity of the injury if there is a fracture or an injury that can turn out to be fatal then the emergency operations are conducted meanwhile a medico-legal team works side by side where they inform the family and concerned police officials to register a case about the incident.

“While the emergency medical treatment is going on to save the life of a victim, the medico-legal teams in Jinnah, Civil, and Abbasi Shaheed hospitals complete their procedure on the case,” shared the doctor. There are certain emergency protocols in such cases for example if the injury is in the head, neck, or chest a specific trauma treatment and protocol is followed while if the injury is in the hands or feet, there is different procedure. Even in hands and feet injuries, there are certain immediate vessels that can be fatal for the patient so special consideration is taken for each case.

When a patient is pronounced dead, the protocol is different. The hospital releases a death certificate, a clearance from the police is required on the case and then the deceased can be returned to their family. “This procedure sounds simple but in reality it takes hours and sometimes the whole day,” said Azeem Khan whose neighbour died last year in a mugging incident in Orangi Town.

The majority of the injured who can afford to get treated at private facilities move to private hospitals to get the bullet removed or operated on because government-run facilities cater to the bulk of cases while they also lack facilities. Thus, the procedure is slow and doesn’t help the patient much.

In 2022, Arsalan Siddiqi was rushed to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital after a shooting and mugging incident.

“It was around 10 pm when I was returning home from work. I stopped at an ATM near my house to get some cash. I was coming out of the ATM when suddenly two motorbikes stopped near me and two of the men started checking my pockets and wallet. When they found only a few thousand rupees and an old phone, they misfired at my thigh and shot my feet,” recalled Siddiqi.

He received the initial treatment at Abbasi Shaheed Hospital and was sent home after being given some medicine and asked to come back after two days to get the bullet surgically removed.

“The idea of a bullet inside my body was not just uncomfortable but it was also painful, so after discussing it with my uncle who has served in a military branch, I went to Aga Khan Hospital and got it removed the next morning. It took a while to heal. People who can’t afford private hospitals have to wait it out in such scenarios and that can only make the injury worse for them,” Siddiqi explained.

Years of follow-up

Police stations are not the most cooperative in registering FIRs of mugging and shooting cases. “When I went to the police station they asked questions such as the number of the motorbike and what I was doing with my friend when he was killed and why I was not even injured,” said Azeem. “How can someone think of noting down the number in such a situation where robbers killed your friend in front of you? I was too numb to process anything and was handling him soaked in blood.”

It took Azeem two months of continuous struggle to successfully lodge an FIR. The problem is that for such cases, the FIRs record no names because they are lodged against unknown assailants. So the police cannot help much without the help of CCTV footage.

Despite having a few friends in the police, Dawar Khan also faced trouble to lodge an FIR. “We even provided the motorbike licence plate number, got hold of nearby CCTV footage but it’s been more than a month of no progress,” he said. “In every meeting with the police, we are ensured that they are close to finding the criminals but we know nothing works that easily in this country. Here everything is a joke,” he lamented. Meanwhile, the Karachi Police department shared data for this story but refrained from making any comments.

So what can a family do when they face any injury or loss of life because of street crime incidents?

“There aren’t many options for someone who has suffered loss, a loved one being killed or injured because the state is not very efficient and everywhere the common man is suffering at the hands of the powerful,” Amanullah said.