KARACHI: A text message made the rounds Wednesday night. It appeared to come from a teacher in Muhammadpur, asking for help as his life and family were under threat. Muhammadpur is a predominantly Urdu-speaking neighbourhood right in the shadow of Katti Pahari and opposite Qasba Colony where some of the worst violence broke out after lawmaker Raza Haider’s killing.
According to hospital sources, 12 people were killed in the area and over 70 were injured.
The neighbourhoods on the Qasba side of Katti Pahari are a salad of racial genes. Union Council (UC) 8 has a mixed population. A majority of UC 9 is Pashto speaking and opposite is Mujeeb Colony, which has a mixed population.
On Wednesday night, men from both groups shot at each other. Pakhtun houses were burnt in Ghareeb Nawaz Colony. A majority of the homes of Urdu-speaking people were burnt in Mujeeb Goth. Each side reported six cases of arson.
“India and Pakistan ka border bana rakha he,” says one man.
The corners of both sides of the division in the mountain are under Muttahida Qaumi Movement supervision and Pakhtuns and Awami National Party control the centre. The road separating these two blocks is a no-go zone. On Wednesday, men, who were unaware of the temperature on the ground and used this road, were shot dead.
As we drive up to Shershah Road, the Rangers and police stop us. “They’re Urdu-speaking,” says one cop who peers into the car. “You can’t go down there,” he says. “We won’t take responsibility for you.” When we say we’re from the media, they laugh. “Ok, go at your own risk but don’t come running to SITE thana if something happens!”
Past the barricade, life has returned to normal at Bacha Khan flyover. Hardware stores give way to goat sellers and then marble works as we head towards Katti Pahari. Slabs of red and white marble line the roadside. It is almost as if the earth has been ripped apart.
When we stop on the road that runs right through Katti Pahari, we realise that all the photographs we have seen from news agencies have been taken from the Nazimabad side. Here, the road is deserted with the exception of three Edhi ambulances. The Rangers and police are stationed on the other side.
Red, white and green barricades have been set up for most of the Urdu-speaking alleys. We are warned against venturing in. They are firing at anyone who walks in. The morchas are pointed out.
As we get out of the car, a group of Pathans and an ANP man show up. They are nervous standing in the middle of the road. A small group of Urdu-speaking men eyes us from afar. I walk up to them. “There is no trouble on the main road,” says 30-year-old Kamran, who is Urdu-speaking. “The trouble is all inside.” He says that Pashto- and Urdu-speaking men run shops side by side on this strip. As if to second his opinion, the Pathans join the group.
The police have seen us gather and a soap-dish of a van trundles up. “Oy! Get the hell outta here!” shout the three cops. More than three men gathering in one spot only spells trouble and everyone’s a little spooked. A toothpick sized Shaana, barely six years old, playfully breaks off from our huddle and skips over the street to the police van. I shout to them that we’re from the media just as Shaana slaps the van on its rump. “Chalo! Chalo!” he shoos them with a swagger even grown men wouldn’t dare.
“He’s the IG Sindh around here,” quips Kamran. Shaana obliges by posing for a photograph as we head off for the innards of the neighbourhood.
Inside the Pashto-speaking area, we see a line of homes that have been burnt. They are on the boundary of a stadium and thus at the edge of the Pashto-speaking area. One man wants to take me into Urdu-speaking territory. He is angry because a television channel came on Wednesday, showed their burnt houses but quoted Urdu-speaking people. I later learn that he had lumped me together with that media and wanted me to “get a taste” of the risk.
In Mujeeb Goth, inhabited by families of ragpickers, we see Pakhtun and Mohajir homes burnt along the border of strip a no-man’s land in the middle. It is clear that the arsonists only managed to attack houses at the edges of these populations and were unable to penetrate the pockets. This makes us question the veracity of the text message. It is clear that men from both sides set houses on fire. It is clear that there was firing from both sides and people from both ethniticies were unable to leave their homes.
In the alleyways of Mujeeb Goth, people at both ends are afraid of entering the opposite side for fear of being shot at.
Resident Azeem Baloch said his son was injured by a stray bullet. “At least five people were injured and one killed on Wednesday,” he says.
The Pathans ask us to wait before going ahead to warn their friends that we are harmless. We are suspect as I am not wearing a burqa and Fawad is in trousers and a shirt.
The Pathans stop at one point and say they aren’t willing to escort us over. I realise that the entire time we’ve walked through the area, they’ve deliberately walked behind me.
At the end of the alley is a police van. I realise the Pakhtun areas didn’t have any police. This is Urdu-speaking territory. They welcome us and show us the houses that were burnt. A wiry Naseema Bano swears at the Rangers. “They came and took our innocent boys away,” she says. “Shabbir and Jamal. The women will now give up their lives rather than let them take away our boys.”
We are told that 30 other men have been arrested. People from both sides say that violence will erupt again once the police and Rangers leave.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 6th, 2010.