A burnt bus smells like medicine – a sharp stink that clings long after the metal has cooled, the rexine seat covers and tyres have melted into the asphalt.
By the end of Tuesday, nearly 42 cars, buses and rickshaws smelt like this, as anger whipped through Karachi’s streets after the murder of two Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) men in PIB Colony.
The killing took place in Press Quarters, which is an enclave of sorts on the New Town police station side of PIB Colony. It consists of rows of jaundiced flats and 80-square-yard homes. The neighbourhood is clearly MQM area, as evidenced by the proud and beautifully calligraphed writing on the wall: Altaf Hussain has all the answers.
At 5:45am, men barged into one of the homes on the ground floor and opened fire on Mansoor Mukhtar. His brother Masood died shortly after. Mansoor had been with the MQM since 1987 and was due to be engaged in four days. The women howling in the cordoned off funeral section gripped the sides of the bodies encased in white sheets and reed caskets. MQM activists, dark faced and taut, clotted the ground.
“For three days, this thing had been going on,” said a young man from the enclave. “They kept saying, Ahmed is about to come, Ahmed is about to come… he’s about to pull a big one. Ahmed had been roaming around the neighbourhood with his buddies.”
The Ahmed being referred to is Ahmed Ali Magsi, a 26-year-old Baloch man who is believed to be linked to the banned Peoples Amn Committee. According to a source in the neighbourhood, Ahmed’s 18-year-old brother Zulfi was killed by men allegedly affiliated with the MQM about a year ago. There had been tit-for-tat revenge killings on both sides – the political and turned personal.
This information was corroborated by Lyari leader Zafar Baloch. “This is a fight between Ahmed’s family and the MQM and there were killings on both sides,” he said, adding however, that PAC had no link with Ahmed Ali Magsi. “Just because he’s Baloch they’re tying him to us.” According to Press Quarter residents and witnesses, this was not the first incident. Shortly before attacking Mansoor’s house, the same men shot and injured two MQM activists Kamran and Yousuf.
As soon as the news of the killings spread, the MQM announced a day of mourning and the entire city echoed with the rat-a-tat of gunfire. At least nine men were shot dead. They were mostly rickshaw drivers, pushcart vendors selling vegetables or sweets.
The police and Rangers have apprehended about two dozen suspects involved in the rioting. “The reaction was unreasonable,” said Additional IG Akhtar Hussain Gorchani. “If a deadline was given and had passed and we had not caught the culprits then it would make sense. “The police were present but obviously miscreants get to work where they are not present.”
He said that they were verifying whether Ahmed Ali was affiliated with the PAC and that
PIB Colony SHO Chaudhry Saeed has been suspended.
But the damage has been done and perhaps more reaction is expected. Karachi Transport Ittehad’s Saad Mohammad Afridi said that of the 31 reported arson attacks that they received over the phone by 5 pm, the estimated cost was Rs35 million. “It started at 7:45am and went on till noon, after which they told transporters to save themselves and go home,” he said.
The rest of the city came to a near standstill. Staff wasn’t unable to reach the city complex, rickshaws bulged with thighs and buttocks as people caught whatever ride they could to get home.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 28th, 2012.
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