Death sometimes arrives with a deafening roar, and Feroze Khan had heard that rattle before.
Maybe that was why, when the sound of an explosion rang through the vegetable market on Wednesday, Khan dumped the vegetables in his wheelbarrow and rushed to the blast site some 300 metres away.
Some of his relatives were there for the fruit auction, he said, where a bomb planted inside a crate of guavas exploded and killed at least 25 people. He was not sure, but he had to check. Maybe he could save them.
“The faces I saw there were mutilated. Blackened,” Khan said. “I cannot tell if my relatives are dead or not.”
Three hours after the blast, Khan sat on the outer cordon police had drawn up around the blast site. His wheelbarrow, now painted red with the blood of the dead and injured he helped shift away from the site, stood beside him.
A few feet away, inside the cordon, dozens of boxes lay haphazardly around a three-foot wide crater, as if arranged to form a maze leading to it. Guavas rolled out of crates and blood stains, shattered glass and hubcaps appeared on the cordon’s periphery.
Nearby, expressing grief differently from Khan, traders and vendors from the market were angry and stern as they spoke in to TV microphones.
“We give the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Rs35 million in [tax] revenue every year,” said Babu Aleem, the president of the fruit market union, to a swarm of surrounding camera crews. “Thousands of labourers work here, hundreds of trucks come and go every day, but there is no protection.”
Incensed more by the confusion over whether the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration should have taken over supervision of the vegetable market from the CDA or not, Aleem and his fellows demanded a security wall around the vegetable market, perhaps the biggest and the busiest in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
Located at the boundary of the twin cities, between a katchi abadi, an upscale supermarket and a residential area, the open market is vulnerable despite, a police station’s building on its western edge.
“There are a thousand ways to enter the market,” Aleem said. “We need one entry and one exit point, just like markets in Karachi and Lahore. If that does not happen, bomb attacks will happen again.”
Meanwhile, the police, despite severe criticism of their slow response during the katcheri attack — which also took place within a stone’s throw of a police station — remained slow to respond, Khan said.
On the other hand, “It is not possible to check every single truck that arrives in the market,” one senior police official said.
Another police officer said building a wall around the market will only disrupt the flow of the market’s business activities.
Some traders were quick to point out Afghan residents at the katchi abadi across from the market. Ikramuddin, who manages the Sitara trading company at the market, said the Afghans might not be linked with the attack but they should nevertheless be registered by the authorities to keep out suspicious elements.
The Sector I-11 katchi abadi is mostly inhabited by Pakhtuns, some of whom have been living there since the 1970s. Most of them work as labourers at the vegetable market.
Police officials said they had not considered options such as registering each labourer who works at the market. “Better intelligence gathering about militant attacks might be the best option we have,” the senior police official said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 11th, 2014.