Families of the victims who lost their lives in the Baldia factory fire claim that they knew the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) was involved before a report produced in the Sindh High Court (SHC) became public knowledge.
Relatives said that they were aware of how and why it had happened but decided to remain silent. “We knew since day one that it was about extortion,” said Owais*, father of Muhammad Jahanzaib, a machine operator who was one of the 259 people burned alive in the fire at Ali Enterprises on September 11, 2012. “The culprits should be punished.”
Shoaib* lost his wife in the fire and has been bringing up their two daughters alone. “Many of those who died belonged to Urdu-speaking families and were affiliated with the party,” he said. “If the charges against the MQM are true, then the party should be banned.”
Trade unionist Nasir Mansoor said that if the report was correct, then culprits associated with the party should be punished. “The owners are also responsible as people died due to lack of safety measures.” He added that the factory had no emergency exists and the gates to the factory were closed at the time of the incident. Mansoor claimed that it looked like the owners wanted to free themselves from any blame.
The families also expressed disappointment with the Sindh and federal government, claiming that two and a half years had passed but they had not received any justice. “The compensation promised by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and a real estate tycoon has not reached us yet,” said a woman who lost her husband.
The MQM responds
While talking to The Express Tribune, the party’s Rabita Committee said that it had no connection with Rizwan Qureshi, the man named in the report by the joint investigation team (JIT) on Friday. Qureshi informed the law enforcers and the investigation team about who had carried out the plan and how on information he had received from a former sector in-charge.
“The MQM has hundreds of workers. Anyone can pretend to be a party worker and use our name,” said a committee official. “The party has zero tolerance policy for extortionists, terrorists and criminals.” The party appealed to the media not to identify the culprit as a worker of the MQM.
The MQM’s involvement in the Baldia factory fire will pose as a real challenge to the prime minister, said the chief of the Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) during a press conference on Saturday.
The JI chief added that families of the deceased and survivors were still waiting for justice from the provincial government which had a habit of ‘sweeping facts under the carpet’. “The nation deserves to know the answers. They need to know why the JIT’s report was kept secret for two and a half years,” said Haq.
The Mohajir Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s chief Afaq Ahmed also held a press conference on Saturday and claimed that he had evidence which showed that the MQM was involved in the Baldia fire.
While speaking at Karachi Press Club, he said that the plan to set the factory on fire was hatched at Governor House. He added that the fire did not start due to a short-circuit as it was initially suggested. He claimed that he was willing to share the information he had if the government asked him.
*Names have been changed to protect identities
Published in The Express Tribune, February 8th, 2015.