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Residents fleeing to safe areas

July 06, 2013

KARACHI, July 5: “We are not shifting, just leaving for a few days until the situation improves in our neighbourhood,” said Anwer Ali with his optimism tinged with uncertainty and doubt while sitting on a pile of suitcases and bags with his wife, two young daughters and as many minor boys. The family was waiting for a pickup to board it with their belongings to move to ‘safe areas’ from their house situated between Juna Masjid and Agra Taj Colony.

Mr Ali, 44, a Kutchhi carpenter who had a small shop near his house, felt himself entangled in double jeopardy.

“We are leaving our home and our shop,” he said, putting on a wry smile on his wrinkled and fatigued face. “We are homeless and jobless at the same time, but living is the most important thing.”

His wife and daughters were wearing long black robes and scarves over their faces. The woman was expressively vocal in airing her feelings upon being homeless.

“We are leaving the home we built by spending all our savings,” she said. “We could not take along everything, including many articles of dowries I have been collecting for my daughters.”

She was waiting for her brother, a resident of Kharadar, who had asked them to wait with their belongings until he arrived there with a vehicle.

Kharadar itself is not a safe neighbourhood for its residents as people are drifting away from there to Saddar and other localities because of increasing violence.

In a shocking incident reported last week, gunmen indiscriminately fired at public near the Machchi Miani Market and killed three people, including a woman.

Violence has persisted in several localities of Lyari for many weeks with the area from the Kamela bus stand to Agra Taj and Bihar colonies gravely affected, forcing residents to migrate in large numbers.

Their migration continues with both dominant communities – Kutchhis and Baloch – equally affected.

People who still live in the affected neighbourhoods in sizeable numbers say a number of houses and shops abandoned by their occupants have been occupied by armed gangs, while reports speak of looting and ransacking.

“One can see the walls of many houses and buildings pockmarked with bullets. The rival armed men are not just exchanging gunfire; they are attacking each other’s strongholds with crackers and grenades also,” said Mehmood Hussain, a Baloch resident of the locality, while speaking to Dawn on telephone.

He said it was too risky to live in once Lyari’s most expensive ‘upmarket area’ as crackers and grenades often landed on houses, “which is evident from the large holes in many houses if you can come here and see”.

“People are too scared. They have not gone to work for many days and children have stopped playing in streets,” he said.

Mohammad Ashfaq, a Sindhi working as a clerk in the Sindh secretariat, said he lived near the Kamila bus stand, near the ‘boundary’ from where the ‘restive area’ begins.

“Things are not normal either in our area, but we can just hear explosions and gunshots in the neighbouring localities and are safe here so far,” he said.

He said he sensed a ‘strange silence soaked with fear’ on the streets leading to the neighbouring settlements.

“People are very frightened over there who are continuously migrating to their relatives’ in other localities,” he said.

“Wait…I have just heard a couple of explosions. They must be crackers,” he said, paused and resumed: “Oh…electricity has gone out again.”

Residents complained of prolonged power outages in the violence-hit localities of Lyari, which affected tap water supplies as well.

Shops and markets scantly open there and largely remain closed for days causing immense hardship to the residents in buying food and routine items.

Some residents supported speculation that the gangs were piling arms, strengthening the fear of a ‘final battle’.

“It is common to hear that they are preparing for a final showdown, which is scaring everyone gravely,” said Ghulam Mohammad.

“Thanks to Allah, it is still not a battle between common Kutchhi and Baloch people. We still live side by side and work together at the Karachi Port and other places. Though the rival armed groups are fighting it in the name of our communities,” said Mr Mohammad.

Reports suggested that although violence had not spread beyond the affected neighbourhoods, its fear forced life to change. Many shops and markets as far as in Kharadar, Mithadar, Kaghzi Bazaar, Jodia Bazaar, Khajoor Bazaar and Lea Market were seen closed or opened just for a little while.