Fifteen days ago, the bomb proof car that had been usually assigned to him was taken away. The one plastic barrel placed on the turn at the Lyari Expressway was said to have contained at least 100 kilograms of explosives. When it detonated at 4:20 pm on Thursday January 9, 2014 it flung the bulletproof car with four men in it, 40 feet in the air. It landed nearly 300 feet away on the other side of the highway. All the people in it were dead and Chaudhry Aslam was one of them.
Not much time has passed since Karachi finished out 2013 assessed the grim numbers of deaths and killings and bombings past. So used is Karachi to killing that a replicable set of sorries can be attached to each one, a meaningless mixture of lapses and lies and rote condemnations pinned to the piles of bodies the city produces every day.
When a man like Chaudhry Aslam dies, embedded as he was in the city’s voracious vortex of politics, crime and terror, there are also shrugs. Those who fight terror on Twitter consider themselves beleaguered in Karachi; imagine then a man who was said to have killed hundreds of terrorists in sting operations, three of them it is said, just the night before he died.
Bravery like Chaudhry Aslam’s is unacceptable in Karachi. This is a city where you must look the other way if you see a scuffle starting, hand over your phone, your car, your wallet, your pride or your dignity if you want to keep your life,. The people of the city know to never speak the truth to those more armed, more connected, more wealthy than themselves and they are experts in such calculations. The requirements of a continued existence are crude and brutal: the more powerful in Karachi dominate the less so, the bigger guns, the larger clans, the higher walls are all signifiers of strength.
Some killings are for money, others for conviction, for ideology, for respect, for honour, for power and even for fun. With so many ready reasons for killing, so many stories of the inexplicable deaths attached to days and weeks and months, the task of living is a very complicated proposition.
Eking out a life in the city thus is a matter of much surrender, of small surrenders and large ones, surrenders of silence and surrenders of speech, surrenders at home and surrenders on the street. There is the surrender of the slit throats of the six men killed by the Taliban for seeking solace at a Sufi shrine. There is the surrender of silent cell phones on holy days and strike days and many other days. There is the surrender before the hatred preached on Fridays to packed mosques and the surrender of spicy meals enjoyed in the echoes of gunfire. There is the surrender of women’s bodies that must be shrouded to be safe. There is surrender in the factories where thousands toil daily and hundreds burn to death regularly. There is surrender in the outstretched palms of beggars and surrender in the scared offerings of those that fill them with crumpled notes, glad that they can beg privately before less random others.
The streets of a surrendered city are full of fear, pulsing with the particular gloom of the stubbornly meek, adamant in the knowledge that the brave will die, and the surrendered will live.