Terror’s targets: The Professor and the Policeman

Published September 26, 2014
The death of Professor Auj and the fortunate escape of SSP Farooq Awan present in a microcosm, the sum total of the war on terror.
The death of Professor Auj and the fortunate escape of SSP Farooq Awan present in a microcosm, the sum total of the war on terror.

There was no moon on Thursday night, September 25, 2014 but the darkness would prove to be more ominous than just an absence of light.

Most of the day, the city had been in its usual disarray. A sit-in called by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement to protest arrests of its workers had paralysed its already choked, fear-struck roads.

Many businesses had been closed and school children were forced to stay home. It was chaos as usual in Karachi, and dusk would make things worse.

Late in the evening, SSP Farooq Awan, a policeman for over three decades, who had spent the bulk of that time, fighting terrorism cases, was making his way home. He was very nearly there, passing by the always well-lit compound of Saudi Embassy when the bomb exploded.

It had been placed in a parked car and when the debris would clear and the injured carted away, it would be seen to have left a crater nearly 15 feet deep. Seven people were injured and two were killed.

More on the topic: Extent of militancy

Farooq Awan himself survived – a miracle given the mangled mess that was the bulletproof car from which his injured body was retrieved. In the moments after, there was the predictable pandemonium; rescue workers and television anchors dotted among debris, delivering bad news each in his own way.

The dead bodies taken away from the scene were of two innocent men, a trader and a burger delivery man working Karachi’s night and walking Karachi’s streets, where all the time is now the wrong time.

It was one week, almost to the hour of another attack on another stalwart who had stood against the obscurantism of terror. Dr Mohammad Shakeel Auj, the Dean of Islamic Studies at Karachi University and an advocate for tolerance in times of ignorance and constriction, had been on his way to the Iranian Consulate for a reception in his honour.

Unlike, the very fortunate SSP Shakil Awan, Dr Auj did not survive the attack on his life. His assailants did not plant a bomb and neither was his car bomb- or bulletproof. On motorcycles, the attackers accosted it and sprayed it with bullets. They took no chances and insured that the scholar would not survive; they hoped that his message against sectarianism and extremism would die with him.

In one near death, and one real death is the story of the entire war on terror, its abstract and physical dimensions.

Read through: Of guilt and goodbye: Too late to thank my Professor

Last week’s victim, now buried, was a warrior in the war of minds. His research of Islam and his interpretation of the Holy Quran were pathways to a vision of faith based on love and co-existence.

It is no surprise that it was a threat to those who insist that the only way to be faithful is to ascribe to hatred, condone beheadings and exterminate all those who disagree.

The second, Farooq Awan, is a warrior on the physical battlefront.

In the 30 years that have passed, he has risen through the ranks of the police force and pursued many extremist outfits, working on the Daniel Pearl murder case, the Sheraton Hotel bombing in 2002 and many more.

Most recently, he had been working on the case of none other than Professor Auj himself, two warriors fighting killers of the same ilk, in a city besieged from all sides.

The death of Professor Auj and the fortunate escape of SSP Farooq Awan present in a microcosm, the sum total of the war on terror.

Explore: Battling sectarianism: Time to look beyond mum religious leaders

In the week in which they have occurred, the world is again scratching its head at terror’s conundrums. The United States – whetted by videos of beheadings of hostages – is scattering bombs over Syria and Iraq, its drones firing again in the skies over Waziristan.

There is much being said again about American targets and the extremist hunger for them.

The superfluity of all of these discussions; their irrelevance is highlighted by what transpired in Karachi in the past week, what will continue to happen in the next week and the week after.

In the war on terror, the question of which interpretation of faith wins depends on how many men like Professor Auj can slowly, systematically be killed off.

It depends also on how long men like Farooq Awan, who best know where terror lurks, what masks it wears, can cheat death with the paltry resources given to their police forces.

The war on terror, the real war, is thus in these piecemeal battles, ones that cities like Karachi have become so sadly weary of fighting.

In this, the milieu of the constantly fighting, it is not perhaps winning or losing that is the central question, but simply and valiantly, surviving.



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