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Two years on from Quetta blast, the loss of Mehmood still just as fresh

August 08, 2018

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DawnNewsTV Mehmood Khan was among the 70 dead in the Quetta attack — File
DawnNewsTV Mehmood Khan was among the 70 dead in the Quetta attack — File

"Sir, sir!…huge blast in civil hospital…no contact with Hafeez and Mehmood" — the staccato delivery of DawnNewsTV DSNG engineer Rana Imran's words packed all the panic and chaos of that day.

The next second, his panic was my panic; Imran's words had that effect that day. The fright of the ominous instantly permeated my system. If there ever was a heart-in-my-mouth situation, this was it.

As overwhelmed as I was, this was not the moment to go weak. I immediately called Hafeezullah Sherani — the missing Hafeez in Imran's message. Fortunately, he answered my call.

The relief had barely set in when in the very next breath, Hafeez, with his voice creaking, said: "Mehmood is missing, I narrowly escaped the blast."

Between the TV beepers and barrage of calls, I somehow made it to the Civil Hospital, which doubled as the crime scene that day.

When I got there, the first thing I noticed was the crimson red splattered all over Imran and Hafeez's previously colourless clothes.

"Where is Mehmood?" I screamed.

No response.

A few cameramen showed me into the hospital's mortuary. Bodies and blood everywhere — not just bodies but lifeless bodies of lawyers, almost all of whom I knew and most were my friends.

Baz Muhammad Kakar, Advocate Qahir Shah, Barrister Adnan Kasi, the ever-smiling Dawood Kasi and many more whose voice had roared many a courtrooms were there. Not a peep out of them today.

But amid the glut of blood-soaked black coats, I was looking for Mehmood. The search was on, but I was hoping I don't find him there. I didn't.

Lawyers and media personnel carry a bed to move the body of a news cameraman. — AFP
Lawyers and media personnel carry a bed to move the body of a news cameraman. — AFP

Barakwal MiaKhail, a journalist working with Radio Free Europe at that time, then told me to look for him at the combined military hospital (CMH) in Quetta cantonment.

With former army chief General Raheel Sharif expected to visit, the security at the CMH was very tight. I somehow made it and resumed my search for Mehmood.

He wasn't there either.

Someone told me that he was last seen at the Civil Hospital, and so that's where I headed back. ARY reporter Abdullah Magsi was by my side then.

Lawyers talk on mobiles next to bodies of their colleagues. — AFP
Lawyers talk on mobiles next to bodies of their colleagues. — AFP

Once there, news broke that Shehzad Khan, an Aaj TV cameraman, had expired. The cameramen and reporters, regardless of what channel, what colour and what anything, wailed.

Inside the hospital mortuary, which I had been to earlier, still did not have any trace of Mehmood. The blast had taken place at 9:30 in the morning. Four hours later, there was still no word on my cameraman's whereabouts.

"Go back to CMH," a voice said, and as desperate as I was for any leads, I obliged. This time when I got there, I didn't have to look anywhere. A man came looking for me instead.

"Where were you? A CMH doctor was searching for you. Your injured cameraman is here and he needs blood."

I rushed in and there he was, on a hospital bed and critically injured, like so many from the legal fraternity.

The doctor asked me to arrange for blood right away. Off I went and came back with three bags. While the doc made the transfusion, I was handed over a wallet and other belongings. There was no question whose was it. They had Mehmood's blood on them.

Minutes later as I was telling senior journalist Ayub Tareen and some others about Mehmood's condition, when a hospital staffer came looking for me.

"Be ready, we are going to shift Mehmood to Karachi," he said.

But not for the first time that day, before relief could set in, the same person came back.

"DawnNewsTV cameraman Mehmood has been martyred."

We cried in unison. My hero was no more.

But there was an even bigger test ahead: how to inform Mehmood's family. Any composure I had was deflated at the sight of a martyred lawyer's loved one kissing the deceased's forehead.

Fortunately, Mehmood's step-brother told us that his family has already been informed about the tragedy.

We took his body to his mud-walled home in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Quetta city.

That evening, in the presence of hundreds of mourners, Mehmood was laid to rest at the Almo Chowk graveyard amid tears and sorrows.

This was indeed the most difficult of all the days I have lived. I lost a colleague who wanted to be a great reporter. In a way, the tragedy helped him accomplish that.