KARACHI, Sept 18: It is not easy to hold someone up at gunpoint on a crowded public bus, but it’s happening more and more often in Karachi – often with tactics that shock you with their brutality and awe with their audacity. The key to success lies in inspiring fear in not only the victim but the witnesses as well.

This I learnt, to my cost, on Monday when at about 1.30pm, I was in a bus making its way slowly along Sharea Faisal, navigating the endless traffic jam that has become a regular feature of one of the city’s busiest roads.

The bus was crowded to capacity and people eagerly eyed every seated passenger in the hope of getting a seat. The man to my left got off the bus and his place was taken by a well-dressed young man in his late 20s.

Without preamble, the man turned to me and commented, apparently casually, that I reminded him of the killer who had murdered his friend in Lines Area and that he had been looking for me.

My heart turned cold with fear but he put me at my ease by saying: “I know you’re not the man who killed our friend.”

The next moment, he became threatening again and leaned down to show me a TT pistol holstered in his sock. Instructing me to refrain from attracting attention, he indicated that the man standing in front of us and another behind my seat were his colleagues, and armed.

By now, I was in the complete grip of dry-mouthed fear.

The man demanded my wallet and cellphone, both of which I handed over. He calmly opened the phone up and returned my SIM card, then riffled through the wallet and took out all the currency, giving me Rs50 for what he called “travelling expenses.”

I was warned that my life depended on keeping quiet about the incident and not approaching the police later. “I need only two minutes to complete the operation,” he assured me, adding that the bus was being followed by his colleagues in a private car. To prove his point, he called his cohort in the car and forced me to talk to him. A voice told me to cooperate with his friends on the bus and I had no option but to agree.

Frozen in a tableau of fear around us were the many other male and female passengers, all of them watching the drama but cowed into passivity. With their eyes upon us, the man subjected me to a body search, either in the search of more cash or to confirm that I was not armed.

Advising me to report my cellphone as lost, the man looked into my eyes and warned that I would never recognise him. He riffled through my wallet again and made a show of studying and memorising the home address recorded on my office ID card. He also found a cheque and told me that we would now go to the bank where I would hand over more cash. Upon being reminded that the banks closed early because of Ramazan, he returned the cheque.

After that, he stood up, shook my hand and disembarked, smiling with satisfaction.

As for the people left on the bus, everybody avoided my eyes and nobody made a single comment. The fear that has been instilled into every citizen prevented these people from trying to stop the crime — it is this fear that makes criminals successful.

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