KARACHI, May 22: It was a mayhem that has few parallels in an otherwise strife-torn metropolis. Even though target killings and gunbattles between rival militant groups are almost a routine affair in Karachi, rarely a political rally has been fired upon the way it happened on Tuesday evening. And the results of such indiscriminate shooting in the old part of the city were devastating.
Within minutes after unidentified gunmen opened fire from automatic guns on a rally brought out by a Sindhi nationalist party, Awami Tehrik, against the so-called movement for the division of Sindh and creation of a ‘Muhajir province’, all hell broke loose. Eleven people were dead and over 30 injured. Many of the victims were innocent passers-by and bystanders, including a woman from PIA’s ground staff and a 12-year-old girl.
As hundreds of people in the congested Ghas Mandi area close to Lyari ran for shelter, many of the enraged protesters resorted to violence.
Soon large parts of the old city were in grip of violence during which scores of cars, motorcycles and shops were ransacked and then set ablaze. At one point it appeared as if the entire old city area from Lyari, Lee Market to district courts was on fire.
At this point many of the protesters tried to stage a sit-in near the Napier Road, but the mysterious gunmen once again appeared and opened fire on the gathering, creating further chaos and mayhem. Soon several other parts of the old city were engulfed in violence.
The belated response by police made matters even worse. Dozens of riot police went into action, firing indiscriminately towards the mob, without realising that dozens of innocent people from the area were also in the line of fire. Many of the armed policemen were caught on the television camera in plaintclothes, firing from automatic guns towards the lanes and bylanes where some of the arsonists had taken refuge.
Eyewitnesses say it was during this cross-fire that several people were injured, including a reporter and a cameraman of Duniya TV who, while trying to capture the scene of violence from a close distance, were hit by flying bullets.
It all started when the protest rally, organised by the Awami Tehrik and led by its leader Ayaz Palijo, came out of Lyari and after passing through the Ghas Mandi area was on its way to Karachi Press Club. Joined in by supporters of the controversial Amn Committee of Lyari, the rally was organised to protest against the recently launched mysterious campaign for the creation of a ‘Muhajir suba’.
Participants of the rally carried placards and banners inscribed with slogans against the division of Sindh and raise slogans against the ‘Muhajir suba Tehrik’, as well as Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), which they accused of being behind the movement for the division of Sindh.
Senior police officials of the District South said that initially the firing took place when the rally came under attack at the Napier Road and Pan Mandi where, according to them, suspects reported to be on rooftops carried out the firing.
Subsequently, in what appeared to be a reaction to the attack, unknown persons resorted to firing in Dhobi Ghat area of Usmanabad, where at least four people, including a 12-year-old girl, Amna, were killed. A ground staff of the PIA, Ghazzala Siddiqui, also suffered fatal gunshot wounds; she was going to meet her relatives in Lyari. She had come all the way from Gulshan-i-Hadeed where she lived, police said quoting relatives.
Muhammad Fareed, who came to the Civil Hospital to collect his son’s body, told Dawn that he had told his son to close down his burger shop in the Dhobi Ghat area in view of the law and order situation. His son Manzoor was hit by a bullet and died on the spot.
An overwhelming number of the fatalities took place in the Dhobi Ghat area in the limits of the Garden police station, medico-legal sources at the Civil Hospital said. “Most of the victims suffered firearm injuries in the head and chest,” said Dr Mubarak Ali, medico-legal officer of the Civil Hospital.
The AT leaders were quick to blame the MQM and supporters of the so-called Muhajir suba Tehrik for the indiscriminate shooting. They not only condemned the incident but their leader, Ayaz Palijo, called for a shutterdown strike and a day of mourning on Wednesday.
There were condemnations from several other political groups, and the MQM in its response to the accusations, blamed the Awami Tehrik for ‘unnecessarily’ bringing out a rally on a “non-issue to vitiate the atmosphere of Karachi”.
Meanwhile, police and Rangers have been deployed all over the city in the wake of the strike call to prevent any retaliatory violence on Wednesday. Pickets were being set up at different places and armed vehicles were on patrol till late into the night.
Late in the night, bodies of two young men were found near UBL Sports Complex, in Federal B. Area.
Liaquatabad SSP Noman Siddiqui said the victims, wearing trousers and shirts, were blindfolded and trussed up. The bodies had been dumped at the place after shooting them in the head. The bodies were taken to Abbasi Shaheed Hospital for legal formalities and then to Edhi morgue.