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Walking on mud with reddish hue

March 03, 2013

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Rescuers evacuate a victim from the site of the bomb blast in Karachi on March 3, 2013. — Photo by AFP

KARACHI: The blast occurred as the Maghrib prayer was drawing to a close. So it must be between 6.50 and 6.55pm. Even though the Masjid-i-Bilal is almost two kilometres from Abbas Town, it appeared the bomb had exploded in the mosque’s forecourt. That should give us an idea of the bomb’s killing power.

The main street of Abbas Town presented a scene of devastation. Apartment balconies on both sides had either disappeared or dangled in the form of blocks of plastered cement and twisted iron, as a fire engine tried to control fires raging in at least four flats. Mysteriously, the fires were on the fourth floor. At ground level, fronts of shops and flats bore the brunt of the explosion, with doors blown away from hinges, corrugated sheets and shutters lying broken and mangled and high tension electricity wires hanging loose. The pylon on which the transformer was mounted had bent, and at least half of the transformer had disappeared.

There was no police till I was there at 8pm, and young Shia volunteers controlled the crowd while they said in unison, “Ya Hussein, Ya Hussein”! Surprisingly, there was no panic, and those present – not necessarily all Shias – managed courtesy. It was difficult to walk. The asphalt on the road was not visible, covered as it was with debris, shards of glasses and shrapnel of every imaginable metal, wood and plastic. The fire engine’s water had flooded part of the street, and each time I tripped, stumbled or reeled, someone helped me in that hour of grief, “Uncle take care.”

Suddenly I realised that the mud under my jogger had a reddish hue. Is there some red light around? I asked. There couldn’t be, because, power was off. Then suddenly I became aware of the sacrilege I was guilty of unconsciously. It was mud mixed with blood. Whose blood I guessed – a newly wed’s? Or that of a pregnant woman, who was now in eternal rest with her unborn, or may be a little boy at a candy store? It was too painful to think.

A bearded middle-aged man appeared hysterical and was being managed by a relative; a young man was crying while talking on his cellphone, while two young men were in embrace and were crying. One youth was in tears alone. I probed him, and he said: “All those in these flats are my brothers and sisters.”

I was now suffering from what is known as frontline isolation. I don’t know whether it was a car-bomb blast, a suicide bomber or an IED triggered electronically, or how many had died and had been wounded – facts which can be had by what Robert Fisk calls telephone reporting. But, to go by what Rehman Malik said there was no doubt the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi had made its presence felt.

The front of the apartment building known as Rabia Flower was in tatters. Two ladies from that building – who are teachers in the same school where my sister teaches – had come over to us for lunch last week. Their children were preparing for exams. We phoned them, and they said they had escaped unhurt because they were away from the balcony. Those in the balconies precisely at the moment suffered; those on the ground must have been reduced to smithereens. Fires raged in apartments because Sui gas pipes and geysers blew up. Shopkeepers, pushcart owners, their clients and those in the street must have been atomised. A pushcart with vegetables stayed in place – at least it so appeared to me.

A minute extra at a traffic signal or a half a minute of stroll in the other street made the difference between life and death. It is not that the LeJ’s bombs are killing Shias; it is the citizens of Pakistan and it is the human beings who are being murdered in cold blood for reasons that only perverted minds can justify.