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A Karachi ‘fault line’

Published Mar 03, 2013 09:38pm


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A man talks on his mobile phone while standing amidst the rubble after a bomb blast in a residential area in Karachi, March 3, 2013. — Photo by Reuters

Abul Hassan Ispahani Road is a microcosm of life in Karachi. Anarchy reigns, and your daily schedule mocks at you.

There are moments when you feel you are in a normal city. Traffic flows, shops do business, and children are in school. But it could be a false dawn, for a sudden crackle of gunfire shocks you into reality. People scramble for cover, shopkeepers pull shutters down, pushcart owners cover their wares with sheets, and a street bursting with life and South Asian chaos goes dead.

Who has been murdered, you wonder — a man, an entire family, a cop on duty, an imam coming out of a mosque, a shopkeeper who had refused to pay protection money, a place of worship bombed or a procession of the faithful sprayed with bullets?

Named after a man who was one of Jinnah’s trusted lieutenants, Abul Hasan Ispahani Road (AHIR) runs from Safari Park on University Road to Sohrab Goth, the mini-Fata that demographically is more Afghan than Pakistani. It is a lawless zone – assuming that the rest of Karachi is not – and generates two kinds of tensions: political and ethnic.

Political tensions stem from the bickering between two traditional rivals, MQM and ANP. But there has been a truce of sorts since the 2011 summer, and the ANP is being mercilessly dispossessed by the Taliban of its space. Not all Pakhtoons belong to the ANP, but often MQM-ANP spats acquire an ethnic hue. Once there was a battle of the flags, with its fallout invariably on AHIR. The area is thickly populated, with more than a dozen schools on both sides, a roaring commercial centre, five marriage halls, banks, a shopping mall, an Aga Khan hospital collection centre (once burnt down), bungalows, mosques and two imambaras.

One imambara is off AHIR, the other is in Abbas Town, which falls to your left as the road crosses a bridge over a nullah and heads toward Sohrab Goath. This imambara has been attacked at least twice. But AHIR’s perpetual misery has nothing to do with Abbas Town. Each time there is an act of terror against Shias anywhere in Pakistan, armed Shia youths descend on AHIR to enforce a snap strike. Shia-baiters behave no differently, as ferocious gunmen appear within minutes from nowhere to empty their AK47s and turn the area into a ghost town. From your reading you guess Paris must be like this in summer 1940 when France fell.

Traffic has disappeared, harried parents are rushing to schools to bring children back, even though there is no public transport; women shoppers are stranded, irate drivers are using by-lanes, tension is infectious; everybody is angry, nervous, melancholic and worried – worried about the future. How long will this go on?

Every other day, gunfire at night turns the gaudily lit AHIR into one big black hole, the shrieking ambulances alone breaking the eerie silence. Suddenly, in the all-enveloping darkness, you realise you need your dose of anti-biotic. There is, fortunately, a pharmacy around, and the good salesman has left the shutter a foot above ground and kept lights on to keep business going. He switches off light and pulls the shutter all the way down to the ground if he hears shots. You cross the road in dread, fearing every shadow, for an armed political hoodlum or maybe a criminal is lurking around. He may shoot you, and a sub-head in tomorrow’s newspapers will say about you: “man killed”.


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Comments (13) Closed

Mahmood Mar 04, 2013 11:30pm
"Ummah" are you kidding?
PNayak Mar 04, 2013 07:31pm
Nothing. It all happens Inshallah
Ali Mar 05, 2013 01:51pm
Tariq, fully agree! Sounds harsh but once more ARMY in Karachi as you suggest is the only way to restore law and order. Daanda! Daanda! Daanda! We need to start right at the bottom and weed out every scum and yes hang them in public instilling full fear.
rich Mar 04, 2013 12:11pm
what is the ummah doing about this ?
Tariq Mar 04, 2013 05:32pm
The only solution is army or strict martial law in karachi with zero tolerence for illegal war type military equipments used in the war. Any one or group found in possession of such arms should executed by army in the public . City has to be de-weaponised .Army would need a very bloody operation to clean the city from criminal elements . The criminal elelments has declared war on innocent and peaceful citizen of Karachi. Rehman Malik should resign along with the Governor,chief Minister , IG of sindh.
Ibrahim Mar 04, 2013 05:59pm
I think they are enjoying it - going perfectly according to their plans one would imagine.
Observer Mar 04, 2013 05:33pm
Pakistan is in the middle of civil war, everyone should know it by now. You need to fix the Country from grounds up. You can't blame the leaders either because they come from people too. If today people stop taking bribes and earn an honest days living then system will start to fix itself and you will have an honest leader. Maybe, make an announcement in news papers of the date that everyone in pakistan - Stop Being Dishonest with each other - and lay down their arms. Pakistan will be the most richest & successful Country in the World. So please start now, for yourself and your children. Peace
Ali Mar 05, 2013 01:47pm
Saad, this is the biggest folly! selling the idea of democracy and votes to an uneducated and poverty stricken mass. All good on paper and theory! Even India the 'biggest Democracy' in the world is fully tainted and 'corrupted' where in all reality one person one vote is a mere smokescreen. Democracy is perhaps not the answer! Look at China, they did take a different route didn't they?
SBB Mar 04, 2013 02:17pm
I get so upset reading this because this whole area used to be in Sindhi in the past and people lived relatively happily. You made the Sindhis "disappear" and this is what you get.
Saad Mar 04, 2013 07:16am
I am so upset to read this because all that is written is true. This is how life in Karachi is now. Where is our country going. Karachi was not like this in 60s and 70s and 80s and even 90s and even in Musharraf time it was piece. The present government is a dark black path on history of Pakistan. It is the worst government ever we have seen. They are looters, smugglers, kidnappers, support terrorists and ransom money. Police are the top burglars and looters and fully supported by ugly political mentality of this present government. Police is just there to terrorize and harass common people. How to bring change some1 please tell me. PLEASE USE YOUR VOTE THIS TIME WISELY. You never got Roti, Kapra, Makan - they stole it from you.
Raj Mar 04, 2013 02:47pm
All you mentioned are comming from same society you live. They are not from Western country or from India. So you don't have to blame them blame yourself also because you are part of them.
ali ahmed Mar 04, 2013 02:55pm
many under construction building around Abul Hasan Ispahani Road and beyond has been occupied by unauthorized people coming from upcountry supported by ANP
Zulfiqar Haider Mar 05, 2013 08:17am
thanks for this. I guess this is the least we can do....