Caught in Karachi’s crossfire

Residents of Karachi’s crime-riddled Lyari area talk about being caught in the middle of a violent police operation.

Karachi violence
The police operation turned Lyari into a virtual war zone, and killed mostly civilians, residents told Al Jazeera [EPA]

Karachi, Pakistan –
In late April, the police in Karachi, Pakistan’s largest city, launched what they termed a “targeted operation” against members of the People’s Amn [Peace] Committee (PAC). The PAC has been characterised by the government as a criminal gang, but also works as a social welfare organisation in the Lyari area of the city.

The group has also been patronised by the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), to which both Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and former Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, belong.

Now, however, the PPP has disavowed the group, with the government terming its leaders “gangsters” and placing a bounty on their heads.

During the operation, which lasted more than a week, at least 45 people were killed – some police officers, but mostly civilians.

These are the stories of some of Lyari’s residents, who lost family members or were injured during the police operation.

Sajida Bibi, 55, housewife

‘Those who saw my son get run over by the APC, they fell unconscious. Asif tried to save my son, and he also got run
over […] My heart still does not believe that
my son is dead. I don’t know why.’

Hammad, an 11-year-old boy, was killed after being run over by a police armoured personnel carrier in the streets near his house. Sajida Bibi, his mother, tells her story:

“It was 3pm, and he was at home, sitting outside. I called him to come inside for a bath. ‘Your face is full of dirt,’ I said.

“He said that I’ll come later. Then he was playing outside.

“I was waiting for him, and I fell asleep. That is when my sister-in-law called and told me that there had been firing at a rally. Three people were killed, she told me. I didn’t know at the time that one of them was my son.

“People had been shot, some were injured – they were running through the streets.

“I turned on the television at a relative’s house, and we saw that people had been killed. Someone’s child had been shot in the eye. ‘So where are my children?’ I cried out.

‘Where is Hammad? Hammad! Hammad!’ I yelled.

“No-one had seen him at the rally. We searched and searched, until sunset. The firing [between the police and local gunmen] made it hard to leave the house, then. Then I heard some children who were injured were taken to the Civil Hospital. The police stopped us [there], saying that women couldn’t enter.

“[My relatives were the ones who] saw the body. I know my child was a martyr. Those who saw the body saw that he had been run over, his head crushed by an armoured personnel carrier.

“Asif, another young man, went to help him, to get him out, and he was shot and killed, too.

“I…I still don’t feel like he is dead.

“My older son, Junaid, who was 18 years old, was also martyred [by the police]. Two years ago, he was shot in these very lanes. He was a student at a madrassa in Bahadurabad.

“How will [the police] be punished? The world must see this. [Hammad] just wanted to learn. He just wanted to play. Are these kids part of a gang war?

“I ran through the firing [from the continuing operation], on the day of his funeral, to get to the graveyard. I wanted to see his face.

“Where is the justice? Where can I get justice? We don’t have money for a lawyer. My lawyer is God.”

Mumtaz Bibi, 55, housewife
Noman was the home’s only earner, Mumtaz Bibi told Al Jazeera

Noman, a 22-year-old shoe polisher and rickshaw driver, was shot in the head and killed in the early days of the operation.

“In the morning, we woke him up because we needed milk. He was angry, and went, he even missed breakfast.

“[After I noticed he was late, I sent relatives to check on him, who told me] my son was shot in the head. We have nothing, not even enough to hold a proper funeral. He was the main earner of the family.

“We need [support]. But we are poor, who asks after us? What was my child’s crime?

“Who should we fight? The government or the police? We can’t fight them. My son, he just went to get breakfast, and now we have nothing for breakfast. He was the one who brought in income.

“The police is to blame. They were everywhere, shooting everywhere.

“I have no expectation of justice from the government. A war would not have been as bad as this. Who should I demand justice from? Will it bring my son back?”

Ghulam Hussain, 31, rickshaw driver

‘There was no programme, no discpline. They did as they liked – whether they were firing on humans or animals. They fired into the alleys. Bullets hit our windows, landed in our houses. Do it, fine. If the government feels criminals are here, do it. But target those people.’

Ghulam Hussain, a 31-year-old rickshaw driver, was shot through the sole of his right foot, at a rally by Lyari residents demanding an end to the operation on May 4.

“I was at a rally. When it came near the Cheel Intersection, the firing started. The police first fired teargas shells, then aerial firing. After that, they fired more tear gas, and then they started firing at us.

“[The police] were shooting without any plan. They were even firing in the alley ways.

“When I felt I was shot, I didn’t know what would happen. If I had fallen there, I wouldn’t have been here today. I would have been crushed. After the firing, I ran [with my weight] on one leg to the Lyari General Hospital. There were no doctors there. I got a bandage, and then went to the Civil Hospital, where doctors weren’t giving us [operation victims] proper attention.

“In other countries, we don’t see this kind of cruelty even against animals. Here, we see it against people.

“It seemed like they were perpetuating a blood feud against us. What the police did here, it was no operation. There was no discipline – an operation should be according to a plan. They had no plan.”

Muhammas Yasin, 30, unemployed

Muhammad Yasin, was injured by police firing while sitting outside his home. He suffers from a mental illness, his sister, Salma Bibi, told Al Jazeera, and had nothing to do with the group that the police were trying to target.

“I was sitting outside, I didn’t know what was happening. The police were firing. There was an armoured personnel carrier outside our house, and there was more teargas shelling and firing. Yasin was just standing outside the house. We took him to Lyari General Hospital, where he was bandaged.

“What is his crime? He just sits at home. Doesn’t bother anybody.”

Sania Naz, social activist

‘You know, every person loves their own life. We all fear death. But when the firing started, people showed courage, I salute my people of Lyari that they showed such courage, and continued to stand up. They didn’t lose courage.’

Sania Naz, who works on education and social welfare programmes with the Lyari Resource Centre, which is supported by the PAC, was also at the demonstration that was shot at by police on May 4.

“We had white flags of peace, and yelled that we were women. We said we were there for a peaceful demonstration. First there was tear gas shelling. When the shelling didn’t stop us, they starting firing. [A man] was shot while trying to save some people.

“You know, every person loves their own life. We all fear death. But when the firing started, people showed courage, I salute my people of Lyari that they showed such courage, and continued to stand up. They didn’t lose courage.

“Then I saw Hammad, the child who was run over by an APC. I was knocked unconscious myself, soon after, by a tear gas shell. Someone carried me to a house in Kalakot [her home neighbourhood].

“I started crying when I woke up, and heard the news of what had happened.

“They want Lyari to stay oppressed, but this won’t happen. We have faith in Uzair Baloch [the leader of the PAC]. No-one leaves his house empty-handed, regardless of their caste or creed.”


Follow Asad Hashim on Twitter: @AsadHashim

Source: Al Jazeera