It was just last week that I argued with a friend about possibility of canceling Muharram processions. I proposed that the scholars must pass a fatwa, keeping in mind the law and order situation, to avoid processions this year. Of course, I said all this knowing that no such steps would be taken in order to avoid hurting religious sentiments. A majority of my Shia friends and acquaintances believed the same: the procession must go on regardless of the security threat, we must not fear and kowtow to the terrorists.
My concern, when I made the argument against processions, was the aftermath of a possible terror strike. The scars from sectarian clashes in the 1990s continue to remind Karachiites of the chaos such attacks engender. In a strange way, when Karachi is peaceful, its citizens are always waiting for the coin to drop.
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The attack on the Ashura procession yesterday didn’t come as a complete surprise. Warnings of possible attacks had increased after a suicide bombing in Muzaffarabad killed eight and wounded 80 on Sunday. An explosion at Qasba Mor in Karachi, also on Sunday, had also heightened concerns about security. But no one could have imagined the extent to which the holiest day of Muharram would be marred by violence, despite security arrangements. Up to 40 people have been killed as a result of the suicide bombing while 70 have been injured.
As I write this, a significant increase in the number of causalities is feared. The city appears deserted, billowed in smoke and engulfed with terror. This is not the first attack of its kind in Karachi. According to The Christian Science Monitor, as many as 4,000 people are estimated to have died in sectarian fighting in Pakistan in the last two decades, 300 in 2007 alone. Muharram processions have always been under grave threat, and even with high security, a minor lapse can result in grave damage.
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The aftermath of Monday’s suicide bombing – the widespread rioting and burning – are characteristic of the kind of reaction and vandalism that follow sectarian attacks. Soon after the blast, riots broke out in various parts of the city. It appears that there was absolutely no damage control by security forces at that point. As a result, hundreds of shops were set ablaze, and at some point on late Monday night, it seemed as if the entire business district was at risk.
Attacks of such nature have almost always been accompanied by widespread tensions. As riots continue, more questions are being raised on the role of the security personnel and their absence as widespread vandalism continues. It is evident that the attack doesn’t only target a specific sect. It is an attack to terrorise the people of Karachi and embroil them in conflict, thereby damaging the country’s economic hub. Unfortunately, the terrorists have succeeded – they have succeeded in plunging Karachi into fear and stirring worst nightmares about sectarian tensions. Terror has struck home again.
As I watch my city burn with grief and horror, I have nothing positive to offer. I have faith in the resilience of my people, but that was never questioned in the first place. What’s worth questioning is how many more lives will it take to realise that it’s enough? How many more times will we need to prove our resilience? It is certainly not the first time that a certain sect has had to face target killings, nor is it the first time that market owners have had to build their livelihood from scratch.
As the city is engulfed in terror, condemnations are all we get from government officials. Interior Minister Rehman Malik has given his ritual statement about prior intelligence reporting having been available. The authorities have also claimed, as per routine, that the security was foolproof. Despite such tall claims, the failure of security officials in controlling the widespread riots is evident. The damage has been done, and the brunt will be borne by the people alone. It is incidents such as these that illuminate the void between the authorities and the ordinary man. It’s time we see our atrocities in a different light. Our resilience will only be symbolic of our strength if we stand united against the tyranny and decide once and for all that there can be no more.