“Altaf Hussain has been arrested – get home, now!”

Published: June 3, 2014
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Muttahida Qaumi Movement chief Altaf Hussain. PHOTO: AFP

1:20 pm, Tuesday, June 3rd

It was a regular weekday with the familiar hustle of an office facing tight deadlines. Some people had finished their lunch and were chatting over tea about the upcoming football world cup. Others were just about to tuck into their food and planning out the post lunch work plan. A colleague broke the news, the possibility of which had been discussed in hushed tones many-a-times. Breathlessly she spilled the words:

Altaf Hussain (Chief of the MQM Party) has been arrested!”

All was left aside and everyone started checking social media for updates. Some turned on the news on their laptops. Others started making frantic calls to friends and loved ones. The conversations were terse and along these lines:

“Have you heard? Where are you? Are you ok? Please rush home and call me as soon as you get there”.

Staff was told to leave for their homes. Routes were checked and more calls made. Soon panic spread as the familiar bursts of close gunfire and ringing of cell phones became an accompanying refrain to our frantic conversation.

1:50 pm, Tuesday, June 3rd

Most of the staff had left and I was alone in my space. The support staff looked more worried than others. They had bus routes to consider and many had come by public transport.

“Are they burning buses?” a tea boy asked me.

I didn’t know what to say but gave him some cash for a rickshaw.

“What will happen now?” another asked.

I was quiet.

As I saw a calm environment descend into chaos, I thought back to all those times the city has witnessed this; the riots, the curfews, the burning cars and the same conversations. I recalled May 12, 2007 when the city burned and the chief justice of Pakistan was detained at the airport. There was an exam the next day but all thoughts of studying banished as the count of deaths and destruction played out like a live performance of pure carnage.

I remember October 19, 2007 when my boss came to my desk and told me that Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade has been attacked on Shahrah-e-Faisal.

“Get home, now”, he told me.

Today I repeated the same to my staff.

I remember December 27, 2007 when an evening news bulletin announced that there has been an attack on Benazir Bhutto in Rawalpindi.

“She’s been killed”, someone shouted.

The same panic, the same instructions,

“Get home, now”.

I never could get home and spent the night at a friend’s house who lived nearby. The next three days were spent in fear as rumours flew about poisoned water in the supply line and mobs looting and burning all that came in their way.

“This is Berlin in April 1945”, a cousin had said.

“No, this is Karachi now”, was my response.

Berlin was in the midst of a World War, we were in the midst of unmitigated chaos.

2:15 pm, Tuesday, June 3rd

The picture was complete by now; closed shops, home bound traffic jams and the omnipresent and impending sense of doom. The financial market had reacted with lightning speed with the Karachi bourse plunging 780 points as panicked traders took sell orders from terrified investors. Such has been the pattern; breaking news reports a rush for safety, death and destruction accompanied by deaths.

Some people I know have become “preppers” and keep a hoard of essentials in their home in case the shut-down continues on for a few days.

“What if they cut the supply lines?” they ask.

This question would be suitable in a war zone but does not seem out of place here also. Parents plan their children’s school location in terms of how quickly they can rush them home in a situation like this. Others scrounge and save and disrupt their households to live closer to work places so they have a plan when their boss says,

“Go home, now”.

It does not have to be a death or even a real occurrence. A few years back the rumour started that Dr Farooq Sattar has been killed. Pandemonium set in and was only quelled after major damage had already been done.

“Why are people reacting this way?” a newly arrived foreigner asked me on the phone in a defiant tone.

I thought back to a conversation I had with some Indian academics. They were contending that Bal Thackeray in his heyday held absolute power in Mumbai, never replicated by anyone before him or after.

“No political leader in the world has even come close in controlling a city”, a Delhi University professor claimed.

I told him that Karachi has some 20 million people, at least as large as Mumbai, and is shut down within minutes after a shut-down call by the MQM leadership. They were shocked in silence and conceded defeat. I told my foreign friend the same story and asked him to check the news. He was puzzled but then called back in a few minutes to say the same thing I have been hearing for years now and may hear for the times to come: Go home, now.

Sibtain Naqvi

Sibtain Naqvi

A writer and social commentator who has written extensively for various Pakistani English dailies. An art critic accredited by the AICA and the Royal College of Art, London, he dabbles in music and sports writing and tweets @Sibtain_N (twitter.com/Sibtain_N)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • https://twitter.com/Kamranhayder1 Kamran Hayder

    Quickest reponse by any bloger. Nice !!Recommend

  • sharjeel

    I wonder why there are no comments on this story. All are busy getting home!Recommend

  • Mumbai

    lol Karachi does not have a population of 20 million, the real population of Karachi is between 13-17 million including the metropolitan area and the city proper is only around 10 million.Recommend

  • Ali

    My heart weeps for Karachi. more so that the ‘arrested development’ will not get him any punishment which could help us get rid of …..Recommend

  • Naila

    Oh how I miss my old Pakistan.Recommend

  • water bottle

    Very good writing in such a short span of time.

    Good.Recommend

  • Naila
  • ALI MEHDI

    Right, it should be 23.5 million as above.Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com Nazarbaaz

    People are even scared to commentRecommend

  • Archie

    Dude… This is so dramatized… I just left for office at 05:00 pm and am sitting in my office right now. Roads were clear, sure traffic on one side of people panicking to get home but otherwise all was fine on main routes. Bus torching and firing only took place within some sensitive areas… Seriously just be cautious, else its not as bad as they making it sound!Recommend

  • Archie

    Dude… This is so dramatized… I just left for office at 05:00 pm and am sitting in my office right now. Roads were clear, sure traffic on one side of people panicking to get home but otherwise all was fine on main routes. Bus torching and firing only took place within some sensitive areas… Seriously just be cautious, else its not as bad as they making it sound!Recommend

  • Transistor

    I’d say, I’m a fan of your guts.Recommend

  • fze

    Karachi should not suffer because of this man. Karachi does not owe anyone but this man was made leader by Karachi. If you do wrong then you HAVE to pay for it, sooner or later. Oh! I’m unable to hide my glee.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Nicely said and very true…..but the way I read it, it’s not very flattering as far as the MQM are concerned.Recommend

  • mano

    All you got from this article is that the population of Karachi is not correctly mentioned. FunnyRecommend

  • http://batman-news.com Dr. Abid Shah Mashwani

    I feel sorry for innocent people of Karachi and say shame on Pakistani leadership, both civilian and miltary, as we all knew by now that British authorities informed Pakistan government (interior Minister) three days ago about this possibility. With such information, government should have declared public holidays – deployed military for few days to deal with any untowards situation with iron hands.Recommend

  • OiiiNatthaaa

    Maula Jatt rules Karachi, deal with it. No MQM or Shiv Sena can deal with Maula Jatt.Recommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    i lived in karachi for 2 years, people are afraid because there is fear in the environment.
    May Allah help us all.Recommend

  • arslan

    ‘the city of lights’ always in some trouble….
    may ALLAH grant ‘mini pakistan’ safety and peace. AMEEEEN !Recommend

  • Sundus

    i dont know why each and every whether poor or powerful living in karachi speaks against this, if ev one is saying that wat ever is happening tats wrong, then why they hav been listening to them since ages, no one goes on strike when on average more then 15 ppl are killed. no one says a word not in writing not in these blogs , no1 speaks up tat why 20 million are captured by hardly 200 men. ev1 is lamenting no1 is against the abduction of this city it seems tat each n ev1 in karachi is part ov it, is some how planning it. y in karachi no1 says NO to it? no1 even writes it, that he is the culprit he should be arrested at wat ever is been done with him he deserves. this has to stop some day, kab tak we will be acting like puppies. why dont you tell the true pic how do they get these mobs done, how they scare people and force them to participate. I WANT TO know the reason of silence on ev forum, of ev human living in karachi WHY?Recommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    they are on comment strike todayRecommend

  • http://nazarbaaz.blogspot.com nazarbaaz

    they are on comment strike todayRecommend

  • Necromancer

    And PTI supporters have nothing better to do, if someone is to blame it is the establishment, Altaf Hussain has been arrested not proven guiltyRecommend

  • Qaiser Habib

    please live in present time. Har achahi or har buraii Allah kee taraf say hai. be positive.Recommend

  • Ahmad

    I Am with MQM people they are doing correct , .. IF I were living in Karachi I will join the MQM , , where there is injustices where there is corruption where u have to pay even for graveyard ? WHat kind of state is it?? . I am with ALthaf Bhi , Jai Althaf bhi only man ,who really give tough time to govt … Give me merit I will leave MQM….

    Folk when state are treating people in bad way, should not people join MQM for which has force against State to get right, where people can go for justice in Pakistan? If u have any issue in Karachi just go 9 0 , they will help u . Althaf Bhai is Ram Jany of Karachi .If u want to know y people like Althaf Bhai watch Indian movie Ram Jane.Recommend

  • Azhar

    Happiest day of my life when i heard this grews.eat nRecommend