Karachi in a body bag…

Published: January 13, 2011

Rangers patrol the streets of Karachi, yet violence continues unabated.

Way back in the early 90s, the operation against MQM had just started and life was almost at a standstill. I was a wee little lass of nine and in answer to all my questions, I was told that some bad people were out there killing others. I did not understand the dynamics of politics; “army operation”, “PPP” and “MQM” were familiar but meaningless words that were somehow involved in the havoc that was being raised.

I felt afraid of Benazir Bhutto, who seemed to be somewhat responsible for calling the shots during a scary, unstable situation. There were endless strikes and school was out almost all the time. We were boxed-in at home, fidgety and restless, having to cope with grown-ups who were constantly mad with worry. Even at home, horror stories were everywhere.

We heard of a man whose hands had been punctured with a drill. A teacher disappeared and a week later a fatiha was offered for him in the Assembly.

A few neighbors moved to more secure places.

For a nine year old, it is very hard to make sense of all this and I felt mostly confused. Through this confusion, the only thing that was tangible was the feeling of absolute fear. Gunshots had become a part of life. We were not allowed to sit through political discussions, but this censorship was not enough to filter out the talk of tortured bodies found in bags.

It was against this backdrop that the Incident of the Body Bag occurred in our neighbourhood.

There was yet another strike that day and the city was in mourning for something or the other. It was a lovely Karachi evening and a heavy breeze blew. We were no longer allowed to play outside, so all the neighbourhood kids were out on the terraces, shouting to each other, having fun despite the gloom that spread everywhere. We saw a car drive up slowly, but initially nobody paid any attention to it. It stopped beside an empty plot and I thought maybe they didn’t know the address of whoever they were visiting.

But then, the door opened. And a huge bag was flung out.

A huge, black trash bag, which looked heavy and obviously did not contain any trash. We stood still and watched as the car sped off.

Someone must have called their parents, because hardly a minute later, a crowd of men surrounded the plot, exchanging theories, pacing to and fro. Women looked out from balconies and gates. I don’t remember what I was thinking when the police arrived.

I do remember being sent inside as they investigated. A few minutes passed and the tension grew. I tried not to imagine the horror they would find.  We waited quietly for news.

From outside, there was a sudden roar of laughter.

There was a body in the bag – but not of a man. It was a poor Doberman. Someone had disposed of their demised pet in such a morbid way.

The relief that washed over everyone in that moment brought home the intensity of fear that had engulfed us.

Even though it all turned out to be a false alarm, our rules became tighter and the danger seemed to have moved closer to home.

I do not remember much more of those terrible times. Yet, I can still feel the same chill creeping over me every time I hear the news from back home. I call and hear tales of this or that friend stuck at someone’s house because of firing. I call friends and hear the despondence in their voice. My mom tells me she has stocked up food because shops hardly remain open. I’m told that the city which never slept now experiences deadly silence all through the day.

My city – the city whose love I have so fiercely defended here. The city of my making, my past and my stories, my city is held hostage yet again by parties donning their mafia masks.

I no longer live in Karachi, but as the city burns, I find myself pulled back through time, wondering yet again, as I did as a child of nine, who could be monstrous enough to do this? And how?


Sadaf Khan

A broadcast journalist based in Islamabad who was formerly associated with Geo News and Dunya News. She blogs at ibteda.wordpress.com/

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

  • parvez

    You are so right. Just got home from dinner, put on the TV and what do I see. A Geo reporter shot dead at close range in front of a police station and an ANP worker killed in Gulshan.
    Frustrated I go upstairs open the computer and I read your article, what can one say.Recommend

  • Saad Durrani

    oh my God. This made so actually cry. Someone please offer this lady an opinion editorial or a TV show… she would be a better sound of reason than that Samaa lot of women journos…Recommend

  • Amer

    It’s a nightmare full of blood, fear and tears. Karachi still bleeds with the death of a young GeoNews reporter, Wali Khan Babar, in the last few hours.inaa lliahi wa inaa ilyhi rajioon. Recommend

  • http://syedaabidabokhari.wordpress.com The Only Normal Person Here.

    It was Nawaz Shareef who actually “called the shots”, PPP just inherited the operation, though it was more bloodiest in PPP’s time. Recommend

  • Shahid

    Very well description of emotions of majority of people. The people who grown up in this city and still bear to live here have witnessed such horrible things. However, we all have become insensitive to this as it has become a daily routine now a days. Sadaf you have forced a lot of people to rethink…………………….Recommend

  • Salman Shah

    Beautifully penned down ma’m..but there is something wrong, seriously wrong with Karachi. Karachiites would know better..i mean no other city gets paralyzed like it. And that target killing & ethnic violence has now become a norm, an integral part may be.

    One reason is crystal clear though..it doesn’t happen in any other part of the country because there isn’t a God damn thing called MQM there. Recommend

  • Waqqas Iftikhar

    sadaf….great stuff…i’ve grown up and lived through those years knowing full well what you describe

    @salman….very easy to blame the MQM but they aren’t the only factor here……there are other factors and its not PC to call them out thats all..Recommend

  • Zahid Amin

    You’re a very talented writer. Having people like you write about what we’re all going through gives us hope, Recommend


    Excellent Post ! i love Karachi Majority of citizen Peaceful with Any discrimination .Karachi facing a Strategic politics lots Of mafias and agencies ,business Mafia doing a supreme interest of Own gangster chief and business market in future !Recommend

  • Yousuf

    Brilliantos! That kinda reminded me of my childhood days, when I used in live in Nazimabad.Recommend

  • Dani

    Law enforcement agencies are NOT ALLOWED to arrest terrorists who kill the people.
    Even right now, I’m hearing the sound of firing. MQM and a Sindhi Nationalist party are fighting over a plot and shooting each other.Recommend

  • zaigham

    i recall an incident near out home as well…
    but it was actually a body…
    those were weird times and have scarred
    each of us in its own way…
    but the best thing about all the madness
    was school was off very often…
    what more a child could ask for…

    still jobless? best of luck…Recommend

  • http://www.pakspectatogooutr.com Sana Saleem

    I think the same horror has taken up the minds of the people of Karachi. The robberies, street crimes and the target killing has made this city a hell to live in.No one can freely enjoy the life. Is it Really true that the Government is so helpless that it can’t control such situation ?Recommend

  • http://sirfkarachi.blogspot.com Khaled Faroqi

    It’s real simple, Reason behind all these killings is simple, MQM wants Local Bodies elections, PPP will never conduct them. ANP is with PPP both fears defeat.Recommend

  • http://islamabadobserver.blogspot.com tipu

    Simple solution is to divide Karachi into two cities,Karachi and New Karachi and if it still goes on Ban both MQM and ANP bcz these both are actually root of all this havoc.Recommend

  • http://ibteda.wordpress.com Sadaf Khan

    Thanks you everyone for appriciating.
    I’ve been a part of the group that puts the whole blame of MQM for a while, but truth is when you look at the whole thing realistically, you cannot blame just one group. the rest of parties are equally responsible and PPP is just as responsible for failing to do what it was elected to do.Recommend

  • bilal

    As karachi bleeds and blame game continues, we must look or try to look into on ground realities before holding some one responsible for all this. this is a small part of a greater game and we are unfortunate enough that this game is being played in our motherland. Instead of blaming each other for political gains, we, our leaders n their followers must think rationally that what we will gain and what we going to give away if this great game succeeds.God bless Karachi and Pakistan.Recommend

  • Muhammad Usman

    very well written Sadaf.you are really v good writer keep it up..Recommend

  • http://fruitforbidden.wordpress.com fruitforbidden

    I’m a hardcore karachiite. I love karachi. Whenever I was told by non-karachiites that karachi is such a mess, such a dirty city..I’d leave the dinner table with guests sitting on it. But there’s something I’m ashamed of. And that is the numbness and lawlessness of the people of karachi. This city is No one’s city! Totally uncared for. Recommend