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Old Tuesday, October 27, 2015
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A leaf from history: Ghaus’ Karachi operation stokes more violence


Karachi was living a tetchy peace since the April 1985 rioting after Bushra Zaidi was killed in a road accident. A year later, it dawned upon Sindh Chief Minister Syed Ghaus Ali Shah and provincial authorities that they needed to cleanse the metropolis of narcotics and gun-running business. In theory, it was a good idea; but its timing was wrong and the absence of planning abominable.

On December 12, 1986, Sindh Governor Lieutenant-General Jahandad Khan ordered a police operation against suspected narcotic dens and gun-running houses in the metropolis. The centre of action was Sohrab Goth, one of the two vital gateways of the town.

The raiding team initiated the task under Deputy Commissioner Sardar Ahmad, Sindh IGP, Karachi DIG, and Karachi Corps Commander Lieutenant-General Ahmad Shamim Khan besides a number of officials belonging to anti-land-encroachment department.

During the police action, a number of houses were demolished. The government believed that these houses served as centres of production and sale of heroin and other drugs. Many alleged that it was from here that the distribution for retail of these commodities was being undertaken. Encroachers were asked to vacate the occupied land from around Al-Asif Square and move to a new plot on National Highway.

Coloured by accusations of ethnic bias, an anti-encroachment drive turns the city into a raging battlefield again
When the raiding team reached the venue for action, they were reportedly received with bullets. However, the raiding team which had brought bulldozers with them demolished the structures. Occupants were asked to shift to some other space, which would be legalised later.

After the action, the team claimed moderate success. “One Kalashnikov, 2,000 rounds of ammunition and 65kg of heroin were recovered from what is considered to be one of the most important transit posts in the international heroin trade. A high level leak is suspected to be the cause for the failure,” reported Dawn on December 13, 1986.

Since Afghan refugees also stayed in this area, there arose some anguish among them. The Pakhtun community too developed a feeling that the unsuccessful raid over Sohrab Goth had been instigated by Urdu-speaking residents of these settlements. On, the next day, December 13, 1986, announcements were made from mosques in the Pakhtun-populated areas that the raid was, in fact, an attack on Pakhtuns.

Protests by Pakhtuns had already begun and to quell any violent uprising, the army’s support was sought. Patrolling intensified and to meet any eventuality army units were deployed in all sensitive areas with special attention on Aligarh and Qasba colonies.

On December 14, ethnic violence erupted between Pakhtun settlers and Urdu-speaking residents in Aligarh and Qasba colonies, near the Orangi Township area. Many houses were set on fire. Similar tragedy happened in parts of Orangi Town. The firing continued for many hours. This was among the most horrifying acts of terror in Karachi’s history.

As in the case of Bushra Zaidi’s killing, rioting soon spread to all parts of Karachi within no time, bringing the city to a standstill. Reports brought forth many inhuman details of savagery while the government could hardly do anything as casualties and loss of property simply mounted. These gory events drew the deployment of army units in the city and curfew was imposed in almost two-thirds of the metropolis.

Encroachers were asked to vacate the occupied land from around Al-Asif Square and move to a new plot on National Highway. When the raiding team reached the venue for action, they were reportedly received with bullets. However, the raiding team which had brought bulldozers with them demolished the structures.
Prolonged curfew created chaos and fear to such levels that people began fleeing to safer places and temporarily taking refuge with relatives and friends. The city faced shortage of food and medicines. Curfew breaks were used by the stranded people to fetch food items and medicines. The worst-affected were children whose essential supplies had exhausted. Political and social welfare bodies made appeals to the authorities to give longer breaks in the curfew so that food and medicines could be re-stocked.

On December 20, after a reported death toll of 166 people (some sources put the toll at 400), Prime Minister Mohammad Khan Junejo asked his cabinet to quit and allow him to take action aimed at bringing peace to the metropolitan. All 22 federal ministers and 12 ministers of state resigned. An inquiry committee headed by former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Justice Sajjad Ali Shah termed it “the worst kind of massacre,” and laid the blame at the feet of the government.

For Karachi, this was more than brutality causing death and misery to innocent people — ethnic friction that had been simmering for quite some time now rose to the fore. Many observers believed that after the Bushra Zaidi violence, its recurrence could have been prevented by getting all opinion leaders together, ponder over the situation, find out the causes and take remedial measures.

As time passed and law-enforcement agencies kept a close watch, some leaders callously claimed that this episode too was an issue of law and order. They were absolutely mistaken. The rulers still knew nothing of what to do next. Prime Minister Junejo could not do much either.

In the backdrop of these grave barbaric events, some saner elements came out with the advice that it was not a question of rage against the killers of Bushra Zaidi; it was essentially a question of economic disparity and the uneven distribution of Karachi’s resources vis-a-vis the rest of Sindh that bred violence in Karachi. Tragically, nobody in power took the advice seriously.

Source: A leaf from history: Ghaus’ Karachi operation stokes more violence
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, October 25th, 2015
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