21 April, 2006
By Amir Latif
The scenes were at first apocalyptic and then sepulchral when a powerful bomb ripped though an Eid Milad-un-Nabi congregation at Nishtar Park Karachi and turned a holy gathering into an orgy of death, pain and suffering.
With the death toll of 52 and over100 injured, it was a day of triumph for the faceless terrorists, but a day of mourning, shock and outrage for the whole nation in general and the people of Karachi in particular. Karachiites, who hadn't yet recovered from the shock of the deadly Faiza-e-Madina Mosque stampede last week that had left 30 women and children dead, had to face a much bigger tragedy just two days after.
It was the third blast of its kind at a public meeting/gathering in the country's history. The first such blast which had occurred in mid 70s claimed the life of Hayat Ahmed Sherpao, a senior PPP leader and elder brother of Federal Interior Minister Aftab Ahmed Sherpao. The second one conceded the life of prominent religious leader Allama Ehsan Illahi Zaheer in Lahore in 1985. In the April 11 Nishtar Park blast, the main leaders of Sunni Tehrik Maulana Abbas Qadri, Maulana Iftikhar Bhatti and Maulana Akram Qadri, Hafiz Mohammad Taqi of Jamiat Ulema-i-Pakistan, Chief of Tehrik Awam Ahl-i-Sunnat Haji Hanif Blue and Anjuman Tulaba-i-Islam central Secretary-General Pir Bux Piral were among the dead.
Widespread violence broke out in the city soon after the explosion. Dozens of vehicles, including those belonging to police and fire-brigade, were set on fire and so were petrol stations near Nishtar Park. The police were able to bring the situation under control after midnight.
In a strange development, the mobile services of all the companies were jammed in and around Nishtar Park for almost an hour soon after the blast. All the government and private hospitals were running short of doctors as it was a government holiday. None of the senior police officers reached the spot, and remained in touch with their subordinates by telephone.
The inordinate delay in rescue operation further infuriated the already charged mob, which went on rampage. Still, there were some who remained in their senses and started rushing the injured and the dead to the hospitals in their vehicles and some of the ambulance which managed to reach the spot within next half-an- hour.
Bodies of Ulema and activists, many of whom had been torn into pieces, littered the stage. There was nothing except hue and cry of the wounded and shouts of people busy in rescue work on self-help basis.
It was after a decade when army was called out to help the civil administration in maintaining law and order in the city. An army spokesman described the deployment of troops as a 'preventive' step. Troops patrolled the sensitive areas as the city wore a deserted look for the next three days.
The closure of petrol stations since late Tuesday created a crisis-like situation as hundreds of motorists were seen lined up outside a few petrol pumps that remained open for the next two days. The situation compounded the miseries of 12 million residents of the city.Ê One can well imagine the inconvenience this would have posed to the people.
On Wednesday, a day after the tragedy, pump owners said they had voluntarily closed their facilities as a mark of respect for those who had died. They also said when they tried to re-open their stations, the police asked them not to do so.
The government and the police are declaring the carnage a result of suicide bombing in a bid to divert the public criticism against security lapses. But the intelligence agencies and even some senior police officers do not agree with the theory.
Lately, the police have adopted a new method to hide their security-related anomalies -- putting the blame on the 'unknown' suicide bomber.
This time, too, within an hour of the blast, the city police chief, Niaz Ahmed Siddiqui, termed it a suicide bombing. But no clue has yet been found to many acts of terrorism, including last month's murder of an American diplomat in Karachi.
On the other hand, DIG Investigation, Manzoor Mughal says he was not in a position to say whether it was a suicide bombing or work of the remote control device.
The security authorities said they had cleared the stage as being safe, and that it was impossible for any security agency to check every person in such a huge procession or crowd. But as they say of fire, one should douse the source rather than the flames with water. A crime of this magnitude cannot be the work of a single individual or two; it requires careful planning, recruitment and training. The fact that the intelligence agencies failed to get wind of all this, points to a serious lapse on their part.
According to the bomb disposal squad, a 10 to 15kg device was used. Intelligence officials say it is unbelievable that a person carrying such a huge bomb under his clothes manages to reach the stage without being noticed.
They are of the opinion that the government and the police, instead of tracing clues to the mastermind, are desperate to prove it was a suicide attack just to hide the security lapses and their negligence.
Leaders of Sunni Tehrik, Jammat Ahl-e-Sunnat and other religious and political parties believe the attack is aimed at fanning confrontation between different sects, and that it was perpetuated by the elements that are carrying out similar attacks in Iraq. They say the government is dubbing the incident as a suicide attack to tarnish the image of
Mujahiddin, who have been using this tactic against American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Sunni Tehrik has blamed the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for targeting its leaders and activists in Karachi. Thousands of people attended the funerals of the four top Sunni Tehrik leaders. Groups of angry youths chanted slogans against the MQM and its chief Altaf Hussein. While denying the allegations, the MQM blames the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal and "religious extremists" for the incident.
Allama Riaz Hussein Qadri, who was among the injured, told reporters that the blast was not the work of a suicide bomber, as it occurred underneath or near the stage, where not even the party activists were allowed.
The government and the police insist that it was a suicide attack as no crater was created on the site of the blast. However, the intelligence officials said it was not necessary that the bomb had been planted underneath the stage. Some witnesses say after the blast, they saw plums of smoke emanating from the huge screen placed on the rear side of the stage, where the bomb might have been planted.
The federal government has also sought the help of the FBI in the investigations. An FBI team visited Nishtar Park, and also obtained the pictures and videos of the congregation before the blast. Local investigators have taken Mohammed Hussein, who belongs to Baltistan (Northern Areas), and some of his friends into custody. They were among the injured, but, according to the police, they have constantly been changing their statements.
The security agencies claim to have found the body parts of a suspected suicide bomber, which will be sent to the DNA laboratory in the federal capital for identification, Interior Secretary Syed Kamal Shah told reporters.
The DNA laboratory was established last month by the National Police Bureau with the assistance of China. A police official said it would be the first test of its kind in the country since the setting up of the lab.
He said the test did not take much time, but gathering other information about the suspect and the process to match the results with the DNAs of his relatives might take months.
The investigation agencies have also taken into custody three unidentified bodies, a head and some other body parts from the site.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz visited Karachi a day after the blast. However, he failed to persuade the Sunni Tehrik and Jammat Ahl-e-Sunnat leaders to call on him at the Governor's
House. Later, the leaders agreed to meeting Interior Minister Aftab Sherpao and senior intelligence officials. According to ST sources, the party leaders apprised the interior minister of the killing of several ST activists allegedly by the MQM workers and termed the incident a conspiracy to wipe out their leadership. Giving a 48-hour ultimatum, they demanded ouster of the Sindh government.
Later, the party decided to give authorities more time to carry out, what they called an in-depth inquiry into the incident.
The party had given the government a 48-hour ultimatum to identify, arrest and publicly hang the perpetrators.
A three-member Sunni Tehrik committee decided to give the concession when Sindh Chief Minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim visited the ST headquarters in the early hours of Saturday.
Acting Chief of the Sunni Tehrik Shahid Ghauri said the decision was taken after long-drawn negotiations with the federal government which had assured the Tehrik that stern action would be taken against those responsible for the killing of its leaders.
"However, we reserve the right to protest if promises are not fulfilled," he said.
Mr. Ghauri expressed reservations over the FIR lodged by the Jamaat Ahle Sunnat. He said it was the right of the Sunni Tehrik to lodge the report because it was their leadership that had been wiped out. He disagreed with the chief minister who had said the blast was the handiwork of a suicide bomber.
Dr Rahim had told reporters that the provincial government was not resourceful enough to carry out exhaustive investigation into the blast, adding that the federal government had pitched in with help.
On the other hand, President Gen Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz still think that the Sindh government is performing very well. At a high-level meeting in Islamabad, which was also attended by the president and the prime minister, it was decided that no administrative change would take place in Sindh in the wake of recent
events. Earlier talking to newsmen in Karachi after a meeting with Ulema and Mashaikh, the prime minister hinted that headway had been made in the probe. Earlier, similar statements had been issued by the Sindh governor, the chief minister and the interior minister after last month's attack on the US consulate in Karachi, but not a single culprit has so far been nabbed.
Vandalism and acts of arson were not the only uncalled for occurrences in the wake of the Tuesday's bomb blast. Another unfortunate development is the politicization of what obviously was a fiendish act of terror. The government and the opposition are issuing statements tailored to make political capital out of the incident.
Sunni Tehrik's background
The non-party polls of 1985 accelerated the process of split within ranks of Jamiat Ulema Pakistan (JUP), Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI), Jamiat Ahal-i-Hadith and the Tehrik-i-Nafaz-i-Fiqh-i-Jafria, which were the main politico-religious parties enjoying a definite role in the mainstream politics. They later saw a regular defection from their ranks, on religious grounds.
The JUP was split into five groups. The Sunni Tehrik (ST), headed by Maulana Saleem Qadri of Karachi, is the biggest of them. Its followers are identified by their dark brown turbans. Saleem Qadri had been gunned down by terrorists on May 18, 2001 when he was on his way to offer Friday prayers along with his sons and bodyguards in Baldia town area.
Since its formation, Sunni Tehrik was considered a close ally of the then Mohajir Quami Movement, and now Muttahida Quami Movement. Reportedly, various activists of the two parties had had dual political affiliation. However, the two parties parted ways a few months before October 2002 general elections, when Sunni Tehrik had announced that it would participate in election politics.
Tension heightened between the two groups during the 2002 elections, followed by killing of various ST activists in different parts of the city. The ST blames the MQM for killing of its activists.
Differences between the MQM and the ST assumed alarming proportions during August 2005 local government polls as the two parties charged each other with initiating and patronizing violence.
The Sunni Tehrik leaders accused the MQM of receiving bhatta (extortion money) in the name of party fund from traders and the other members of business community in Karachi. On the other hand, the MQM alleged that most of the financially strong areas of Karachi, including Ranchore, Old Town and New Karachi, were under the control of Sunni Tehrik and the latter collected chanda (charity) from there to run the Tehrik affairs.
Another major reason behind the bitter relations between the two parties is the reported joining of ST by scores of MQM activists.
The ST appears to be the looser in confrontation with the MQM as it has lost over 65 activists during last 15 years. Half of them have been killed during the last two years.
The entire central leadership of the ST was wiped out in Tuesday's blast at Nishtar Park. Its chief, Mohammad Abbas Qadri, deputy chief Maulana Iftikhar Ahmad Bhatti, third-in-command Maulana Ikram Qadri and Dr Abdul Qadeer, were among those who were killed in the blast.
Mohammad Abbas Qadri, 40, was born in Lines Area. He received his initial education in the same locality. In the initial stage, he was made in charge of Dawaat-i-Islami's local chapter, but after the formation of Sunni Tehrik, he joined the party and following the death of Saleem Qadri, became party chief.
Iftikhar Bhatti and Akram Qadri were among founding leaders of the party, while Dr Abdul Qadeer Abbasi, 40, was a member of the legal aid committee.