Dear Friends and Family,
Today was the first day of mourning for Benazir Bhutto here in Karachi. I set out with my uncle this morning to take a tour of the neighborhood and to see for myself the carnage we’ve been seeing on television. As expected, stores and offices are closed. There are burned cars and trucks blocking the roads. Patches of black soot mark areas where tires were burned last night. Large rocks, sticks, and tree branches — all used most likely to smash cars and pummel motorists — litter the roads. Gas stations are closed. Save for a random auto rickshaw or two, the roads are deserted of vehicles, when usually on a weekday like today there would be no end to them. Pedestrians can be seen making their way along the empty roads. There are no buses running, so those who were caught out of their homes last night will have to walk, or, if they’re lucky, hitchhike back. The latter is going to be difficult because 1) there are hardly any vehicles on the road and 2) there is a sense of deep fear and mistrust amongst the people; they’re not in a frame of mind to help each other.
Even as we heard news of buses being emptied and set on fire last night, there were reports that men on motorcycles took the opportunity to rob the hapless passengers of their money, jewelry, and cell phones. A cousin of mine was caught in another part of the city. He tried to return home only to have his way blocked by lines of burning cars and buses. In other areas traffic had come to a standstill. In the mass hysteria that followed the first sparks of chaos, people found themselves trapped on the roads without any law enforcement around to direct the flow of traffic. Those who could, holed up with friends, relatives, and even strangers wherever they could.
Today, there are reports of numerous deaths and millions of Rupees worth of damage in Karachi alone.
As shocked as the international community must be at these turn of events, the locals are just as much — if not more — appalled by what’s happening. How could the city change so drastically within a few hours?
It’s not clear who the perpetrators are or what their motive is. Who could possibly benefit from all this death and destruction? Is it really due to outrage over the assassination? Or is much of it the opportunistic settlement of personal enmities?
There’s a feeling of helplessness: There’s already been one tragedy — why prolong it by killing more innocent bystanders and by destroying the livelihood of others?
And there’s anger, too: Where are the police and the Rangers – those who have been sworn to protect the city’s residents?
Amid all this chaos, it’s the commoners who suffer. It is wedding season in Pakistan, and brides-to-be spent last night at beauty parlors, their weddings postponed indefinitely. For days people who don’t have supplies at home will have to scrounge for food because stores are closed. Auto rickshaw, taxi, and bus drivers — among others who survive on their day-to-day incomes — will be hard pressed to make ends meet.
At the moment, there is a profound silence outside as we wait — seemingly with collectively held breath — to see what tomorrow will bring.