A file photo from a 2008 'conference' the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat held in Karachi - it's first after seven years of being banned as the Sippah-i-Sahaba following 9/11
I was going to make the first ever Pakistan blogger awards the lede today when a source of mine called at 7:30pm. They had been giving the Sunni action committee a hard time, he said. Things had been ‘garbar’ or unsettled.
When this source calls me, I listen. He is so tight with the mullahs that he knew when Umm-e Hasan, the wife of the Red Mosque cleric, paid a secret visit to Karachi. He used to be a reporter for a two-bit rag but it was guys like him who had their eyes and ears open. They knew when something was going down. Today, at The Express Tribune, where no one with less than a BA can qualify for the desk, if they give me the choice, I’ll go with an Urdu reporter rather than an English one.
He said he was going to a rally by the ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat (The Sunni Party) at Nagan Chowrangi. We have a good understanding. I’ll call him up and get the story on the phone. I’ve worked with him so long that he understands how I’ll structure each paragraph and when I’ll ask for a quote.
A little bit about the ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat. It is actually the Sippah-i-Sahaba dressed up with another name. A little after the Twin Towers fell, Pakistani president General Pervez Musharraf banned militant outfits in Pakistan. The Sippah-i-Sahaba was one of them. They just re-emerged, however, under a new name. Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat is pronounced eH lay soon nat w’l jum’maat. There are some pretty good explanations of how the split between them and the Shias took place. They are ahle Sunnat, the Sunnis, and the ahle Tasheeh are Shias, in a rough explanation.
At a little after 8pm one of my sub-editors called the source up and got the story from him. There had indeed been violence. The Sippah had held its rally at a place called Nagan Chowrangi near its central mosque Masjid Siddique-i-Akbar. The rally or protest was being called against the target killings of the ‘party’ workers. It lasted for three hours and clerics from all over the country came to attend.
After the protest, a procession of the SSP men headed out. They were stopped by the police at Islam Chowk because a Shia neighbourhood lay ahead. The police told the men to take some other route but they were bull-headed about it. ‘Why should we divert our procession,’ they are reported to have said.
An argument ensued and it got so ugly that the police had to fire in the air to scare them off. This was, I think, a rather stupid thing to do as the procession included the Sippah’s own ‘security’ force, a small army of volunteers who were armed to the teeth themselves. They had been protecting the protest on their own. The police and paramilitary Pakistan Rangers men were also at the site and on the rooftops.
When the police fired in the air, men in the Shia neighbourhood heard the fire, couldn’t tell where it was coming from, thought they were being attacked and fired out in response. This is quite common in certain Karachi neighbourhoods that are marked by an identity – either religious, ethnic or political. What happened in the middle is not clear, but all hell seems to have broken loose and the Sippah men also opened fire. It was in this crossfire from the police, the procession and the neighbourhood that one Shia man, a 25-year-old initially identified as Shahzad, was killed.
Sippah men also torched a bus and two of its passengers were badly burnt in the ensuing violence. By the time I was putting this copy to bed, there were reports one of them had died. But I’ll follow up on that tomorrow morning.
So the bloggers went down to the anchor and the Sippah protest became the lede. This incident was symbolic of so many different themes that run through Karachi. Violence, trigger-happy young men, a sense of biradari or brotherhood and belonging to one group, a turf war, the law-enforcement agencies, mobs and their innocent victims. The groups may change or the actors may be different, but as I’ve long felt, the story is always the same.