The Burning Desire

[su_pullquote]This article was published in the 22nd November edition of Dawn newspaper.[/su_pullquote]

Karachi maybe the most advanced and sophisticated city of Pakistan. However, there is one particular evil here that makes it distinct from the rest of the country the voracious appetite of some of its citizens to burn vehicles. Perhaps nowhere in the world is there such a flaming desire to torch an innocent person`s vehicle to vent your anger.

Burning Desire by saqib khan
Burning Desire by saqib khan

Recently there was a news item in Dawn which stated that a bus had run over a class-VIII student in Baghbanpura, Lahore, and the enraged public had attacked the vehicle.

A picture of the bus was also published post-attack. Judging by the condition of the bus, it seems that the rage of the public was satiated just by breaking the windows; the rest of the bus was intact.

Now imagine this had happened in Karachi 9.9 times out of 10 you would have seen the picture of a torched bus. Here, if a pedestrian so much as sneezes while a vehicle breezes past him the public is ready to set the vehicle on fire. Or if a political activist is killed a couple of vehicles are bound to meet a flaming end.

But why? You see, there seems to be an `arsonist` desire in the local populace. I don`t know the how or why of it but I saw its manifestation on the day of Benazir Bhutto`s assassination when Karachi, in the space of a few hours, became the epitome of the western world`s perception of Pakistan an anarchic state mired in darkness.

I was one of the unfortunate ones who got caught up in the ensuing havoc. However, I was lucky to survive two mob attacks on my car with just a few dents and a shattered wind-screen courtesy a volley of bricks that narrowly missed me but hit the car on target.

After the first attack I hid my car near some apartments on the edge of a street and waited for the mob to disperse. While there I took a close look at them and was horrified to see that the mob comprised of mostly teen-agers hardly 13 or 14-years-old. What`s more is they weren`t on a rampage because BB was killed, but it appe-ared to be an amusement for them.

It didn`t matter to them that the vehi-cle they were destroying in an instant was a result of someone`s years of hard work.

One of the cars that came after me wasn`t so fortunate, and the teenagers thoroughly enjoyed torching the vehicle right in front of my eyes.

In the small hours of the morning I mustered enough courage to return home. I just couldn`t believe I was passing through the streets of Karachi. A stream of people were walking slowly in single file as if they were refugees. At regular intervals a number of vehicles were parked solemnly in a column, all burnt.

This wasn`t the bustling Karachi I knew but a twisted reincarnation of ravaged Iraq or some African country as seen on CNN.

This proves that beneath the façade there`s simmering resentment in the hearts of the city`s inhabitants that manifests itself sporadically now and then in the form of vehicle burning.

Burning a car in this city of lights and food, I`m told, is an art that is no child`s play. But at times the vehicle can easily be salvaged when the arsonists flee, which happened when a manager of my company had his car attacked by arsonists the day after a political leader was killed.

The whole episode seemed surreal, because for one it happened during the morning rush hour. Secondly, it happened at a place where you least expect this to happen, at the Hasan Square U-turn created for the traffic coming from Nipa and wanting to go towards Essa Nagri and Nazimabad.

As soon as the manager slowed down to make the U-turn, a number of armed people surrounded the vehicle, took his valuables away and those of his colleague and doused the vehicle with petrol. They were in such a hurry that they even poured the petrol on the poor colleague.

He`s lucky that they didn`t set him on fire. Once they threw the matches inside the vehicle they fled and the manager had the presence of mind to extinguish the flames which were still just starting.

Recently, a car passing through the Rashid Minhas Road near a mall in the evening rush hour got so heated up that it caught fire. What happened next was pure chaos fuelled by the fear of vehicle torching.

As soon as the oncoming traffic saw a vehicle burning in front of them, they panicked assuming that arsonists were at work ahead and turned back towards incoming traffic. Within no time there was a huge traffic mess. That`s the extent of fear instilled in the hearts of Karachiites the panic button is pressed at the slightest sight of something burning.

So, will Karachi ever rid itself of this self-destructive tendency? As long as the root causes of violence are not addressed, Karachi may well attain the pinnacle of building infrastructural marvels but will remain engulfed in this firestorm.

[su_note note_color=”#b80e1b” text_color=”#ffffff” radius=”15″]This article was published in the 22nd November edition of Dawn newspaper.[/su_note]

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