Yasmeen Aftab Ali

By Yasmeen Aftab Ali

As many as 45 were killed and 20 injured as gunmen opened fire on a bus near Safoora Chowk area in Karachi. The number of those dead has since spiked as many succumbed to their injuries later. The bus was carrying members of the Ismaili community. Gunmen stormed the bus, shooting passengers in their heads. The bus was owned by Al-Azhar Colony, an Ismaili housing project, and was bound towards Federal B Area, a regular route. All attackers escaped after the killings. “Six terrorists came on three motorcycles, they entered the bus and began firing indiscriminately. They used 9mm pistols and all those killed and injured were hit by the 9mm pistols.” (Yahoo News, May 12, 2015)

The crime was owned by both ISIS and Taliban. Literature in both English and Urdu, allegedly by the attackers printed on plain paper without any insignia or monogram of any organization, was found on site of the crime — a typed message spelling out the reasons for the attack. If one recalls, similar leaflets were also found after the US national Debra Lobo was shot. This incident took place in third week of April. She was a faculty member at Jinnah Medical and Dental College.

Karachi has been a violent city of late though incidents have visibly decreased in number since 2013, reasons being both of political and economic nature. ‘Armed wings of political parties,’ says Huma Yusuf in her research paper Conflict dynamics in Karachi for the United States Institute for Peace, ‘are the main perpetrators of urban violence. The parties clash over city resources and funds generated through extortion.’ (2012) She goes on to say, “Karachi’s ethno-political violence is facilitated by an overall crisis in law and order. Many of the gunmen involved in target killings were not political party activists, but members of one of approximately 200 criminal gangs in the city, many of which boast affiliations with mainstream political parties. The gangs foster a perpetual sense of insecurity in the city by engaging in various criminal activities.”

The attack on the bus set off a stream of theories by analysts, members of civil society and public at large. My inbox and WhatsApp is overflowing with interpretations of the attack.

Some believe that Taliban are behind it as claimed in the literature. Others denounce the theory. One message I received states, “It is a false flag. Almost everyone has claimed the responsibility of the tragic incident. It was a professional hit by highly trained operatives, too neat to be Daesh or TTP, who deliberately create a messy situation. Al-Qaida does not go after such communities.” Another says, “In my opinion it was neither of the two. They do not operate with simple pistols.” A third one writes, “It can be a false flag operation, to use a simple pistol, the person has to be very confident and experienced which is unlike TTP young suicide brigade so it seems more like a foreign agency’s operatives.” This is not all. I am sharing here selected messages that form an interesting collage.

“That sudden change from war drums to love songs from India rang a lot of bells, why would she do that? Why would she execute a somersault? Maybe to start a new wave of similar operations. So she cannot be suspected.” A local daily writes, “A day after the military’s top brass accused Indian intelligence agency RAW of supporting terrorism in Pakistan, the Foreign Office has echoed similar concerns asking India to refrain from interfering in its internal matters.” (May 7, 2015) Mail by another, “A well thought over and planned attack not just a terrorist attack. Ismailis live from Gilgit to Karachi. This is exactly the belt that is going to serve as clotted artery for Economic Corridor. The forces who do not want it to happen have been working against it since the inception of Gwadar.”

Yet another friend questions, “The attack on a bus carrying Ismailis in Karachi followed by an attack on a guesthouse in Kabul, with mostly Indians — both countries in a proxy war or a third element involved?” Nevertheless, the possibility of a genuine sectarian attack cannot be ruled out. “As long as we keep on apologising for these homegrown beasts the innocent and helpless will keep on getting killed,” writes a friend. Sharing another interesting response, “When Latif Mahsood is arrested red-handed with money bags, Barahamdagh captured travelling on Indian passport and money trail to anti-Pakistan elements shows Indian bookmakers’ involvement, it all gives lots of credence to Indian involvement in Pakistan but I seriously doubt Indian hand in the attack on Ismailis because Agha Khan is too important a personality for the Indians. For the same reason I exclude possibility of a local political party. Therefore, in my view it’s purely a sectarian attack.” Another message refutes this by stating, “The incident was too close to Saulat Mirza’s hanging. The meeting of the British officials with the murder suspect and the visit of PM and COAS to Kakul. Too much coincidence?”

The most pragmatic line comes from a journalist friend, “From what we see as an emerging pattern of the Islamic State and its Al Qaeda affiliates, they breed in those dark chasms of mistrust between states and sectarian differences. There is fusion in confusion.”

This does NOT mean to say I conclusively agree with his thought that it is Al Qaeda and its affiliates that are responsible for this horrific massacre, though they may well be. I agree with his statement: there is fusion in confusion. Absolutely! There are so many vested interests that without thorough and professional investigation, it is impossible to pinpoint the culprit(s). It may well be Taliban, or ISIS or a similar outfit. Investigation alone can determine responsibility. Karachi has an unenviable baggage of sectarian violence. Continued crackdowns on these did succeed in containing it for a decent while. The killing of innocent Ismaili civilians has jolted Pakistanis across the board out of their comfort zones. The terror is back. With it comes stench of fear.

Reverting to the research paper by Huma Yusuf, “Significantly, as a result of the splinter and freelance model, TTP-affiliated militant is no longer exclusively ethnic Pashtun. According to the CID, Urdu-speaking and Punjabi residents of Karachi are increasingly collaborating with the TTP. The socioeconomic profile of Karachi’s militants also varies: Although the majority of militants reside in the low-income, Pashtun-dominated squatter settlements at the city’s periphery, a growing number hail from educated, middle-class backgrounds. The Karachi faction of the Punjabi Taliban comprises several students enrolled at the University of Karachi, Pakistan’s largest public sector university. The diversifying profile of militants can be explained by soaring anti-Americanism and mainstream resentment against US troops’ presence in Afghanistan. Well-funded militant groups have used sophisticated websites, social media outlets such as YouTube and Facebook, and other communications strategies to reach out to middle-class recruits and exploit their resentment against the West. As such, Karachi’s changing militant demographic could foreshadow future trends across Pakistan.”

There is a pattern to the chaos. It’s systematic. It’s asymmetrical warfare. However, the bottom line is: Is there a deadline to reach to a conclusion or culmination of this investigation or is it to be left open ended and without conclusion, as usual?

The author, Yasmeen Aftab Ali, is an Attorney-at-law, Columnist at Pakistan Today and the author of ‘A Comparative Analysis of Media & Media Laws in Pakistan’.