Violence and transformation in the Karachi conflict
By Nichola Khan
…… As I got older I learned about religion and human rights. I saw no-one giving me human rights or treating me fairly so I joined MQM. I hated the system and admired Altaf Hussain who wanted to change it. For example, after my hardworking years in education I still needed to pay bribes or find personal contacts to get a job. I was so angry. Merit was absolutely unimportant. After all our sacrifices, Mohajirs were treated as third-class citizens. I was qualified as a ship’s 2 Introduction radio officer but I couldn’t get a job. My Punjabi class fellow had a lower-grade certificate and got a job. I had to pay a bribe of five lakhs. My father agreed to pay but I didn’t want him to. Around then Altaf Hussain appeared on the scene talking about my experience exactly. He urged us to unite and fight the system. He showed that because 2 per cent of the population ruled over 98 per cent, a lower-middle-class, educated, intelligent boy couldn’t become a general, a colonel or reach a high post in Pakistan. That’s why I joined. But to change the system I knew I’d have to die. This was a revolution, it wasn’t going to happen in days. We were like the first drops of rain on the earth. You know, the earth soaks up the rain at first but if the drops keep falling it will become a flood. So I knew that this was a struggle of my life and my children’s lives, but that maybe the third generation would have human rights. I was in college when I first heard about Altaf Hussain.
In the beginning I was cynical and uninterested. I first saw him when he visited Lalukhet. He talked about human rights, which attracted me. Then I went to his house and asked him to tell me more. He explained that MQM believed in achieving equal rights for Mohajirs as Pakistani citizens. I was a student then and very sensitive, it was like fire-blood in my body. Everything I’d heard about Altaf was true – that he’s a great leader and if you listen to him once he will change your life forever. He was perfect. I’m not talking about now, but then his words were like magic. They went straight into my heart. He didn’t give false hopes. He said ‘We can try, but our dream may be impossible. Or, so hard we will die. So prepare yourself to die if you want to change this system.’ So I made a decision because I wanted to change the system and was prepared to die.
I didn’t care about killing people. Anyway Pakistani politics was so violent. Politicians influenced each other not by dialogue but by power, money and by how many boys they had. There’s no law. All those politicians who were previously enemies united against MQM and started killing us, so we had no choice. I wasn’t ashamed then but I am now because I can see we were fighting for some other reasons. He sold our blood. I was about 18 when I joined. There was a neighbourhood guy who was close to our area leader. MQM was poor then and needed money. Our leader controlled Zone C, which covered half of Karachi including my area. So I worked for about six months and when he was satisfied he introduced me to our leader and I became his bodyguard and gunman. I knew I was in a war situation and so many innocent people had to die. I was convinced killing was the way to make changes. The first time I killed, nothing physically bad happened to me. I didn’t sleep well that first night but on the second day I had to do it again and I quickly had to get used to it. It didn’t bother me at all. We took orders from our leaders. They each commanded seven boys, so altogether we were two groups totalling 14 boys in charge of MQM’s security wing. We didn’t answer to anyone else in the Cabinet, we could even refuse them a glass of water. At that time we hadn’t had any training. It was just a spontaneous war. Our leader thought we needed something more so they sent a few of us to Afghanistan where we learnt to use all kinds of weapons. When we returned, he refused Introduction 3 to go anywhere without us. Eventually, some other bodyguards set up the Haqiqi faction and he could trust no-one. I think that is why he finally left Pakistan. I think he’s a coward but he was such a good speaker. I had already killed and could see that the system was very corrupt and when he spoke we became so emotional. ….
….. My first job was to kill 600 Pukhtuns. A few of us did it. Our blood was hot and we wanted revenge. Our leader gave us weapons and said ‘Listen. They have killed our innocent brothers and sisters so we must show that we are not cowards and we know how to take revenge. You must attack the Pukhtuns in their homes’.
I remember that night, it was December 1986. This was in the early years of MQM. Our leader gave us weapons that night and came with us. We all went out in few cars we’d hijacked. We didn’t have kalashnikovs but the latest weapons then were Sten guns. We went out in two cars to find some Pukhtuns, of course innocent Pukhtuns. These Pukhtuns are hard workers, they came to Karachi as labourers and they sleep under the sky, they don’t have homes. So it’s easy to find them sleeping on the roads and in the parks. 4 Introduction We killed as many as we could find. At the time MQM was very strict about the weapons, no-one else was allowed to kill or fire a single bullet. We were just 14 boys altogether in four cars. Two were in Landhi under one leader and our two cars were in Central Karachi under another. We killed as many as we could find and it was reported in the morning newspapers in a Special Edition. The headings said that more than 900 Pukhtuns had been killed by terrorists. Another heading said 300 Mohajirs were killed by terrorists and that 900 Pukhtuns were killed in different places.
That was the start. Afterwards, every few days our leader told us about some troublesome guy he wanted dead. That’s how I started killing people. Once he told me about an army intelligence superintendent of Karachi. He said you have to go and kill this woman, his wife. So two of us went by motorbike to PECHS area and I knocked on her door. We’d gone before to see the location and discovered she lived upstairs. I went up alone. Our leader had said ‘Don’t kill her with a gun. Kill her in a way that when it’s reported in the newspapers MQM’s enemies will get frightened. Kill her like that. Not with a gun – not an easy kill.’ This was the first time ever I killed a woman. I didn’t know she was pregnant although I realised that before I killed her. So I went up and knocked on the door. She opened the door and I went in and I asked her name. I had been told she would be alone. So I went in. I could see she was pregnant and I killed her by a knife in her belly. ‘For the name of God don’t kill me, don’t kill me’, she said. The details of how I did it were so horrible. I killed her with a knife, and then I took her head off and put it on top of the refrigerator. I was asked to make it horrible so that when it was reported in the papers MQM’s enemies would get frightened. Well, it worked. Now I can’t sleep and I feel all my problems come from killing her. I found out later that her husband was innocent, just doing his job. MQM wanted him to shut up so they killed him. I also heard that he loved his wife very much, it was their first baby – he ended up in a mental hospital. So now she comes in my dreams and I can’t get rid of her.
Only my leaders know about that killing. They gave us orders, never once Altaf Hussain. But although my leader was chief of MQM’s army wing, Altaf Hussain knows everything. They took the best boys from Karachi, the bravest ones they could use. I’ve realised since that he just used us, used me. What’s more, because we were always with him, even when he went into hiding every night, I’ve seen terrible things with my own eyes. I slowly realised he was a bastard. He said one thing but didn’t want to change the system at all. He just wanted to be powerful and live like a god.
So I ran away. I couldn’t sleep because I realised I had killed so many innocent people. I had nightmares about those innocent people, particularly that woman. Many times I’ve dreamt she is strangling me. She sits on my chest and I wake up and realise she is trying to kill me. Although I’ve robbed many people, banks and killed a lot of people for MQM, I’ve never abused women. Once a group of us raided a family, including daughters. We made them wait for hours for their father to bring money from the bank and although Irfan wanted to rape her, we never let him. That woman I Introduction 5 killed was a Punjabi. Understand, MQM was fighting with every nation of Pakistan, Pukhtuns, Sindhis, Punjabis, police, Rangers and Jamaat e Islami. Everyone. Finally MQM made the Haqiqi and we started killing each other.
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