October 18, 2022
By Xari Jalil
On the morning of October 19, a sickening stench of blood and camphor hung in the air inside the Edhi Mortuary. Warily and carefully people treaded inside the cold room replete with dead bodies. It was difficult to decide what was more horrible – the sight of the charred bodies lying on the steel beds grotesque and stiff and burnt beyond recognition, or the sight of the families, weeping and choking on their pain, rifling through these corpses to find their loved ones. One by one, as they recognized some aspect of the burnt corpse, the family members would collapsed on the ground crying and wailing.
The incident was the Karsaz bombing attack that took place on the night of October 18, 2007 in Karachi on former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto’s motorcade. The bombing occurred two months before she was actually assassinated. The bombing left approximately 200 dead, and more than 500 injured, and the Edhi Morgue located in Karachi’s Sohrab Goth was filled with unidentified bodies, some of which lay there for weeks on end.
And yet even after 15 years have gone by, too many families have not healed from the incident, and investigators have no idea about who was behind the twin bomb attack.
Even today, police and allied agencies are still clueless about the perpetrators of the twin bomb attacks.
After the blasts, the provincial government of the time, under Sindh Chief Minister Dr Arbab Ghulam Rahim, had set up an inquiry tribunal to investigate the twin blasts. The tribunal headed by retired Justice Dr Ghous Mohammad started proceedings and recorded statements of around 40 witnesses. But in December the former PM was assassinated.
On April 6, 2008 Dr Zulfikar Mirza, who was the chief security adviser of Bhutto’s rally had announced that the Sindh government would soon set up a fresh tribunal to probe the Karsaz blasts but despite being in power the PPP government never probed the tragedy. Besides Sindh, the PPP also enjoyed power at the Centre until 2013, but nobody has so far been arrested or produced in court in the Karsaz bombing case.
In March 2008, the police produced in court Qari Saifullah Akhtar, an alleged Al Qaeda militant, but he was released for want of evidence.
Qari Saifullah was brought before the antiterrorism court and was remanded in police custody for masterminding the blasts. The suspicion arose from what Benazir Bhutto had written in her last book, about how Qari Saifullah had hatched a conspiracy against her. She had also named him for being involved in the attacks on her homecoming procession in October in Karachi and described him as one of the militants who was after her life.
But 10 days later, Qari Saifullah was released after his remand.
In 2012, then Sindh chief minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah announced that the provincial government had constituted yet another committee led by a DIG to inquire into the tragedy. But there was no outcome.
Surprisngly also, two close aides of Benazir Bhutto were killed in a target killing, including Khalid Shahenshah and Bilal Shaikh —senior security officers at Bilawal House, who had accompanied Bhutto at Karsaz.
In 2016, during a cross examination before an anti-terrorism court in Rawalpindi, Khalid Qureshi who was probing the Benazir murder case, confessed in a statement that the JIT had not investigated the former director-general Inter Services Intelligence (ISI) retired Lt-Gen Hamid Gul, former director-general Intelligence Bureau (IB) retired Brig Ejaz Shah and former Punjab chief minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, all of whom were nominated by Benazir in a letter she had written to US lobbyist Mark Siegel in 2007. Qureshi was a member of the Punjab Police JIT which had conducted the initial probe.
After Benazir was assassinated, the PML-Q government formed an investigation team which was headed by AIG Punjab of which Khalid Qureshi was a member. The team arrested five suspects who were said to have been part of the banned Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).
When the PPP formed its government after the February 2008 elections, the interior ministry had assigned the investigation to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) and Qureshi was appointed head of the FIA’s JIT.
FIA’s investigation team conducted a second inquiry and implicated former president Musharraf, DIG Saud and SSP Khurram Shahzad in the case for washing the crime scene to destroy evidence and not providing adequate security to the former prime minister. There had also been no postmortem on Benazir’s body, and for this the JIT held Aziz responsible.
During the cross examination, when the defence counsel asked Qureshi whether he had watched the press conference held by former president Asif Ali Zardari after the assassination, where he had said that he had not given permission for the postmortem because he did not want the body of his wife to be “desecrated”, Qureshi replied that he had not seen the press conference. He said he had never approached Zardari in this regard.
By 2017, besides Qari Saifullah, DSP Nawaz Ranjha, who was the first IO of the case, had also interrogated at least 10 suspects belonging to the banned Lashkar-i-Jhangvi, Jaish-i-Mohammed, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan and Afghan Taliban, but could not reach a conclusion regarding the involvement of any militant group.
DSP Nawaz Ranjha, was later gunned down.
NOT TO BE MARKED?
Meanwhile, the PPP has not held any of its traditional memorial services in Karachi to mark the anniversary of the Karsaz bombing of October 18, 2007. However no official reason was given by the party but it may have been the ongoing flood emergency and relief work that could have been the reason.
Earlier on Saturday, October 15, in a statement PPP Sindh President Nisar Ahmed Khuhro said the office-bearers and workers of the party could hold ceremonies at the district level to pray for the people who had lost their lives in the Karsaz tragedy.
He said leaders and activists of the PPP would also visit the Karsaz Shuhuda Monument on Shahrah-e-Faisal on October 18 to lay floral wreaths to pay homage to the followers of the PPP who had lost their lives.
A NIGHT OF TERROR
Faisal Edhi remembers the horror of the incident and says they were asleep when it happened, late at night, but once they rushed to the crime scene, they found that even their ambulances combined with Chhipa’s ambulances were not enough to manage the situation.
“I seem to remember the body count to be upto 170 to 180,” he says. “For seven to eight weeks, 18 bodies lay unclaimed in our morgue, although the rest were taken by relatives. After that we transported them to Larkana and they were buried there.”
He says the situation was terrible, but thankfully there was little traffic at the time so most people who were taken to hospital did not face issues, but they had few vehicles for emergency services.
“BB was saved that day, but they took her life later in Pindi,” he remarks mournfully. “Some people I knew commented at the time, this is the third prime minister from Sindh that they have given back, packed in a coffin.”
Baloch journalist Saeed Sarbazi remembers the trauma and the terror that had gripped Lyari – Karachi’s age-old locality where PPP was once known to have 100 per cent vote bank.
“Most of the people from Lyari took part in Benazir Bhutto’s caravan and most of those who died were from that community too,” he says. “Sadly not one person has been brought forward as the perpetrator of the incident. Even BB’s trucks were prepared in Lyari’s adjoining area of Bhimpura.”
Sarbazi says the crowd at the gathering was so diverse, it was unbelievable. “There were people from all religions, from all communities; they were so happy, they were dancing and there was cheering and music. It was an atmosphere to remember!”
For Akram Baloch, who was leading the Jan Nisara-e-Benazir, the party workers’ own private security force who put their lives at stake to protect their beloved leader.
“When the first blast happened, I remember BB said there would be another and that everyone should move back,” he says. “That is exactly what happened.”
Two of Akram’s family members – a nephew, 25 year old Basit Sarbazi, and a cousin Liaquat Ali Baloch, 55, were killed in the second blast, leaving the family shattered. Within a year however, the family members were given ready-made apartments in Karachi’s Quaidabad area.
“No one thought this would happen, no one thought they would lose their young boys,” says a sorrowful Akram. “PPP’s government came and went, and yet we still do not know who was behind these twin blasts that resulted in so much death and destruction. The only thing that motivates – or at least motivated PPP supporters afterwards was the part that BB sahiba held a press conference the very next day and while she took some names, she also said that the real battle was against a narrative a mindset. People were left with the hope that whatever kind of democracy they have at least it is a democracy.”
Were they all given compensation though? In reality, some were given their compensations sooner but others had to wait for months, even over a year. And as for finding the perpetrator, the people have mostly given up.
“Yes the PPP did not investigate the incident despite being in power for 5 years,” he said. “Aur am aadmi kar bhi kya sakta hay? (What can the ordinary person even do?) In reality people who have already sacrificed their loved ones to the cause of democracy, end up in carrying on with their lives. They cannot spend their lives following up on who it was behind the act. They have already lost too much.”
Meanwhile 60 year old Yousuf Memon, also a resident of Lyari says his own son Bilal was killed in the attack, as well as four other neighbours who lost their lives.
After about three months, Yousuf received a cheque for Rs300,000, and a flat. For the family the money can never replace their boy, whose parts even were not found. There was never a burial for Bilal Yousuf but the diehard love for PPP has not decreased an iota within his father.
“We are true jiyalas,” Yousuf claims proudly. “My son was martyred but we can give a thousand more lives for PPP. For us this is about democracy, and this is about how much work they have done for us. If anyone has done any work in Karachi it has been the People’s Party.”
And yet neither has Yousuf received the Benazir Income Support Program (BISP) card, nor has he been able to seek any help from the party office regarding any work for his other son. “I am old and feeble now, and cannot keep running around, but what can we do? People like us aren’t important.”