Computer screens broken, with wires strewn around, the staff at Civil Hospital Karachi tried to make use of whatever was left at the Emergency Ward on Saturday.
As armed men looted and plundered public and private properties on the day declared by the government to show love for Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), the Civil Hospital became one of the targets of their pent up “love”.
Though media reported the mob as “angry relatives” of the injured, police and medical superintendent totally denied it.
According to reports, when the relatives of injured did not find the staff at the ward, they smashed the windows and broke things.
Medical Superintendent (MS) CHK Saeed Qureshi called it a “planned move,” as he pointed out that CCTV cameras were the first thing that the men attacked.
“Why would an angry relative do that? And more importantly, steal air conditioners and LCD computer screens,” he posed a question.
He said that minutes before the mob broke into the hospital the staff on leave had been called in and space was being created for the injured of the protests.
“We received 40 patients with hand, face and leg wounds. These were minor injuries so majority of them were let off early,” he said. It was after the first batch of patients left when an angry mob, estimated to be 70 odd men, barged in the hospital and started hurling abuses at the staff.
“They had weapons, sticks, and most had covered their faces. On entering, they just went after the equipment,” Emergency Ward Incharge Dr. Tariq Kamal Ayubi said.
Dr. Ayubi said that the stolen or completely broken things include suction machines (that were recently donated to the ward), two air conditioners, computer screens and ceiling fans. Telephones were smashed as everyone in the ward was seen.
As the hospital staff ran out, the angry mob continued plundering and looting the entire emergency ward for almost half an hour. Dr. Ayubi said the total damage was still being counted, but on estimate more than Rs 0.5 million worth equipment had been damaged.
Looking at the situation going out of hand, the MS asked doctors to protect themselves. “That was the only sensible thing left to do. A doctor has to be alive to treat patients,” he candidly added.
A police officer at Eidgah said that those who plundered and stole things were petty criminals, cashing in on a tense situation. The officer said that the mob was fully armed whereas the police were short of weapons.
PIDC was another war zone from where 12 gun-shot injured were shifted to Civil Hospital. On inquiring, most of them said that they did not see who began firing the shots.
Three survivors who spoke about the incident got hit near the ribs.
Mohammad Pervez Rehman, a waiter at a roadside café near PIDC, received a stray bullet while crossing the road to get to work.
“I had planned to spend time with my friends and watch the rally go by,” he said. But within minutes of getting near the café he got shot and brought to the hospital.
The family of another survivor Khurram Shahzad found him after a day of searching various hospitals. He was also among the people who wanted to watch the rally. His brother Mohammad Yusuf said that Khurram, a clerk at a transport office, “is too young to understand how things work”. Complaining about it was useless as the authorities themselves became a victim on the day.
Sixteen-year-old Abdul Saboor was brought on a motorbike with a bullet in his rib cage. He had no idea who fired but was thankful to two men who brought him to the hospital in time.
“I work for as long as 36 hours packaging fish and taking it to the main market. This was my only day off so I went out to see what’s happening. The police were there but I didn’t see them firing at the rally. No one did,” he said.
The PIDC road, which looked like it had been bombed, was buzzing with discussions about the day before.
Most of the shops that were attacked belonged to poor vendors who depend solely on the daily wage.
Police officials at Civil Lines police station said that one of the protestors started firing to scare the police away. The police, who were given the task to control crowd, were extremely short of staff for that day.
“We had eight officers apart from SHO and DSP,” said head constable Waheed Khan. “And the number of men we saw coming towards us was 100 at first, but later grew to be 600.”
SHO Syed Abid Hussain said that the roads leading towards Mai Kolachi and Chief Minster House were blocked, so scores of protestors gathered near the PIDC, “and the rest was for all to see”.
Khan said that the police tried talking to the crowd but “on hearing us asking them to cool down, they started the rampage”.
Three police mobiles were torched along with three banks on PIDC. Muslim Commercial Bank, Allied Bank and National Bank were the first places the mob attacked, officials said. Besides, cold drink shops and a Paan shop were also attacked and looted.
SHO Hussain said that the aim of the protestors was not clear. “Whether they wanted to sit and shout slogans or hit and burn everything around them, and this made it difficult to control them.”
During rallies and protests, policemen were not allowed to carry weapons. With a small number of police officers, Hussain and his personnel used rubber bullets and tear gas. “We were allowed to use rubber bullets. If we hadn’t used teargas or rubber bullets, they (mob) would have torched down the CM House…”
Nine people had been arrested so far, four on the spot, and five later on. With the help of tip-offs and informers, Civil Lines police managed to recover equipment worth Rs 0.6 million, SHO Hussain added.
It mostly included a large number of computers, laptops, cash boxes of KFC and LCD screens. “We are still looking for other items,” he added.