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February 8, 2015

The truth of the fire

Editorial

 
February 8, 2015

The 2012 Baldia Town garment factory fire, in which 289 people burnt to death – combined with smoke inhalation, suffocation and a stampede – remains one of the largest such tragedies in our history. Nearly three years on its culprits also remain on the loose. A judicial report into the fire blamed it on a short circuit and the fire department, which arrived more than an hour after the fire broke out, was not held accountable. The owner of the factory and regulatory authorities were faulted for the building not having fire exits and there were reports that all the doors of the factory were locked from the outside but the owner, despite being on the Exit Control List, was allowed to flee the country. Now, a report submitted to the Sindh High Court by the Rangers includes a bombshell accusation that the MQM was behind the fire because it did not get extortion money from the factory owner. This report is based only on the statement of a single suspect so it does not necessarily have to be taken as gospel truth. But it is further confirmation that even after all this time we do not have the sordid details of how so many lives were lost on September 11, 2012.
It is very telling about the situation in Karachi that this accusation is neither being dismissed as untruthful or accepted wholeheartedly. This is because all the political actors in the city are linked to gangs and their demands of protection money are well known. At the same time, it may not be a coincidence that the report was submitted at a time when law-enforcement officials have come under fire from the MQM for the extrajudicial killings of its activists. The Sindh High Court now has a duty to investigate the Baldia Town factory fire not just to determine the truth of the matter but so that the families of the victims finally get a sense of justice. They have become the forgotten faces of this tragedy, largely because they were poor and unconnected to the power centres of the city. After that, the

political parties need an accounting of their own. Their power plays have led to the loss of thousands of lives and the operation in the city only seems to have increased divisions. Until the political parties decide to delink their political influence from violence and crime, Karachi will continue to experience such tragedies. Reaching the truth of the fire is essential to stop Karachi from burning.