Remembering lost lives

October 1, 2023

Seven workers of Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf were killed in a terrorist attack on September 25, 2002

Remembering lost lives


or almost three decades, a team of Christian and Muslims workers at the Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf did their best to help the disadvantaged in Karachi, one of the world’s most populous cities. They worked from a small office in the Rimpa Plaza in the bustling heart of city.

The voices for their noble mission were forever silenced when tragedy struck on September 25, 2002. Seven dedicated workers, all devout Christians, fell victim to a horrifying act of terrorism at the charity’s office. The organisation never recovered from this devastating strike.

Robin Sharif, one of the survivors of the brutal attack, is still haunted by the memories of the fateful morning. Sharif vividly recalls how a group of armed men barged into their office and took everyone hostage. “They shot everyone once in the head at point-blank range. I was plain lucky to survive,” Sharif said in an interview.

The seven staff members who died at the office were identified as Aslam Martin, Mushtaq Roshan, John Maneses, Kamran Anjum, Iqbal Allah Rakha, Benjamin Talib and Edwin Foster.

Established in 1972 as a collaborative effort between the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Karachi and the Church of Pakistan, a Protestant denomination, Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf (or Committee for Peace and Justice) was formed with the financial assistance of the World Council of Churches, a worldwide organisation founded to bring together Catholics and Protestants. The organisation’s establishment was inspired by liberation theology, a movement that grew out of South America as a response to poverty and the ill-treatment meted out to ordinary people.

“Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf’s cause was a call for social justice, with a particular focus on advocating for the basic employment rights of the impoverished and marginalised Christians and Muslims. It supported several development projects in Pakistan,” says Zafar Iqbal, who was the acting director of the Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf at the time of the incident.

Iqbal says that the IAI was one of the first non-government organisations in Pakistan.

Zahid Farooq, an activist associated with the Urban Resource Centre, says that the main objective of setting up the organisation was to reduce the burden of the churches to help the Christians migrating from the Punjab in the 1970s and to organise them at their workplaces and localities where they lived.

“The Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf made efforts to include a box for religion in the national identity cards. It also campaigned for a joint electorate system and amendments to the country’s blasphemy laws,” Farooq says.

The organisation had been inspired by liberation theology, a movement that grew out of South America as a response to poverty and the ill-treatment meted out to ordinary people. 

The organisation also published an Urdu-language magazine, Jafakash, highlighting the issues of industrial workers and advocating human rights. It editors included Ahmed Saleem, Rahim Baskh Azad Abdul Rehman Naqqash and Tauqeer Chughtai.

Jafakash was one of the few publications extensively covering trade unions and labour issues, particularly bonded labour, across the country,” Chughtai, the last editor of the magazine, told TNS.

There was a significant surge in violence against Christians in Pakistan following the United States’ post-9/11 military campaign in Afghanistan. This period marked a troubling shift, characterised by a sharp rise in attacks on Christian churches and philanthropic institutions.

The law enforcement agencies initially suspected that Al Qaeda-linked groups, such as Harakat-ul Mojahedin al-Almi, could be behind the attack on Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf. In June 2002, the US consulate in Karachi came under attack. A month earlier, a suicide bombing had killed 11 French submarine engineers near a Karachi hotel.

However, it was later discovered that Tehreek-i-Islami Lashkar-i-Muhammadi, a less-known militant outfit, was responsible for the attack on the charity’s office.

More than five years and six months after the attack, Crime Investigation Department (later renamed the Counter Terrorism Department) of the Sindh Police announced that Mohammed Wajahat Khan, who had orchestrated the attack on Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf’s office, had surrendered to a law enforcement agency in Lahore.

During interrogation by the CID, Khan revealed that he had been a part of Harkat-ul Ansar, a group earlier focusing on Indian-administered Kashmir and Afghanistan. He said he had received weapons and combat training in Afghanistan in 1995.

Khan said that he initially trained to participate in the Kashmir insurgency but upon returning to Pakistan from Afghanistan was unable to leave for Kashmir.

After returning to Karachi and keeping a low profile for a while, Khan enrolled at a computer institute in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal area. It was there that he Zain-ul Abideen. Through Zainul Abideen, Khan learned about the activities of the Freemasons’ Society in the city.

Acting on information provided by Zain-ul Abideen, Khan and his group of 18 militants killed Aven Adven, the head of Idara-i-Aman-o-Insaf in May 2022, at his car spares shop near Tibet Centre. He was administered a lethal injection, causing him to pass away in five minutes.

Khan said that they chose this method to avoid the noise associated with firearms.

Wajahat Khan also admitted to orchestrating the June 20, 2002, killings of Malik Tariq Akhtar Allahwala, a member of the Rotary Club, and a doctor at the Irtiqa Foundation, whom he suspected of “working against Islam”.

About the Idara-i-Amn-o-Insaf, Khan said he believed that the NGO had been working against the blasphemy law, which he found “unacceptable”.

In January 2001, police had arrested several activists, including Father Arnold Heredia and Aslam Martin of the IAI, when more than 300 protestors tried to march to the Governor´s House to submit a memorandum demanding an end to misuse of blasphemy laws.

The writer is a journalist and researcher who writes for various publications. He also assesses democratic and conflict development in Pakistan for several policy institutes. He tweets @zalmayzia

Remembering lost lives