Under a 30-foot tent outside his modest home, Aziz Konchwala, the family patriarch, presided Monday over soyam , the third and final day of Islamic mourning.
But it is only the men of the shattered family Konchwala leads in an anguished daylong prayer: Most female members of the family are dead.
On Friday, as Konchwala and his family were coming out of a sweets shop in Hyderabad, about 90 miles northeast of here, after celebrating a young relative’s engagement, they watched in horror as masked gunmen calmly opened fire on a van in which 14 Konchwala women and two children were waiting.
At point-blank range, the men fired more than 60 rounds into the van in an orgy of gunfire that, Aziz recalled, “seemed to light up the whole city.”
Elsewhere in Hyderabad, other masked men were engaged in similar work--at markets, cinemas, bus stops and private homes. The toll after the three-hour killing spree: at least 170 dead and hundreds of others blinded, paralyzed or disabled by gunshot wounds.
The next day, the killers moved on to Karachi, where scores more were gunned down and hundreds of others were wounded, touching off riots and panic--the most widespread fear that this city of 7 million people has known in recent years.
“It was the worst nightmare I have seen in my life,” said Dr. Seemin Ghulamullah, the casualty medical officer at Jinnah Medical Center, where 44 of the dead and 96 of the wounded were taken Saturday. “It looked as if there was a civil war going on. . . . Every two minutes we had three or four more patients, every one of them with bullet wounds.”
The toll for the three days now stands at more than 210--the worst carnage to date in Karachi and Sind province, where 600 people have been killed in three years of ethnic violence.
1,000 Soldiers Deployed
More than 1,000 soldiers have been deployed in Karachi and Hyderabad since the violence erupted, and many parts of the two cities have been put under 24-hour curfew. The killing has apparently ended, for now.
But what has left virtually everyone in fear is the fact that no one has made it clear who is behind the random attacks.
Newspapers hawked on Karachi’s streets Monday reflected the mood of the people, most of whom were still hiding in their homes and shuttered shops.
“Karachi Wears Haunted Look,” the top headline in the Leader said. The front page of the Daily News declared in red ink, “No Terrorists Arrested So Far.” And the top headline in the city’s principal English-language evening daily, the Star, exclaimed, “Conspiracy!”
‘Conspiracy Against Pakistan’
“The latest round of carnage in Hyderabad was nothing--repeat nothing--but a conspiracy against Pakistan,” the Star’s story said. “But the haunting, unanswered question is: Who are the conspirators?”
Mirza Aslam Beg, the army chief of staff, also spoke of conspiracy during visits to Hyderabad and Karachi over the weekend.
“These are undoubtedly premeditated and preplanned terrorist activities, executed skillfully by experts,” Beg told the Associated Press of Pakistan.
He asserted that the killings were connected to the Aug. 17 airplane crash that killed President Zia ul-Haq and argued that both incidents were part of an effort to destabilize Pakistan and delay the general elections scheduled for Nov. 16.
Beg offered no proof, however, and he stopped short of pointing a finger at any person or organization.
Indian Agents Blamed
Pakistani newspapers, meanwhile, have blamed the weekend killings on intelligence agents of India, Pakistan’s eastern neighbor and enemy in three wars. Several newspapers--and many political leaders--have charged that the Indians are trying to foment ethnic violence to weaken and divide the traditional enemy. The Indian government has vehemently denied the charge.
Whoever is to blame, the carnage has sharply increased the tension between the region’s native Sindhi-speaking majority and the Mohajir community, which consists of Urdu-speaking emigres who fled to Pakistan in 1947 when the subcontinent was divided between predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.
“The terrorists, or the snipers--call them what you may--not only killed the innocent persons indiscriminately but also managed to succeed in igniting a volatile ethnic polarization in the province,” the Daily News said Monday in an editorial entitled “Appeal to Sanity.”
“This was their objective, and the bloodletting of innocent people belonging to both Mohajir and Sindhi communities was done with the purpose of nurturing ethnic hatred.”
Little Talk of Vengeance
In Karachi, there were scattered ethnic clashes after the weekend killings, yet there was little talk of vengeance Monday among the families of the victims. In the multicolored tent outside the Konchwala home, for example, people were saying they did not want to know who was behind the killings.
“We don’t blame any party,” said Sufdar Konchwala, a shopkeeper whose wife was killed in the van. “We do not want any revenge. We do not even want to know who did this. We do not want to make this a personal issue or a political issue. God will know who did this. God will get his revenge. For us, we only want peace.”
Many of the Konchwala men speculated that the gunmen could not have been Pakistanis.
“No one in Pakistan is responsible,” the patriarch Aziz said. “This fight is not one of brother against brother. No Pakistani Muslim is capable of doing such a thing to a brother Muslim.”
Families also voiced criticism of the government that assumed power six weeks ago after President Zia’s death.
“The government’s most basic responsibility is to provide protection to all peace-loving Pakistanis,” Dr. Ashfak Konchwala, Aziz’s son, said. “But the reality in Pakistan today is that no common citizen is safe. Everyone is having his Kalashnikov (rifle), and when there’s trouble the police are nowhere to be found.”
At Jinnah Medical Center, Dr. Ghulamullah was critical of the police. She said they are ultimately responsible for some of the weekend deaths because they failed to impose a curfew on the city until six hours after the shooting began.
“The shooting began at 6:30 in the morning and did not stop until curfew was declared at 12:30,” she said. “If curfew had come earlier, definitely the number of casualties would have been less.”
Authorities Seen Paralyzed
President Ghulam Ishaq Khan visited Karachi and Hyderabad on Monday and reportedly was told by several political leaders that the police and local government were paralyzed by the crisis, which did not end until the army was called out.
Ghulamullah said she is deeply concerned about the future of her troubled city.
“I just pray to God that this should not continue,” she said. “You should have solid grounds to fight. If you must fight your enemies, well, so be it, but fighting amongst your brothers is the worst kind of foolishness.
“Now I’m afraid there is no unity among us, unfortunately. The curfew should remain for at least a week, until things can come to normal. But there is such an intense hatred among us, I doubt it will ever be the same.”