Islamabad – Everyone called him Chaudhry Chacha*.
“Chacha used to tell us to have a wicketkeeper when we played cricket at night at the parking lot,” said Asad, an employee at Munchies food outlet in the Super Market. “He used to say ‘stop it, you’ll break the windowpanes.’”
But there was no night cricket at the market on Saturday. Just a suspicious looking bag in the parking lot and some curiosity. Chacha to his friends, Muhammad Azam to the outside world, nudged the bag with his foot. Boom.
He was fatally injured several feet away from the same shops he had stayed up nights to guard for over 25 years. He died at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences.
Azam was in his late 50s, said Sarfaraz Mughal, the president of the Super Market Traders Association. “Chaudhry Chacha had been around since ever,” Mughal said.
The security guard was from Gujrat. He had a grey beard, a short build and an affectionate personality.
His belongings — a chair he sat on for his night duty and a giant sack filled with discarded cardboard and waste items — lay just outside the crime scene parameter police had put in place around a small crater where the bomb had exploded.
The explosives were in a shopping bag, police said. The prevalent view among police is that Azam was inspecting the item because he might have found it to be, accurately, “suspicious.” Traders and Azam’s acquaintances said he used to collect cardboard and junk to sell in the morning and pay for his breakfast.
“I guess it was his time to go,” said Asad. “He was a good man.”
The government has not offered any compensation for the old security guard. But traders will pitch in to offer some financial support to Azam’s family, Mughal said. But none of the shopkeepers in the shopping plaza which Azam had guarded for more than two decades knew much about his family. Another watchman, who was on duty at an adjacent shopping plaza, was also injured in the explosion.
Mughal said the security at the market is deplorable. “The Assistant Commissioner told us to set up CCTV cameras at every exit and entrance of the market but the city administration wants us to bear all the expenses. This is despite the heavy property taxes we pay.”
He pointed to a CCTV camera installed on the second floor of the Shaheen Chemist plaza’s second floor. If the camera had more range, it could have captured the bomb explosion incident directly in front of it, Mughal said.
“That camera would have helped police investigation but it is difficult for the traders to manage the CCTV camera installation and monitoring. Government needs to step in,” he said.
Surveillance cameras might go up in the market in the near future and the Islamabad Police vowed to further beef up security in the capital after the incident. But the lives of ordinary men and women remains at risk till the police deliver on their promise.
*Chacha is the Punjabi word for paternal uncle. It is used as an affectionate slang term used for older men.