Vegetable market bomb blast: security concerns amid death, blood and crates of guavas

An edited version of this article was first published in The Express Tribune on Apr 11, 2o14.

Islamabad – Death arrives with a deafening roar sometimes and Feroze Khan had heard that rattle before.

Maybe that is why when the sound of an explosion rang through the vegetable market on Wednesday Khan chucked out the vegetables in his wheelbarrow and rushed to the blast site, some 300 yards away.

Some of his relatives were there, he said, at the fruit auction, where a bomb planted inside a crate of guavas exploded and killed at least 23 people. He was not sure, but he had to check, maybe even save them.

“The faces I saw there were mutilated, blackened,” Khan said. “I cannot tell if my relatives are dead or not.”

Three hours after the blast, Khan sat on the outer cordon police had drawn up around the blast site. His wheelbarrow, its bed now painted red with the blood of the injured and dead he helped shift away from the site, stood beside him. Khan sat silently, looking straight ahead.

A few feet away, inside the cordon, dozens of boxes lay haphazardly around a 3”x2.5” crater as if arranged to form a maze leading to it. Guavas rolled out of crates and blood stains, shattered glass and wheel caps appeared on the cordon’s periphery.

Nearby, expressing grief differently from Khan, traders and vendors from the market were angry and stern as they spoke in to TV microphones.

“We give the Capital Development Authority (CDA) Rs 35 million in revenue every year,” said Babu Aleem, the President of the Fruit Market union, surrounded by camera crews. “Thousands of labourers work here, hundreds of trucks come and go every day, but there is no protection.”

Incensed more by the confusion over whether the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration should have taken over supervision of the vegetable market from the CDA or not, Aleem and his fellows demanded a security wall around the vegetable market, perhaps the biggest and the busiest in Islamabad and Rawalpindi.

Located at the boundary of the twin cities, and sandwiched on three sides between a katchi abadi, an upscale supermarket and residential houses, the market is vulnerable despite a police station’s building on its western edge.

“There are 50,000 ways to enter the market,” Aleem said. “We need one entry and one exit point, just like markets in Karachi and Lahore. If that does not happen, bomb attacks will happen again.”

Police officials, who were criticised for their slow and inefficient response to the March 3 attack on the Islamabad district courts, seemed to take the easy way out on Wednesday, too.

“It is not possible to check every single truck that arrives in the market,” one police official said.

Another police officer said building a wall around the market will only disrupt the flow of the market’s business activities.

Some traders were quick to point out Afghan residents at the katchi abadi across from the market. Ikramuddin, who manages the Sitara trading company at the market, said the Afghans might not be linked with the attack but they should nevertheless be registered by the authorities to keep out suspicious elements.

The Sector I-11 katchi abadi is mostly inhabited by Pashtuns, some of whom have been living there for four decades. Most of them work as labourers at the vegetable market.

Police officials said they had not considered options such as registering each labourer who works at the market. But better intelligence gathering about militant attacks might be the best option, they said.

A bomb had exploded at the vegetable market in 2001 and Khan remembered he was there when it had happened. But, as he sat there expressionless, he said it was the bad karma of the rulers that was getting to the citizens.

“First they do wrong, then it returns to haunt us,” he said, perhaps realizing that much like bad karma, poor policies can also create ghosts.

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