Karachi: Yet another doctor was gunned down on Thursday in what appears to be a sectarian targeted killing. Dr Zahid Hussain was the 85th doctor to have been killed in Karachi since 1990. [Landhi Station House Officer Inayatullah told Daily Times, “The criminals may have mistakenly murdered Hussain, believing him to be a Shia because his name was similar to those that are commonly used by the Shia community”. Source]
Despite government and police assurances to provide security, doctors become the first targets whenever sectarian violence erupts in the city. The News contacted some doctors who have survived attempts on their lives to find out why the medical community is targeted in particular in the name of religion.
[The Pakistan Medical Association has claimed that more than hundred doctors, most of them Shia, lost their lives in target killing. According to Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, 85 doctors were killed only in one year i.e. 2002-2003. The recent incidents of target killing claimed the lives of four doctors, as the extremist groups have set this trend just to kill the educated people. Source]
Dr Syed Hussain*, a former dean of the Sindh Medical College (SMC), was fortunate enough to have survived an attempt on his life soon after he left his institute to head home. “I have started celebrating my second birthday on June 7 every year,” he chuckled.
“For the first time in many years, I thought of taking a shortcut, and it backfired. I was driving myself that day, and I headed out of the college around mid-day. As I approached Railway Colony, I heard gunshots from behind, and in an instant, there were two motorbikes on my left and right side shooting at me,” Dr Syed Hussain said, adding that he could not see the faces of the assailants.
The former SMC dean received six gunshot wounds on his arms and sides, but while he bled profusely, all he could think of was how to escape his assailants. The car swerved a little, which made the gunmen think that they had completed their job, and they went away. The doctor, still conscious, took a U-turn and sped towards the nearby Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC), where he had to undergo a six-hour-long surgery.
After the incident, Dr Syed Hussain’s family asked him to resign immediately. “They were naturally very disturbed and worried about me, so I opted for voluntary resignation, which was quickly given to me.”
Dr Syed Hussain follows the Sunni belief, but as he quips: “Nobody asked my name before shooting at me, so I let them.” He said that what boggles his mind even today is the verve of the killers. “I was attacked in broad daylight, and it clearly shows that they knew nothing will happen to them.”
A year after Dr Syed Hussain was attacked there was a rapid increase in the number of doctors being killed by unknown men; outside their clinics, hospitals and even homes. Many doctors moved abroad, and those who remained back lived in fear of being targeted. “I was tempted to move abroad as well, as I have family members there, but I chose to stay here,” he said.
Even though Dr Syed Hussain was the dean of a college known for clashes on ethnic and linguistic grounds, he did not suspect that his assailants could be one of his students. “They tested my patience on a lot of occasions, but for some reason, I did not believe that they would be involved in something like that,” he said while defending his students.
However, this is precisely what the police have been claiming after the fresh bout of murders. Most police officers claim that the murders are motivated by family feuds or other similar issues, which Dr Zahid Naqvi* negates outright.
Working at the National Medical Centre (NMC) for the past 30 years, where a young doctor was shot dead recently, Dr Zahid Naqvi claims that “this is a result of sectarian hatred encouraged by semi-literate Maulvis.”
“There is too much religion everywhere, without anyone pointing out the flaws in the interpretation which has justified these crimes,” he said, adding that the primary targets are Shia professionals so as to ensure that their standing is weakened in the country at large and the city in particular.
Dr Zahid Naqvi was also followed on the Stadium Road by armed attackers on motorbikes while he was heading home, and even after getting injured, he drove to the nearest hospital. “I had heard about a couple of shootings before that, but was not prepared for what happened to me.”
Even after years, he still looks over his shoulder while going towards his clinic everyday. “You have to be extra cautious, as there is this unpleasant feeling inside that you might be followed or that someone might be waiting for you, so yes the feeling is very much there,” he said.
When asked if he also thought of moving abroad and getting away from it all, he paused a little and said: “The end will come one way or another. If not here, then I’ll be targeted somewhere else.”
Dr Ahsan Naqvi*, a senior doctor who has seen Karachi at its earlier stages after partition, said that one should look beyond these killings and understand the root causes of such incidents. “Our political know-it-alls have banned student unions, which are a cradle for political understanding and thought process. Apart from that, you have poor and uneducated people in millions, and anyone who has stayed hungry for a longer period of time would know what it can make you commit,” he argued.
Dr Ahsan Naqvi also had a near escape with death, when two men accosted him outside his home, but his driver saved him by speeding ahead. Being a graduate of DJ College, he said that times have now changed, and people are getting busier than ever. This limits their focus to instant solutions rather than understanding the differences, he said.
Rejecting the protection provided by the government, he said: “It is like a walking advertisement; I am a target, please shoot me. Besides, I have got over the incident and look at things differently now.”
Meanwhile, Dr Adhi said that the PMA has spoken to the police and ministers, and even though the authorities know of the gravity of the situation, nothing has been done as yet to nab the killers. Despite sounding frustrated with the situation, the PMA-Karachi president said that doctors will not go on strike. “I do not want my patients to suffer at any cost. We will continue our peaceful demonstration, and won’t back off that easily this time.”
* Names changed to protect identity
Source: The News, June 18, 2010