Sitting in the semi-lit lounge at the Washington Plaza Hotel, Raza Rumi narrated the details of the fateful Friday in March when his driver died in an attack that targeted Rumi.
Raza’s driver, Mustafa, could have survived, had a good samaritan carried the injured driver to the hospital in time. But that didn’t happen.
Raza pleaded with the passersby to carry Mustafa to the hospital after they were attacked by the Lahore-based Taliban, but no one obliged.
“I was literally throwing myself on the cars, but still no one stopped,” Raza told me as his eyes teared up.
The militants came with the intent to kill. They missed their primary target, Raza. The passers-by near Raja Market in Garden Town, Lahore, or the doctors at the nearby hospital who refused to treat Mustafa, did not intend to aid the murderers. But this is precisely what they did.
Their apathy towards the dying driver supported the murderous designs of the militants.
What happened to Mustafa is not new. It happens every day in Pakistan where victims are left to die on the roadside.
On September 17, 1997, the same fate met five Iranian air force cadets and their Pakistani driver. They were ambushed near Choor Chowk in Rawalpindi by the sectarian militants who showered their vehicle with bullets.
The vehicle, with the injured cadets attracted scores of onlookers, but none with the courage to transport the injured to the hospital.
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A Major with the Frontier Works Organisation on his way to work stopped and rushed the injured to the hospital. One cadet survived, while five Iranian cadets and their driver perished in the attack. If it were not for the Major, the sixth cadet would have met the same tragic fate.
Nothing was odd or peculiar on March 28 evening when Raza’s car neared Raja Market. He was accompanied by a security guard and a driver, who were both seated in the front. His car slowed near a turn when Raza heard fires being shot.
“I thought people were doing aerial firing, which is a routine occurrence at weddings,” he says. But then Raza saw flashes and the sound of broken glass forced him to duck.
“I immediately laid on the floor of the car with my head under the driver’s seat. I could hear the shots while the glass from the windows kept falling on my back.”
The attack was over in seconds. Raza remained lying on the car’s floor. He could hear his guard, Anwar, asking him to respond.
“Sir Ji, please don’t fall asleep (don’t die on me),” Anwar said to Raza, who was in a shock and did not know if it was safe to stand up.
As he emerged from the car, his clothes were soaked with blood. He tried to locate the wound on himself before realising that the blood wasn’t his; it was Mustafa’s, who was gravely wounded. Anwar was also hit in the hand.
The car had drifted after Mustafa was shot and crashed against a lamp post. It came to a halt directly under the bright street light.
Many a victim in terrorism-stricken Pakistan have died along roadsides because they did not receive medical attention in time. And even when they’re able to reach a hospital, the doctors refuse to treat the patient. Denying medical service to those in need should be a punishable offence, carrying strict penalties.
It isn’t just apathy.
People choose not to stand witness to crimes committed by organised criminal mafias, such as the al Qaeda-affiliated sectarian outfit which targeted Raza Rumi. Apart from being concerned for their personal safety, these cases take decades to conclude.
Pakistan is not a safe place for witnesses of high-profile terrorism cases. Even members of the Police and the Armed Forces are no longer safe.
Raja Saqlain, the police inspector who apprehended the sectarian terrorists responsible for murdering the Iranian cadets and their Pakistani driver, was killed by the same militant group in July 2004.
Since March 2008, Amnesty International believes 34 journalists may have been killed in Pakistan in the line of duty. Amnesty investigated 74 cases and found that only two cases reached convictions. This does not bode well for journalists in Pakistan.
Raza Rumi and Hamid Mir, despite their ordeals, are fortunate to continue to have the gift of life. Raza also acknowledges he is extremely lucky, but at the same time he is contemplating his return to Pakistan. That will not be wise.
Abdul Rauf Gujjar of Badami Bagh, Lahore, was apprehended by the police for attacking Raza. Gujjar and his gang admitted murdering several others, including Dr. Ali Haider and his young son, Murtaza Haider.
Unlike thousands of others, Raza has survived to tell his story. He should think of living and not leaving.
Those who can not spare a child do not believe in giving second chances.