Watching brief - Chris Cork - Monday, April 18, 2011

The round had hit his forehead slightly left of centre and exited the back of his head taking with it every thought, dream, hope, fear or memory he ever had. His eyes were open and he looked surprised, as well he might as life had left him while he was having a cup of tea with friends at a teashop he had used for many years. He would not have been expecting to be a target. He was ‘neutral’ with no known political affiliations or enemies. But the teashop he was in the habit of drinking in was operated by an ethnic group I am constrained from naming and two men on a motorbike had come along and opened fire on it.

The owners of another shop close by opened fire on the attackers killing one and wounding the other. The innocent man who died was a director of the company my relative works for and I was shown his picture in death on the tiny screen of a mobile phone the next morning. We talked about him. He was a popular gentle man, who laughed a lot. He came from Gujrat.

I was quietly reading a book when this happened and only learned of it the next morning. When in Karachi I stay with a relative and his wife. For reasons of their own – and my – security I will not say exactly where but it is in an area which can be ‘hot’ in terms of the endless rounds of violence that convulse Karachi. I had been aware of late-night comings and goings in the apartment where I was staying, but had thought nothing much of it, turned over and gone back to sleep.

‘You must be careful, Chris’ said my relative as I set off for the office in the morning. After the shooting young men had quickly appeared with guns. There was aerial firing – which I had vaguely heard but again thought little of. Aerial firing? Happens all the time. The shops quickly closed and were still closed at ten-thirty and I was doubtful about getting transport. But lo-and-behold there was one of the taxi drivers who regularly carries me. He waved me over. ‘Office?’ he said and ‘yes’ says I and off we go.

We had not gone far when suddenly there were young men blocking the road – unarmed. One looked hard at me. I looked hard at him. I heard him say ‘Gora’ and the line parted and we were waved through. My taxi driver exhaled slowly and at some length. He got a decent tip and a guarantee of repeat business.

The next day, things having returned to normal, three of us in the office were discussing the semantics of murder. Should the newspaper say ‘target killings’ or ‘targeted killings’? Which is more grammatically correct? It was one of those finely nuanced debates that we occasionally get into, with words and phrases on the post-mortem slab. Where we got to was that perhaps neither was right but that we could not use the words that properly described what was happening when murders such as the one described in the opening paragraph of this piece, occur. And why could we not use the right words? Because of the consequences for us individually and the newspaper if we did. Consequences which I am sure I do not need to spell out for you, Dear Reader.

Cold-blooded murder is thus reduced to a euphemism. We use a coded form of expression to tell the tale of mayhem and butchery, a cheap coinage that does no honour to the dead.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail .com

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