Setting Buildings on Fire is Terrorism: Arson Attacks must be Treated as Terrorism in Pakistan 

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By Tariq Majeed : –

When will the Civil and Military Authorities realize that arson is an integral component of Organized Terrorism, which is being used to carry out a war against Pakistan? Terrorism is combined with all other forms of Sabotage, including Arson that is most destructive in its overall effects.  By definition, “Arson is a crime of intentionally, deliberately and maliciously setting fire to buildings, etc.”

 Matter of Shocking Negligence  

Terrorism is a global phenomenon; countries facing it are also hit with arson attacks. There are lessons to be learnt from such cases in other countries. Our concern, however, is our own country, and there is much to learn from incidents of arson in our country. But, unfortunately, nothing has been learnt so far. There is shocking negligence on the part of the counter-terrorism civil, military and police authorities and the mainstream media in not giving serious attention to burning of factories, hotels, shopping plazas, homes, even governmental institutions and offices.

Only they can explain the reason for this glaring negligence. We can only guess: perhaps they were afraid of adding this horror to the existing heap of horrors of ongoing Terrorism that continues to be uncontrollable, or perhaps they were just too busy grappling with the daily problems of security and administration to take a closer look at the incidents of arson. Whatever the reason, the negligence was unpardonable. Arson has caused immense losses in terms of life and property.

Un-investigated and Unchecked

Remaining un-investigated and unchecked, arson attacks, and deaths and destruction caused by them, have been piling up. There have been hundreds of arson incidents in Pakistan in recent years. Just 34 are listed at Encl 1; out of these, 23 occurred in 2016 and 2017. People feel frustrated and miserable.

What to talk of investigation? After almost every incident, the cause is said to be short-circuiting; and this is repeated—much like a poll parrot that has been taught a single phrase! It can be seen at Enclosure 1.  Short-circuiting as the alleged cause, closes the door to questions and inquiry. Here is a point to learn from, as reported in The Nation, 16 June 2017, regarding the massive fire at London’s 24-storey Grenfell Tower in June 2017: Questions are growing about how the flames spread so quickly, engulfing the tower’s 120 apartments in what fire chiefs said was an unprecedented blaze.”

Apart from short-circuiting, the blame for the fire is put on the owners and managers of the premises affected—for not taking safety measures! This is cruelty to them. On the one hand they suffer severe losses due to the fire and on the other hand they are victimized by the police. Can the authorities imagine their plight?

The real culprits, the trained arsonists, who are causing the fires, remain free and untraceable. No thought is given to sabotage as the cause of fires, or to a basic point of intelligence that short-circuiting, gas leakage, cylinder blasts, etc., can be set up covertly by saboteurs. It is tragic that even when sabotage is clearly visible in an act of arson, the authorities still ignore it. The News, Dec 30, 2014, under the headline, Karachi, Lahore markets catch fire on same day for second time, wrote:

It is eyebrow-raising that two separate fires have again gutted Karachi and Lahore business centres on the same day and within hours from each other! An inferno at Karachi’s Timber Market had erupted at 12:30 am on Monday, Dec 29, 2014, and a commercial Plaza in Anarkali, Lahore, had caught fire on the same evening! It may be mere coincidence, but looking at the pattern, investigators should not rule out terrorism. It was the same story on Sept 11, 2012. Infernos in a Garments Unit in Baldia Town, Karachi, and a Shoe Factory in Gulshan Ravi, Lahore, had wreaked havoc on the same date, killing 270 and injuring more than 600 persons!

Wasn’t planned sabotage visible in these four acts of arson? In fact, sabotage is apparent in almost every incident of fire listed at Enclosure 1.

What Needs to be Done Urgently

Once Counter Terrorism Authorities realize that Arson is a part of the ongoing Terrorism, they will inevitably take the required necessary actions. However, they are requested to take following measures on urgent basis.

  • Citizens of all categories and classes should be warned through wide publicity that terrorists trained in arson are setting fire to buildings, houses, factories, hotels, offices, etc, and they create electricity short-circuiting, gas leaks, cylinder blasts, etc, to start the fire. So, citizens should be on guard and should take precautions.
  • Special arson investigation teams, including firefighting and police officials, should be formed. Every incident of fire should be investigated at the site. Experts say, “One effective way to find the cause of a fire is to determine its point of origin.” A key question is how does the fire spread so fast that even adult persons cannot escape?
  • Owners/managers of affected premises should be asked to assist in inquiries and not be treated as guilty party. All cases wrongly holding them responsible for fire at their premises should be withdrawn. It is silly to say that “lack of safety standards led to the tragedy”, as noted in the report of the misguided, hasty inquiry in the Nov 2, 2016 fire at the Gadani ship-breaking yard.

Encl 1: Some Incidents of Fire, Arson in Pakistan

Enclosure-1

Some Incidents of Fire, Arson in Pakistan

Listed below are stories of just a few incidents of arson that occurred in recent years in Pakistan. Source in each case is The Nation, unless mentioned otherwise.

2013

 May 9, Lahore.  Fire erupted in the 7th floor of LDA Plaza, apparently as a result of electricity short-circuiting.  It caused severe damage to the building and claimed lives of over two dozens of employees. Three top floors of the plaza were left shattered and entire estate-related record of LDA turned into ash.

October 27, Sunday, Islamabad. Peshawar Chief Commissioner and one of his close relatives sustained burn injuries when their flat at the Pak Tower F-10 Markaz caught fire due to gas leakage. They were rushed to PIMS Hospital Burn Centre with critical wounds where doctors believe chances were small for the victims to recover, as 90 per cent of their bodies were severely affected. Chief Commissioner  Sahibzada Anees arrived on Friday in Islamabad for his family visit.

2014

 April 1, Lahore, dailymotion.com .  Fire at the CenturyTower Plaza at Kalma Chowk, Garden Town. Fire Started at the 4th Floor of the Plaza, and quickly spread to the 5th floor. The Fire caused millions of rupees of damage.

 September 23, Lahore. A fire broke out in the basement of Central Model School at Rattigan Road …where the Election Commission had set up a godown.. hired on rent. Material including stationery and bags was reduced to ashes.

 September 28, Lahore, The News (Dec 30). A fire at Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited exchange, Edgerton Road, had reduced four floors to mere ashes, affecting more than 45,000 telephone lines and 25,000 Internet connections.

 December 30, Lahore, The Express Tribune. A day after a devastating conflagration at the country’s biggest timber market in Karachi, a massive fire swept through a commercial plaza in downtown Lahore, killing 13 people and gutting several shops. Electrical short circuit was the likely cause of the fire in the four-storey Al Khalid Plaza, in New Anarkali, where electronic items are manufactured and sold. Witnesses said the fire erupted at 5:32pm and within 10 minutes it engulfed the entire building; and many shopkeepers and customers were trapped in the building.

2015

 February12, Jacobabad. Several bogies of a passenger train, Sukkur Express, were set ablaze by unknown miscreants at Jacobabad Railway Station.

 April 29, Vehari. Fifty makeshift shops and valuables worth millions of rupees were burnt when a fire broke out at the Dewan Sahib Market in Burewala, on Tuesday morning. All the shops were closed when the fire started. Most shops were burnt to ashes within half an hour before any rescue team reached the site. It was said the fire had been caused by a short circuit.

 June 28, Karachi, The Express Tribune (headline)Two Grid Stations Catch Fire, Swathes of City without Power.

  August 12, Lahore. A man died and another broke his legs after they jumped off a burning plaza consisting of commercial and domestic apartments in Ichra on Tuesday. Fifty people, including women and children, trapped in the fire that engulfed the fourth and fifth floors of 11-storey plaza on busy Ferozpur Road were rescued. According to officials, short-circuit caused the fire.

 September 12, Lahore. Over 50 shops were burnt in a fire at Township Model Bazaar on Friday. According to Rescue authorities the fire was caused by short-circuit at a shop and soon spread.

2016

 February 1, Muzaffarabad. Over 15 shops were gutted when a fire erupted at around 3 pmdue to a short circuit in Trar Khel area of District Pallandri in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) on Sunday. The hardware market shops were burnt to ashes as the fire tenders could not reach the mountainous area on time.

 April 17, Lahore. Valuables worth hundreds of thousands of rupees were burnt in a fire in a garments factory near Joray Pull, in South Cantt area, on Saturday. Rescue officials said the fire broke out due to short-circuit.

 April 17, Lahore. In another incident, valuables were gutted in a fire which broke out in a plastic factory in the Ravi Road area. Rescue officials said the fire broke out due to a boiler blast in the plastic factory.

 April 22, Lahore, The News. Valuables worth millions of rupees were reduced to ashes when a fire erupted at a motorcycle and foam manufacturing factory at Guru Mangat Road on Thursday. Rescue officials said that fire broke out…reportedly due to short-circuit.

 April 29, Lahore, The News. An electricity grid station, two godowns and a shop –were burnt in different parts of the City on Thursday. Items worth millions of rupees were burnt to ashes in a fire erupted due to a short-circuit in a grid-station in the Bhatti Gate area…Electricity of the nearby areas that included Mohni Road, Shafiqabad, Bhatti  Gate, Katchery Road area remained suspended. An official of rescue department said the fire caused loss of at least Rs 40 million.

 April 29, Lahore. Valuables worth hundreds of thousands of rupees were burnt to ashes in a fire in a godown in the Shafiqabad area…the fire broke out due to a short circuit in a godown of energy savers in Zaheer Plaza, Mohni Road.

 April 29, Lahore. A fire erupted at a wood godown in Harbanspura, near Pepsi Stop. In no time, it engulfed the whole godown.

 April 29, Lahore. In another incident, valuables were burnt in a fire in a shop in Z-Block, DHA, Lahore Cantt. Rescue officials said the fire was due to a short circuit.

 May 23, Lahore, Dunya News. Fire broke out in a furniture godown at the Davis Road in Lahore in the early hours of Monday morning. Fire brigade and rescue teams reached the spot to bring the fire under control.

 November 2, Karachi.  At least 16 workers were killed and more than 50 injured after a huge blast ripped through an oil tanker being broken for scrap at Gadani. Balochistan Chief Minister Nawab Sanaullah Khan Zehri directed the deputy commissioner Lasbella to present a report within 24 hours. Zehri ordered immediate halt to the all ship breaking work at Gadani’s yard. He also ordered cancellation of the licences of those contractors violating the rules for ship breaking. It was reported on November 18, in the inquiry report of the joint committee of the federal, Balochistan and Sindh governments that lack of safety standards led to the tragedy. Balochistan government has imposed Section 144 in Gadani since the mishap, which brought the ship breaking business to a standstill. Ship breakers largely hailing from Karachi were struggling to get themselves absolved of any culpability.

2017

 January 12, Lahore. Seven young men died and several others sustained burns when a huge fire erupted in the site office of a construction company working on the Metro-train Project near Mahmood Booti interchange. Five people were burnt alive and two others died as they jumped out of the third floor to flee the fire. The blaze broke out on the third floor of the large compound at about 2:00 pm when workers were asleep. The tragedy struck the compound where tired workers were sleeping after working for 8 hours in the night shift. It was not clear what caused the blaze. An official said they were investigating the incident to find out whether the fire broke out because of short-circuiting or some cylinder blast triggered the blaze.

 January 22, Karachi. Fire erupted in tents at Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Block-1.

March 10, Karachi, Business Recorder. A fire erupted in Rajwani Denim Garments Factory in Landhi area on Friday. According to fire brigade, 12 fire fighters, two fire bowsers and one snorkel were busy in extinguishing the fire.

 April 2, Lahore. A fire erupted in two Plazas of Guddi Bazar, Anarkali, one of the busiest bazaars of the city…Fire broke out at 2:00 am on Friday  At least 25 shops turned into ashes. Goods worth millions of rupees were gutted.

 April 9, Lahore. A large shoe factory located in Lahore’s Timber Market caught fire on Saturday morning. The fire engulfed another two adjacent factories.

 April 25, Lahore. Two shops were gutted when a fire erupted on the first floor of a Multi-storey Plaza in New Anarkali on Monday afternoon. Fire fighters said apparently, the fire was caused by short-circuiting. Local traders were seen dejected as the fire destroyed their businesses.

 April 26, Lahore. A four-year-old boy was burnt alive when fire broke out at a house in Ittefaq Town near Mansoora on Tuesday afternoon. He was sleeping in the bedroom when the blaze broke out. His parents were at work. The cause of the fire was said to be short-circuit.

 May 29, Lahore. A fire broke out at a furniture showroom in Sabzazar area.

 June 21, Lahore. Furniture and a large number of office files were reduced to ashes when fire erupted in the Multi-storey offices of Accountant General Punjab on Tuesday. Investigations suggested the blaze broke out on the 4th floor of the Plaza because of short-circuiting.

 July 7, Lahore. A massive fire reduced more than 150 shop-cum-stalls into ashes at Sabzazar’s model bazaar on Thursday. On May 29, a fire broke out at a furniture showroom in the same area. According to initial investigation, the fire broke out due to short-circuiting.

July 17, Karachi. Fire in a Paper Mill in Azizabad Area. Reported by a TV Channel at about 9:30 pm, but not reported in the Nation the next day.

July 23, Chaman. Fire in a godown of wood reported by a TV Channel at about 9:00 pm; it destroyed 15 shops, but it was not reported in the Nation the next day.

July 28, 2017, Lahore, Pakistan Observer. Goods including carpets and raw material worth millions of rupees were gutted when fire broke out in a godown here at Bhatta Chowk, near Airport road on Thursday.

( Writer is retired Commodore of Pakistan Navy and an Analyst of National and International Affairs)

Views expressed are not of The London Post

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