Fellow teammates, coaches, friends and family refuse to believe that Shahzaib belonged to a gang or allied himself with gangsters. “My brother didn’t want to be part of a gang. He only wanted to be a footballer,” insists his sister Gulnisar.
Shahzaib competed with the Pakistan U14 team at the Asian Youth Games in Ninjing, China and in Iran last year. The team won four of five matches and defeated the Chinese team at the Youth Games. “Shahzaib would always tell me he wanted to do something great for all of us. He wanted to become a great footballer and that’s all he was focused on,” Gulnisar says, recalling times when she would chide her brother for the mud his boots would bring inside their home in Lyari’s Bihar Colony after his matches.
On October 9, Shahzaib went to a family wedding in Malir Number 15. He loved dancing and remained at wedding functions, celebrated in true Baloch fashion with great fervour, until the early hours of the morning.
At 4:00 am, Gulnisar’s phone rang. “My little brother was at the other end of the line, sobbing. He was scared, he told me his life was in danger and law enforcement agencies would kill him. All I could hear in the background was someone cursing and then the line got disconnected,” she recalls.
That was the last time Gulnisar would hear Shahzaib’s voice.
She tried calling him repeatedly, but was unable to get through. After 15 minutes, she called a friend who was with him. When someone finally answered the phone, Gulnisar was told that her brother was dead.
The family battled to get custody of Shahzaib’s body the next day. “The police took a day to let us have his body back,” Gulnisar says. “At the police station, we were asked, “What do you need the body for?”
When the family finally received the body at Karachi’s Jinnah Hospital, they found Shahzaib had been shot. “He had just one bullet. Only one. It was in his head,” says Zeeshan, Shahzaib’s older brother.
Shahzaib had been arrested by the police once before, a week before Eidul Fitr in July. Zeeshan says he was jailed for a month on a false FIR. “The police accused him of stealing a motorcycle, but Shahzaib said the bike belonged to his friend.
We provided the police with a license for the vehicle and his friend was accompanying him at the time of the arrest. But they still kept him locked up for a month,” Zeeshan recalled.
Police have a different story to tell. “He was a member of gangster Shehroz’s gang and we had arrested him once before for possession of a gun,” said SP Nazir, when asked about the case. Nazir said Shahzaib was accompanying another gangster: “Dr” Shoaib and two others on the night he was killed. The group allegedly fired at Rangers officials, who returned fire, thus killing Shahzaib.
“He would have become a star”
“We would spend hours at Young Panjgori FC and Mama Juman Memorial FC, planning and trying different strategies,” said 14-year-old Sarfaraz, recalling Shahzaib’s talent on the field.
“He was a lot of fun to play with,” recalls teammate Uzair Saddiq, who was with Shahzaib during the games in China and Iran. “He would make sure he would give us passes during the game. Off the field, I will never forget his laughter and his dances. He would dance to any song he would hear and it was very entertaining.”
Pakistan Football Federation official Yaqoob Baloch said Shahzaib was picked for the U14 team after trials in 2013. “He was an original street footballer,” recalls Yaqoob. “He would have become a star if he was still with us.”
However, SP Nazir insists, “There are many boxers and footballers in Lyari and they are very talented. But is this a guarantee of their character?”
Shahzaib’s mother Aleema, who works as a maid at the Korangi Government School for Special Children, says her son was a good boy. She earns Rs12,300 a month and took a loan of Rs15,000 when Shahzaib was selected for the U14 team, in order to get his passport and other documents in order. “He was paid in dollars for playing in China and he came back to Pakistan and gave me all of the money so I could pay back the loan,” Aleema said.
Aleema’s elder son Faizan was killed three years ago in an exchange of fire between two gangs in Lyari. “I could not do anything then, but this time I want justice,” she said. “I will go to Islamabad and raise a voice against Shahzaib’s killing. My son was innocent and he didn’t deserve to die like this. If he did something wrong, they could have punished him, but saying he was a gangster is painful.”
Published in The Express Tribune, November 2nd, 2014.