To South Asia correspondents who frequently travel around Pakistan and are invariably stopped on the streets and in the marketplaces and asked whether they report for the British Broadcasting Corp., today's angry attacks and hand grenade blast in northern Karachi held a particularly bitter irony.
For many Pakistanis, the BBC is the only channel of uncensored information in a country controlled by martial law and with only bland, state-owned radio and television.
The news, broadcast here in Urdu and English over the BBC World Service programming, more often than not is by Mark Tully, a veteran New Delhi-based correspondent who is remembered most by Pakistanis for his incisive reporting of the overthrow and execution of Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto by the military junta led by President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq.
"Are you Mark Tully of the BBC?" I have been asked seemingly innumerable times when surrounded by street urchins, beggars and shopkeepers in the crowded streets of Karachi and Peshawar and by other Pakistanis across the country.
The response that, no, I represent The Washington Post, invariably draws partially veiled sighs of disappointment.
When a mob of tough-looking working class Zia supporters from the mean streets of Karachi's Liaquatabad neighborhood surrounded me and my colleagues today--while Tully was half an hour's drive away sending a dispatch to London--their threatening chants against the ferenghe foreign reporters and cries of "Mark Tully mordibad" death to Mark Tully seemed out of place, not to mention unfair.
The mob made the decision of whether we should leave an easy one, as it pushed and shoved us away from the opposition demonstration, pummeling some of the reporters and poking others as the mob moved along the crowded, traffic-filled and chaotic streets.
At the nearby police substation, the scene took on a surrealistic lynch-mob atmosphere.
The crowd had now swelled to hundreds and had gathered outside the gate chanting epithets at the absent Tully.
A police official explained that at least two of the British nationals among the eight besieged correspondents had been mistaken for Tully by the angry protesters, and that there was no reasoning with them.
When a hand grenade exploded close to a few reporters who had approached a small building near the police compound gate, the thought occurred to at least one of them that foreign newspapers are scarcely seen in most of Pakistan and that this crowd probably could think of a more legitimate grievance if it tried.
Several of the reporters also wondered aloud where Tully might be.
Correspondents who have covered riots and revolutions before are no better than anyone else in gauging the severity of an explosion in a moment of panic and confusion, and it was not until several plainclothes policemen fell or staggered away bleeding from their wounds that it became clear that a grenade had been thrown.
Where we had forcefully argued our way out of a secure holding room in the compound only minutes before in order to move closer to the street, we moved willingly back to the holding room until things became clearer.
The police seemed increasingly worried that the confrontation might become an international incident and repeatedly warned the group that if it did not keep out of sight of the mob our lives would be in danger.
Even after the mob had been dispersed and we were loaded into a truck along with policemen armed with automatic rifles and tear gas launchers, one final, tense moment occurred as we drove into what seemed like a hopeless traffic jam near the site of the riot in full view of thousands of Liaquatabad residents.
In the typically unpredictable manner of the Subcontinent, some of them shouted parting insults while others smiled and waved cheerfully, apparently pleased by the hasty withdrawal.