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Much Ado About Lyari

It is dirty politics – the war waged against drug traffickers and extortionists.

All began after gangsters shot dead Pakistan Peoples Party local leader Malik Muhammad Khan and a CID sleuth on April 26. Lyari operation spanned eight days. It ended after the administration boasted of wiping out most of the outlaws with a vow of a final assault in a not-too-distant future. The tall claims ethered into thin air as guns went silent; so the gangsters. A threadbare analysis of series of events leaves many questions unanswered. It appears, the offensive against Lyari gangsters was either ill-conceived or there was no plan at all. The strategy was notably missing.

One fine morning people wake up to know that an army of police commandos and FC personnel have besieged Lyari. Instructions given to them were crystal clear: the operation aimed at nipping the evil in the bud once and for all. During the operation, some thirty-eight people perished including the CID personnel, cops and an inspector of police. One hundred and fifty people were reported injured with gunshots including children and women. When law enforcers tried to creep into narrow and shadowy streets of Lyari, they came across an acute resistance – a reaction for which they were unprepared both physically and mentally.

Gangsters kept police busy in exchange of gunfire. They were using Light Machine Guns (LMGs), Rockets Propeller Guns (RPGs), Hand Grenades and Avan – a large weapon used to cause large scale devastation. SSP CID Chauhdry Aslam confirmed on record usage of such high caliber automatic weapons against police.

All began after gangsters shot dead Pakistan Peoples Party local leader Malik Muhammad Khan and a CID sleuth on April 26.
However, top police officials and elected representatives equally turned helpless in solving the serious question: How such lethal weapons reached into the hands of gangsters? Another reality now hounding the rank and file in law enforcement department: what if the gangsters get hold of weapons from Nato arsenal.

A pragmatic approach towards this issue requires a fair but ruthless probe. Such weapons would have not been smuggled into Lyari overnight. They were brought into city first; and then Lyari. Why those sitting at the helm of affairs have no clue of such transportation? How the cache seeped through city’s check points? When all was happening in broad day light, who were the SHOs of different areas of Lyari Town during this course of the evil and why were they unable to even smell a rat?

Resembling the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, weapons have seized upon the mystique of the poorly-enriched Baloch society. People became out of stocks of essential edibles. Those who ventured to get an errand to eke out their living paid the price of their lives. In many cases, people were brought to the hospital with gunshots as they had come out from their houses to get something to eat for their crying infants and ailing parents.

Lyari is in close proximity with Karachi Port. The thoroughfare, known as Gulbai Road, starts from Kemari Bridge and passes through Lyari to Super Highway via Northern Bypass. Entire Nato and US consignments move to their destination after passing through Lyari. Therefore, trouble in Layari means blockade of Nato supply from Karachi Port. Most of the Port workforce comes from Lyari and adjacent areas. One day strike in Lyari, as some shippers says, will halt 50 per cent freight movement at the Port.

In many cases, people were brought to the hospital with gunshots as they had come out from their houses to get something to eat for their crying infants and ailing parents.
The Nato supply drew attention of US and UK in the area. Baloch have their ancestral homes in the restive parts of Balochistan such as Dera Bugti, Turbat and Punjgore. The government of Pakistan has many a time raised issue of United States and Indian interference in Balochistan. Training camps of Baloch terrorists in Afghanistan is another ground reality.
Apart from the bloodbath during Lyari operation, the only apparent success turned out is head money for the most notorious gangsters. Sindh Government fixed prices on some ten culprits of Lyari gang war and Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP). The provincial government has vowed a reward of Rs2 million on arrest of Uzair Jan Baloch, dead or alive. The Baloch who once was the blue-eyed boy of former Interior Minister of Sindh, Dr Zulfiqar Ali Mirza – the spouse of sitting speaker National Assembly Dr Fehmida Mirza.

The others, who can make one rich if kept dead or alive include: Baba Ladla’ Rs 3 million, Rashid alias Reekha’ Rs1.5 million, Ibrahim Katchi’ Rs1 million, Zaman Mehsud of TTP’ Rs2.5 million, Khair Mohammad Mehsud of TTP’ Rs2 million. Among them also is Ilyas alias Pappu Rs2 million. The name of Pappu under head money surprised many Balochis in Lyari. The Peoples Aman Committee (PAC)  was confused too. Soon they termed it a political gimmick by the government. The PAC and Ilyas Pappu group are arch rivals. The later is considered non-Balochi, non-Sindhi gang operating in Lyari.

The PPP’s growing unpopularity in Lyari is noteworthy. It is equally fascinating to speculate who will emerge as a replacement to the PPP in Lyari.  Uzair Jan Baloch, head of the PAC, has promised to contest elections against PPP’s co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of President Asif Ali Zardari.
Soon after the notification of a reward on his head, Uzair Jan Baloch resurfaced in public. Hundreds of men, women and children gathered around him. They chanted slogans in his favour. They prayed a long life for him. The Baloch relished the moment for quite some time. Then he held a press conference. Uzair Jan Baloch defied the government action. He mocked it at his will. He was saying, ‘I will surrender. Not to this police and FC but Punjab Rangers.

Rangers are always welcomed in Lyari. The PAC has much faith in Rangers than Police. The PAC believes that police support its adversaries, especially infamous encounter specialist ‘SSP CID Chauhdry Aslam. The PAC is an offshoot of Rehman Dacoit group. The notorious gangster was killed in a police encounter some four years ago. Some sort of serenity and sensibility prevailed once Rangers had moved into Lyari.

Many in Lyari and outside the town believe that the operation began after the banned Peoples’ Aman Committee invited PML(N) Sindh chief Ghous Ali Shah to visit Lyari: one of the oldest places in Karachi, stronghold of ruling Pakistan People’s Party. It was Uzair Jan Baloch who took the initiative of leaning to Mian Nawaz Sharif’s PML(N). This alarmed the government. Is this a conspiracy theory or a ground reality? No rocket science is required. All one needs to realise is that the general elections are approaching fast. This is what a majority of Lyariites think.

The PPP’s growing unpopularity in Lyari is noteworthy. It is equally fascinating to speculate who will emerge as a replacement to the PPP in Lyari.  Uzair Jan Baloch, head of the PAC, has promised to contest elections against PPP’s co-chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the son of President Asif Ali Zardari. This is an extraordinary decision considering the fact that Mr Baloch is too popular among the youth of his town. The PPP government views him as the ‘most wanted’ of Lyari.

Uzair Jan Baloch came into light when Zulfiqar Mirza re-polished Peoples Aman Committee. The PAC had long worked for the Pakistan People’s Party. The PPP has abandoned the PAC, basically a Baloch organisation with most members from the tribes of Balochistan. They naturally are in contacts with their brothers in Balochistan. The Baloch Liberation Army is no exception.

Historically, Lyari has served as a nerve of the Baloch politics, culture and literature. Even today, biggest Balochi music and film production houses are located in Lyari. The town is also the centre of Karachi’s African-descended Sheedi community. Lyari Town homes a large number of Baloch Muslim Communities, such as the Sulemani Baloch, Makrani Baloch, Mandi Baloch, Khosa Baloch, Durrazai Baloch, Broai Baloch, Jadghal Baloch and Mullazai Baloch along with many more communities like Kutchi Muslim, Gujrati Muslim and Chhipa.

If the primary causes of violence in Lyari and elsewhere in Karachi ‘such as unemployment, economic inequality, poor physical infrastructure and high population density are not addressed properly’ Lyari will continue providing human fodder to organisations such as the People’s Aman Committee.
Lyari is the most underdeveloped section of Karachi. It reflects the opposite side of economic opportunities. The youth in Lyari is unemployed, uneducated and sick. The government has done little to improve people’s lives. The government does not give the Baloch a sense of ownership and participation.

In a city like Karachi where ethnic politics is more deep-rooted than any other place in Pakistan, the Baloch, unlike the Mohajirs, Sindhis and the Pashtuns, have not formed any ethnic party of their own. The Baloch are the only major indigenous ethnic people in Karachi who did not play the ethnicity card in city’s politics. Since its inception, the PPP has manipulated the Baloch vote in Karachi without ever reasonably paying back to its voters with quality education, clean drinking water and improved health facilities.

The elected MNA from Lyari, a prominent leader of PPP, Mr Nabeel Gabol must not be at ease with this grisly situation. He has already demanded a judicial inquiry over the facts and circumstances behind the police operation in Lyari. Mr Gabol wrote a letter to the Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. He urged the high office to investigate the deaths of innocent people and bring the culprits to justice. Certain quarters believe Mr Gabol’s letter to PM is not simple as it seems. Between the lines, the letter demands an inquiry over killing of innocent people by the hands of police commandos. It demands probe against the killer cops. It wants them to be brought to justice.

In the early 1960s, in the times of Sherok and Dadul (the old gangster kingpins of Lyari), violence was not as organised as it is today. Now it revolves around the market for illegal weapons and drugs, both of which, incidentally, are not made in Lyari.

When MQM exerted too much pressure and threatened to quit ruling alliance ‘The PPP deprived Zulfiqar Mirza of the Interior Minister portfolio. It also distanced itself from PAC. Later, Sindh government declared PAC a banned outfit.
If the primary causes of violence in Lyari and elsewhere in Karachi ‘such as unemployment, economic inequality, poor physical infrastructure and high population density are not addressed properly’ Lyari will continue providing human fodder to organisations such as the People’s Aman Committee.

Ubiquitous gang activity and a thriving narcotic industry make Lyari one of the most disturbed places in Karachi.

Lyari is known as a football hotbed in Pakistan. Many of the nation’s top players come from the area. Football is so popular that crime levels dip significantly during the FIFA World Cup season.

The operation also took lives of two young famous soccer players of the town. One was known as ‘Pele’ of Lyari.

According to the government version, Lyari has become the hub of activities of ‘gangsters’, Taliban as well as Baloch nationalists. No high-profile gangster, BLA member or Taliban leader was killed or arrested in this operation. The SSP CID displayed to media a number of times seized cache of arms and ammunition from Lyari gangsters.  The SSP also claimed on record of having killed at least seven big gangsters and arrested several kingpins. But none of the nabbed gangsters was produced in a court of law. No one knows where are they? Lyariites now consider them missing persons.

Now, Baloch think, the PPP is in fact not worried about the presence of gangsters in Lyari because they were actually formed and pampered by itself in an effort to counter its political rival, the Muthida Quomi Movement (MQM), a Karachi-based Mohajir-ethnic party notorious for mixing violence with politics. When MQM exerted too much pressure and threatened to quit ruling alliance ‘The PPP deprived Zulfiqar Mirza of the Interior Minister portfolio. It also distanced itself from PAC. Later, Sindh government declared PAC a banned outfit.

The dirty politics is a blessing in disguise at least for the democratic Baloch parties, which are still now restraining themselves to the Baluchistan province. Now, the nationalism in Lyari is rising. The lesson from Lyari is clear: Democratic Baloch parties, not armed gangs, must emerge to represent the people of Lyari. It is for the people of the area to decide whether they would welcome the Baluchistan-based political parties inside Lyari or they create a new democratic front to guard their own interest. Or they will trust people like Uzair Jan Baloch. The general elections are not a far cry.

Addressing socioeconomic, political and other challenges faced by the people in Lyari need more attention rather than costly operations for the replacement of unfavoured groups of people or gangs by another privileged mafia.

By: Asad Kaleem

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