THE smouldering embers of Karachi’s Lyari area have burst into flames again. Several people have been killed, while port and industrial activities have been severely disrupted; the population in the area and beyond has been living in fear as state and law-enforcement machineries barricade themselves behind road blocks. Lyari residents are fleeing for their lives, leaving homes and businesses behind.

The tragedy of this can only properly be appreciated by those who remember the Lyari that used to be, the heart of old Karachi where for decades various communities existed side by side without friction. Here, a visitor could find a bustling dhaba at any hour of the night; this was where people went to have fun. Today the area may be the domain of guns, armoured personnel carriers and water cannons, but it used to be famous for the footballers and boxers it produced.

An old Kikuyu proverb says that when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers. This sums up Lyari’s predicament. The current bout of violence focuses mainly on Agra Taj and Bihar Colony, but the area as a whole has been turned into gangland as a result of a long-standing turf war between the PPP and MQM — ironically, major stakeholders in peace in Karachi. For years, Lyari was a stronghold of the former while the latter desired ingress. As part of this larger tussle, criminal gangs allegedly received patronage from political quarters and fought for control over the extortion and drugs rackets; one community ended up being pitted against the other. Obviously, when criminal elements become involved, the situation is bound to spiral out of control. Yet the PPP, while at the helm of the provincial government, is merely looking on as blood continues to be shed — even though all three of Lyari’s elected representatives belong to it. Can an answer be found in the fact that these nominees were head-hunted by Uzair Baloch of the banned People’s Amn Committee, which is accused of being involved in illegal business?

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