KARACHI: It seems like any other day at Lyari’s Agra Taj Colony. People walk about frantically, wanting to get their work done quickly, as traffic goes on at its usual pace. However, it is a different story once you enter the streets of Mandhra Mohalla.
Pockmarked by bullets, the street appears as if it has recently been through a war. Just about a month ago, 450 families migrated to Badin to protect themselves from what they call a “fight between criminal gangs”. An armoured personnel carrier manned by two police officers is parked there ostensibly to create a sense of security in the area residents and just a few steps beyond it is a picket set up by what area people refer to as the gangsters.
Mohammad Ali Kutchhi, a labourer by day and rickshaw driver by night, is one of the few who confronted the gangsters and survived. “The picket that you see over there is where these people sit and harass passersby. Nobody is spared. They harass men, women and even children,” he said angrily. About the policemen posted on Mandhra Street, Mr Kutchhi said: “They (policemen) are on their (gangsters’) payroll.”
An elderly man named Ghulam Rasool Kutchhi said people did not get out of their homes after 6pm. “Either armed men just patrol this street or pick fights with passersby. We cannot fight them,” he said.
Every household from there onwards has a story to tell. Those who recently came back after fleeing to a family member’s or to Badin found their belongings stolen. While some people lost their moveable property, others lost their entire homes to the gangsters.
Hashim Hingoro, a tall man in his late 30s, said their home had been stripped of all furniture. “There is no chance of getting it back. Who do we complain to?”
A shopkeeper at the main commercial street in Agra Taj Colony, Ali Akbar, was among the first ones to leave the area. After returning from his relative’s place a day back, he found his home in utter disorder with most belongings missing. Squatting in front of his home, he said: “The men took my wife’s jewellery, the cash that we had kept for circumstances like this; everything is missing.” He added that before leaving they had bolted the door shut. It was wide open when the family returned. “It’s been a month since I have been to work. My shop is closed and I’m scared of opening it now,” he added.
Speaking on reports about the Kutchhi Rabita Committee being backed by a political party, he said: “Wouldn’t we be much safer here if we were supported by a political party rather than migrating to far off places?”
When Akram Baloch, media-in-charge of the banned Peoples Amn Committee, was asked about it, he said most of what was happening in the area was driven by politics. When asked whether the recent conflict with the Kutchhis was due to the ongoing turf war in the city, Mr Baloch said: “This is not a conflict of extorting money or encroaching land. The fight is about not letting any other party distort facts.”
He added that the gunshots were fired from the other side as well, which he alleged was backed by political parties. “As much as the media wants to make it a conflict between the two communities, it is not. It is a political fight between the Pakistan Peoples Party and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which is not going to end anytime soon.”