In Pakistan underworld, a cop is said to be a king

Published Mar 31, 2013 05:36pm

gambling, pakistan gambling, corruption, violence
Pakistani men play cards in an alley of a neighborhood. -Photo by AP

KARACHI: A corrupt, low-level cop with a healthy dose of street smarts rises to control hundreds of illegal gambling dens in Pakistan's largest city. By doling out millions of dollars in illicit proceeds, he protects his empire and becomes one of the most powerful people in Karachi.

The allegations against Mohammed Waseem Ahmed — or Waseem "Beater" as he is more commonly known — emerged recently from surprise testimony by a top police commander before a crusading anti-crime Supreme Court judge. The story has given a rare and colorful glimpse into the vast underworld in Karachi, a chaotic metropolis of 18 million people on Pakistan's southern coast.

The sprawling city has become notorious for violence, from gangland-style killings and kidnappings to militant bombings and sectarian slayings. Further worrying authorities have been signs that the Pakistani Taliban are using the chaos to gain a greater foothold in the city.

For months, the Supreme Court's Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry has been leading special hearings on Karachi's crime, berating the city's top police officers for failing to act. This past week, he demanded they move in to clean up so-called "no-go" areas — entire neighborhoods where police fear to tread — according to local press reports.

Further fueling the problem is rampant police corruption, undermining efforts to combat the city's violent gangs and extremists. Among the public, the police nationwide are seen as the country's most crooked public sector organization, a high bar given claims of pervasive corruption throughout the government.

The allegations surrounding Ahmed further fuel questions about the overlap between Karachi's underworld and its police forces. After the testimony to the Supreme Court earlier this year, police officials in Karachi provided The Associated Press with additional details over his reported rise.

The AP made repeated attempts to contact Ahmed, who has been removed from the force and fled to Dubai, but was not successful.

Ahmed came from a poor family in Karachi's old city and joined the police force in the 1990s. He soon started working as a "beater," a low-level thug who works for more senior cops to collect a cut from illegal activities in their area, such as gambling, prostitution and drug dealing, said half a dozen police officers who knew him personally at the time. They all spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.

Ahmed, who sports a bushy black mustache and usually dresses in a simple, white shalwar kameez, earned a reputation for carrying out his illicit work efficiently, said two police officers who have known him ever since he joined the force. That reputation helped him forge relationships with more senior figures, and eventually he was collecting money for some of the top police officers and civilian security officials in Karachi, they said.

The heavyset 40-year-old also attracted the attention of a local boss who controlled the largest concentration of illegal gambling dens in Karachi, located in the city's rough and tumble Ghas Mandi area, where Ahmed worked, said the policemen and a local journalist. The two teamed up to expand their gambling empire to other parts of Karachi and surrounding Sindh province.

Gambling was not always illegal in Pakistan, a nation of 180 million people that gained independence from Britain in 1947 as a sanctuary for Muslims who did not believe they could thrive as part of what is now India, a majority Hindu state. Despite the religious undertones of Pakistan's founding, the country's major cities, such as Karachi and Lahore, were relatively liberal places in the first few decades after independence. Alcohol flowed freely in nightclubs filled with dancing girls.

But in 1977, Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto banned gambling and alcohol for Muslims in an attempt to appease Islamic hard-liners. Drinking and gambling, which are forbidden in Islam, didn't stop, but much of it was driven underground.

The gambling dens in Ghas Mandi are hidden behind nondescript facades down dark alleyways with tangled electrical wires hanging overhead in one of the oldest and densest populated parts of Karachi.

In one den, a dozen men dressed in shalwar kameez sat in a semicircle on the floor playing a local card game, mang patta, beneath bare bulbs hanging from the ceiling. The men sipped tea and tossed 100 rupee ($1) poker chips at the dealer.

In an adjacent room, a handful of men played chakka, a game that involved guessing the numbers that would appear when the dealer rolled three dice out of what looked like an old leather Yahtzee cup. Rupee notes were placed on a table as bets and held in place by a large metal washer. Everyone stopped their games when the Muslim call to prayer came over a loudspeaker from a nearby mosque — and they promptly resumed the dice and cards once the prayer ended.

"Civilian officials, who also benefit from corruption, have shown no willingness to reform the system, making the force relatively ineffective in cracking down on criminal gangs and militants in the city."
Ahmed earned tens of thousands of dollars each day from hundreds of such gambling dens, said the policemen and journalist who knew him. He also collected extortion money from drug dealers and brothels and smuggled diesel fuel into Karachi from neighboring Iran, where it is much cheaper, they said.

He distributed cash to senior officials, and the pay-outs made him one of the most powerful people in Karachi's police force, said his acquaintances. He won significant influence over who was posted to senior positions, thus providing him with protection, they said.

Known as a man of few words who rarely loses his cool, Ahmed also handed out money to Karachi's powerful criminal gangs and traveled with roughly a dozen armed guards as an insurance policy.

He was sailing smoothly through the underworld until one of the Supreme Court sessions in January.

A petitioner outlined to the court allegations of Ahmed's illicit activities and his power in the police force. Chief Justice Chaudhry then asked senior police officers and civilian officials who were present about the allegations. They all expressed ignorance.

But Deputy Inspector General Bashir Memon spoke up and backed the petitioner's claims.

"I said yes, Waseem 'Beater' is present among the ranks of the Karachi police. He controls the gambling business in Karachi," Memon told The Associated Press. "I also confirmed that he is involved in the transfer and posting of junior and senior police officers."

Another senior police officer in Sindh province, Sanaullah Abbasi, also testified that he knew Ahmed and that he controlled gambling dens in Karachi.

Chaudhry lambasted the senior officials for not going after Ahmed and asked Memon whether he was concerned about contradicting his colleagues.

"I replied, 'I only told you the truth,'" Memon told the AP.

As a sign of Ahmed's power, Memon said he was told the same day he would be transferred out of Karachi, but the Supreme Court canceled the transfer order.

Ahmed was dismissed from the police force after the Supreme Court hearing, according to two senior police officers, and government records indicate he flew to Dubai and has not returned.

Hassan Abbas, an expert on the Pakistani police at the New York-based Asia Society, said Ahmed's case provides a stark illustration of the level of corruption in the Karachi police force, which he described as the worst in any of Pakistan's major cities. Criminal cases are currently pending against 400 police officers serving in Karachi, said Abbas.

Civilian officials, who also benefit from corruption, have shown no willingness to reform the system, making the force relatively ineffective in cracking down on criminal gangs and militants in the city, said Abbas.

"The chaos in Karachi provides criminal gangs with the cover they need to operate," said Abbas. "Corruption provides an incentive to continue that chaos."

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Comments (25) (Closed)


Siyalkotia
Mar 31, 2013 03:25pm
Islamic Republic Of Pakistan, Zindabad. And we want to claim to be the leader of the Islamic world.
Hasnain Haque
Mar 31, 2013 03:44pm
Pakistan an Islamic Republic, democratic and civilized nation, hmmm nothing Islamic, democratic or civilized about Pakistan.
m k
Mar 31, 2013 03:52pm
these currupt politician hires policeman in their constituency, so they can control everything as mafia. in return police is doing same thing, and in short our civilian are helpless against these police and politician mafia. inshallah change will come..there bosses are controlling from overseas.. if they are patriot like they cliam, then why not come to pakistan like mushraff did. atleast he is brave and not currupt.
abbastoronto
Mar 31, 2013 04:15pm
.
abbastoronto
Mar 31, 2013 04:17pm
People get what they deserve. Corruption in the govt and police is a reflection of corruption in the soul, psyche, religion of the people.
A.Khan
Mar 31, 2013 04:26pm
"he was collecting money for some of the top police officers and civilian security officials in Karachi" And that statement in itself tells you why Karachi finds itself in this predicament. Everyone... politicians, bureaucrats, army etc. exploit this situation.
Asif Raza
Mar 31, 2013 04:33pm
our police didn't just control gambling but all illegal works going on in our beloved city including kidnapping,bribe , support illegal arm supply, supporting banned organization , helping target killers , etc.. in western countries police protect civilian but here police is against everything legitimate.. this is called hypocrisy.. we must step up and get raid of this cancerous cells from our country. only we can help ourselfs
Tariq
Mar 31, 2013 05:44pm
With endemic corruption where the law is armpit deep in aiding and abetting crime where, how and who begins the clean up process??
Akram
Mar 31, 2013 07:24pm
this kind of high level corruption can only be dealt with at the federal level, using intelligence to provide information. the FIA must be freed from political appointments and given free hand to go after such mafias. in addition, the police itself needs to have internal affairs division dedicated to keeping an eye on the police. when you clean the people at the top, the rest will follow.
Khan
Mar 31, 2013 09:57pm
Karachi is Dubai for other provinces, the police is hired from other provinces and internal Sindh on fake PRC, the police and rangers do not have any interest in Karachi peace they are more interested in making money and buying property in their province of association. Ahmed is lucky as being a native of Karachi and getting a job in Karachi police.
Siyalkotia
Mar 31, 2013 10:05pm
I think we should make it compulsory to offer Namaz 10 times a day. Every Friday must be Off Day. We must have Kashmir Day once a month. We must have Palestine Day once a month. We must Have Osama Shaheed Day once a month. How else can we prove that we are Leader Of The Islamic World. After all, we are the purset form of Muslims.
Cyrus Howell
Mar 31, 2013 10:58pm
"Ahmed came from a poor family in Karachi’s old city and joined the police force in the 1990s. He soon started working as a “beater,” a low-level thug who works for more senior cops to collect a cut from illegal activities in their area, such as gambling, prostitution and drug dealing..." . If Ahmed and the police move in on a house of prostitution or a gambling den or a drug dealer who are they going to run to for "protection"? The police station? They must pay the police in order to keep operating. Beatings occur to convince criminals they have to make payments on time. So long as the criminals payoff they get better police protection than the citizens.
Cyrus Howell
Mar 31, 2013 11:02pm
The criminals are protected by the police and the police are protected by the judges and politicians.
Amir
Mar 31, 2013 11:16pm
I think you missed the point. Only in a democratic setup would this come to light. If you ever get the chance watch the movie Gangs of New York, its set during the american civil war. This was democratic country but the gangs ran the most important city. You will see parallels.
hyderphd74
Mar 31, 2013 11:50pm
We are the leader of the Islamic world----in corruption, in dishonesty, in mass murders, in bribery, in savage and brutal killings, and the list goes on and on. Do you want to know more areas where we are undisputed leader? Dawn will have to come out with a supplement edition if it decides to name them all ! We are way high in corruption and way low in providing security to our general population. Long live the Islamic Republic of Pakistan !!! What a name we have selected.
Shahid
Apr 01, 2013 03:56am
Great investigative reporting. Such things are needed to give broad publicity and exposed by turing into documentaries on local Urdu TV to reach maximum number of people. Raising public awareness would certainly help in curbing some of such activities because these can reduce high level patronage either out of shame or through fear of action
Ahmed Mustafa
Apr 01, 2013 05:49am
Nothing new. I pray that new elections will bring sincere people and pave the way for a better, honest, just, and speedy civil system. All sincere Pakistan vote for a better change. Vote for facts not for face. Vote for value not for valuables. Vote for truth not for trust, vote for ikhlas not imam, vote for honesty not for 'your honour', vote for ikhlaq not for ilm, vote for insaan not for faristha, vote for humility not for humara, vote for hum sub ka Pakistan not for mera Pakistan, vote for hum sub ki aulad not for mere aulad, and above all pray for Pakistan. It is our identity, our destiny, our Pakistan.
umair
Apr 01, 2013 06:01am
No, all thugs get protection due to (our) public silence, indifference and ignorance
Umar
Apr 01, 2013 09:38am
Karachi has become the "garh" for making the money thorough all possible illegal ways. Moreover official Black seeps provides the protection to theses evils to exercise their activities. sigh! This is been the tragedy with this nation. Poor don't have power to resolve this and the people who got it do not want to.
Jimmy Butt
Apr 01, 2013 10:24am
Nothing new but this can be resolved. No I'm not joking. One person with one goal and a resolve to clear the country of halitosis laden unkempt useless souls. John Howrad the PM of Australia banned weapons following a killing spree by a deranged individual in the 90s. Dr Mahtir PM of Malaysia cleared his country of weapons, corruption and nepotism in the 90s and set the country on its successful course. If these men can do the impossible there must a Mahatir or Howard somewhere in the country.
Faran Ali
Apr 01, 2013 10:35am
Karachi is considered the prize of Pakistan, anyone who claims this prize is a big shot indeed. :(
zafar jay.
Apr 01, 2013 02:16pm
Agreed. Although police is a provincial subject, almost ALL police and other law enforcing agency consist of personnel from other places. They come,they see,they make money and they leave. They are aliens and a an occupational force; why should they have mercy on the people of Karachi. Karachi needs a police force cosisting of its own people, not a conquering army of thugs.
akki
Apr 01, 2013 05:03pm
u still have minorities .
majid canada
Apr 01, 2013 11:53pm
i think it was bhutto who changed the name of pakistan to islamic republic of pakistan and soon after that the problems in the country have intesified and people have done horrific crimes and mass murders in the name of islam.its about time the name changes to pakistan the way it was created by jinnah.
Siyalkotia
Apr 02, 2013 01:58am
John Howard or Dr. Mahtir didn't have to face the monster called Mullah-Brigade of Pakistan.