KARACHI Poor socio-economic conditions and police brutality have turned football players into infamous gangsters in Karachis slum Lyari - also known as 'Mini Brazil' among soccer fans.
Lyari, which has always been a hub of soccer activity, is now plagued by violence and killings as a result of what is generally described as 'gang war'. The slum which has produced dozens of football greats such as Mohammad Omar, Turab Ali, Ali Nawaz Baloch, has now degenerated into a battlefield.
While Lyari lacks infrastructure and basic amenities such as clean drinking water, roads and schools, the locality had faced a long and tense gang war between infamous Rehman Dakait and Ghaffar Zikri.
The story of Mohammad Iqbal is enough to get an idea about how innocent Lyari football players transformed into hardcore criminals.
It was in 1980s that football player Mohammad Iqbal, now popularly known as 'Babu Dakait', stepped into the ruthless world of crime because of police brutality and tactics.
'Babu Dakait was a common man and a football player, a defender. He used to represent J Brothers Football Club. It was after a small fight over some dispute involving children of the area that police registered a case against Babu and he disappeared.
'Police suggested the government (to put) Rs500,000 as head money for Babu. It was just a way to mint money by police. There was no way for Babu and he had a family to feed. These circumstances forced Babu to go into hiding and become a fearful criminal,' Babus former team-mate Ahmad Jan told Dawn.com on Monday.
Ahmad, also a former FIFA referee, says while Babus brother Mohammad Asharf was a Pakistan player, Rehman Dakait and his rival Arshad Pappu were also local football players.
'Rehman played for Rexer XI, while Arshad represented Jahanrabad Football Club before becoming gangsters. And Essa Zikri, who is the father of Ghaffar Zikri, was an international player. Football players have killed football players in this gang war just for few bucks,' said Ahmad.
But to become hardcore criminals was not by choice for the football-loving Lyari youths. While the downtrodden section of the society always found it difficult to make both ends meet because of poor economic conditions, closure of department teams added further miseries.
It was in the 1990s that several departments abolished either their sports departments or football outfits. According to an estimate, until early 1990s there were around 32 department teams in Pakistan of which some 20 belonged to Karachi. Sadly, there are hardly seven left, while others have been abolished owing to financial constraints.
'Closure of department teams has made a huge impact on football in Lyari. Previously, one could explore talent through department teams. Players then had source of income. Since so many departments have abolished their football teams, where do the players earn their living from now?
'When we see so many football players involved in negative activities, it is the result of this poor economic conditions and factors,' said former Pakistan skipper Ali Nawaz.
Ahmad says Lyari, which has seen almost 1,700 deaths because of gang war, is relatively peaceful after a truce between Rehman and Ghaffar and the formation of 'peace committees' by them.
'Interestingly, former Pakistan player Shahid Rehman is the chairman of this peace committee formed by Rehman (Dakait),' said Ahmad.
But, he laments, that drugs are still being sold on the streets in the slum, which could be more venomous than joblessness for football players.
'Killings by bullets have stopped, but killings by this slow poison (drugs) are still on. From where can we produce healthy and enthusiastic footballers in these circumstances?'
Nevertheless, football is not only marred by gang war, poor socio-economic conditions and lack of job opportunities, but has also been ravaged by dirty politics, internal bickering and formation of rival groups on city and provincial levels.
'It was after 1975 that we saw different groups emerging in football politics. It destroyed the whole system as there was no merit. People like Abbas Baloch who is now the Sindh Football Association chairman, were involved in the groups and had their own vested interests. The teams were not selected on merit and that was the beginning of the rot.
'Lyari is a big football industry and is undoubtedly Mini Brazil. But Pakistan Football Federation has badly neglected this industry which produced legends like Hussain Killer, Ismail Grenade, Ghafoor Majna, Ustad Sattar Jabal, Taj Mohammad, Yar Mohammad, Qadir Bukhsh Putla, and several others. I must say this is criminal negligence by PFF,' said Ahmad.