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PPP takes up the challenge of reclaiming Lyari

Updated October 16, 2014
Bilawal Bhutto — File photo
Bilawal Bhutto — File photo

KARACHI: The Pakistan Peoples Party appears to have taken up the challenge of reclaiming the traditional stronghold Lyari, which until recently evinced little enthusiasm for the rally being organised on Oct 18 to mark the beginning of chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s political career.

Lyari residents, who felt neglected when the PPP leadership left them at the mercy of favoured gangs, seem to be looking over their shoulders at the warring groups before deciding if they should participate in the rally as it could invite either gang’s wrath.

Until the PPP chairman Bhutto-Zardari paid a surprise visit on Tuesday to the fringes of the crime-infested town of two million people located in the heart of the city, few party activists were geared up to attend the Oct 18 rally on the seventh anniversary of the twin bomb attacks on former prime minister Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming motorcade near Karsaz that left about 200 people dead and hundred others wounded. It appears that Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s visit — first by a PPP chief since Oct 19, 2007 when the late Ms Bhutto paid a similar surprise visit hours after the attacks she had survived — has somehow energised the political climate of the town as loudspeakers were loudly offering party songs from reception camps on Wednesday.

The camps were also seen in the areas still infested with trigger-happy bikers.

“I will go to the rally,” said an enthusiastic youth standing near Abdullah Haroon School building. “But not the rest of my family.”

“You know,” he looked over his shoulders as he explained the situation, “it is still very risky here for the families to go to political rallies.”

As most parts of Lyari are still full of life-sized portraits of non-political entities belonging to the warring groups, it is generally understood that political activities without getting a prior nod from them is impossible.

Since a schism among the dominant gang has resulted in unending turf wars, the unarmed majority is baffled as to who they should turn to before deciding whether or not to join the rally.

The party’s old guards said emotionally that Lyari had been the area that never forsook its political awareness even when military ruler Gen Ziaul Haq banned political activities in the country.

“All this shows that the conspiracy to snatch from Lyari its political culture has finally succeeded,” said an old political activist.

An old-timer of the erstwhile Pakistan National Party of the late Mir Ghous Bakhsh Bizenjo, however, was hopeful that a good number of people would participate in the PPP rally.

“It doesn’t matter which political party revives the political culture that has vanished over the years, but I see something positive in the air especially after Bilawal’s visit,” he said.

“It was the PPP itself that allowed Lyari to slip away to the gangs control,” his said sourly. “Hence, it is the party’s responsibility to do whatever it takes to remove the burden that it piled on its constituents,” he said.

Political workers, who live in the area now infamously called the ‘Columbia of Karachi’ for playing host to a number of powerful drug traffickers, term Mr Bhutto-Zardari’s visit a ‘serious effort’ to politically mobilise a locality that has been the party’s stronghold for decades until the last year’s general elections when the PPP had to make nominations of candidates on the suggestion of dominant gangs.

The Bhutto family scion promised to make Lyari peaceful again, but many residents compared his promises to those periodically made by the party’s leaders over the past decades and found that they sounded little different.

“His predecessors promised to us that they would turn Lyari into Paris but instead it eventually became a hell,” said a disgruntled resident. Party leaders conceded that their chairman had received reports about the situation in Lyari and he believed that a rally without the participation of Lyari would not be a trademark PPP event.

“With chairman Bilawal’s visit we believe the overall mood of Lyari will change,” hoped another party worker.

“Lyari is very special for the chairman as it had been selected by his parents to organise a public wedding party here 27 years ago,” he said.

Published in Dawn, October 16th, 2014