Mystery shrouds ‘gangster’ Uzair Baloch’s arrest

Published January 31, 2016
A photo released by Rangers shows Uzair Baloch in a paramilitary vehicle.—Photo courtesy: PRO
A photo released by Rangers shows Uzair Baloch in a paramilitary vehicle.—Photo courtesy: PRO

MORE than a year after his arrest in Dubai by Interpol, suspected Lyari gangster Uzair Jan Baloch mysteriously surfaced in Karachi on Saturday morning only to be caught by Sindh Rangers in their ‘targeted action’ — a move many think is aimed at putting pressure on the beleaguered Pakistan Peoples Party in an ongoing tussle with the establishment over Rangers special powers.

After an initial knee-jerk reaction by several PPP leaders, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah said in Sukkur in the evening that the Rangers chief had taken him into confidence “before” the arrest of the outlawed Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) head and that he [the CM] was not against any powers of the paramilitary force.

The day began with a brief statement by a Rangers spokesman that said the paramilitary troops “arrested notorious gangster Uzair Baloch on the city’s outskirts while he was entering Karachi”. The force also released his four photographs in which he was seen being handcuffed by Rangers soldiers in balaclava and then seated in a vehicle with them.

After a few hours, the Rangers produced the suspect before the administrative judge of the antiterrorism courts in Karachi and informed him about his arrest “in Chakiwara” — a Lyari area that is not on the outskirts of Karachi — and his three-month detention for inquiry.

Also read: The untold tales of Lyari

While the high-profile arrest caused quite a stir in the national political scene because of Uzair’s previous association with the PPP, the official version of the actual events remained shrouded in mystery.

On Dec 29, 2014, Uzair was arrested in Dubai by Interpol when he was crossing into the United Arab Emirates from Muscat by road. The Interpol move was confirmed by the Pakistani authorities and within a week they sent a Karachi police team to the UAE to get Uzair’s custody but to no avail.

Later, the same team visited the Gulf state several times, met security officials there and also held meetings with Interpol but did not succeed. However, if rumours are to be believed, the UAE authorities secretly handed over Uzair to Pakistani sleuths who later brought him to the country last year.

Once known for his loyalty to PPP and close contacts with its certain leaders, including former home minister Dr Zulfikar Mirza, Uzair took over the reins of now proscribed PAC in August 2009 after the death of notorious gangster Abdul Rehman Baloch aka Rehman Dakait in a police encounter more than a year after the PPP formed its government in the Centre and in Sindh.

Though the PAC was portrayed as a community group by its leaders, it has been accused of widespread killings, extortion and running a drugs business both by police and PPP’s rival parties. The Sindh government banned the PAC and in April 2012 launched a botched police operation in Lyari against it.

The provincial government later announced a Rs2 million bounty on Uzair. However, it was withdrawn before the May 2013 general elections in a bid to appease the PAC, which had an iron grip over Lyari, once considered a PPP stronghold.

Uzair fled the country after a Rangers-led operation was launched in Karachi in September 2013. In June 2014, on a request by the Sindh government, Islamabad approached Interpol for the issuance of a red warrant against him as he was booked in over 40 criminal cases.

The electronic media time and again reported that a key intelligence agency held a trump card against PPP in the form of Uzair. And the initial reaction from PPP leaders showed a sign of panic.

Senior Sindh Minister Nisar Khuhro told reporters in Karachi that the arrest “was not fresh news”.

“He was already in their custody. They should be asked where he was and from where he was arrested. There is nothing new in his arrest,” he said, without mentioning anyone.

Maula Bux Chandio, the adviser to Sindh CM on information, came up with a forceful response when asked to comment on the arrest. He questioned the timing of the “disclosure” of the arrest, but did not name any individual or institution.

Mr Chandio came up with a more forceful response in Sukkur when he, without naming any institution or individual, asked for details of Uzair’s arrest and also questioned timing of “disclosure” of his arrest.

However, in what appeared to be a damage-control attempt, Sindh CM Qaim Ali Shah told reporters in Sukkur that the director general of Rangers had informed him before the arrest was made.

“I never said that he [Uzair Baloch] was never associated with the PPP, but the fact is he disassociated himself from the party and the party also disassociated itself from him over his criminal activities,” he said. “It would not be fair to target the PPP for his criminal activities. We believe that he is a criminal and should be investigated.”

“We are not against the powers of Rangers and none of their powers were clipped. We just want every institution to operate within the defined rules and regulations,” he said, praising the joint efforts of the police and Rangers in restoring peace to Karachi.

In his reaction to the arrest, disgruntled PPP leader Dr Zulfikar Mirza said: “I still recognise him [Uzair] as my younger brother,” he told reporters in Karachi after appearing before an antiterrorism court. “I am glad he’s alive and his arrest has finally been declared. His arrest would pave the way for bringing back those looters who have fled the country. I appreciate Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan for doing a wonderful job in the national interest of the country.”

The 60-day period regarding the special policing powers of the Sindh Rangers is due to expire on Feb 5 and the paramilitary force needs an extension to continue its operations in Karachi.

Explore: Herald In-depth ─ Lyari live

Published in Dawn, January 31st, 2016

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