Who is Uzair Jan Baloch? A pawn in the political chess game or a powerful mafia don with strong political connections? While his association with the PPP appears to be irrefutable, there are also some reports of his links with influential political figures from other political parties as well as the intelligence agencies.
A leader of the so-called Lyari-based Peoples Amn Committee, Baloch is implicated in dozens of murder and other criminal cases. He oversaw charities, but also allegedly ran drug and extortion rackets. He was a key leader of the Lyari gang war that left hundreds of people dead and turned that impoverished neighbourhood of Karachi into a veritable battleground. The story of Uzair Baloch seems right out of a Bollywood crime thriller.
His reported arrest from the outskirts of Karachi by the Rangers last week after his mysterious disappearance from Dubai where he was detained almost a year ago gives currency to all kinds of conspiracy theories. No one takes the Rangers’ version seriously. It seems quite plausible that he has been in the custody of the security agencies for the past several months. Then why the arrest announcement now? It gives an intriguing twist to the whole saga.
Unsurprisingly, the news of Uzair Baloch’s arrest has come as the noose around some top PPP leaders is being tightened. That gives some credence to the speculation that he may be used as an approver against them. Some reports suggest that he has already been talking.
What is most interesting, however, is that several joint investigation teams are being formed to question him on the 2007 Karsaz bomb attack targeting Benazir Bhutto’s welcome procession and also the murder of the former prime minister’s bodyguards following her assassination a few months later. Surely the scope of the investigation against Uzair Baloch is being extended beyond the already pending murder and other criminal charges against him.
It is important to expose Uzair Baloch’s political patrons.
The son of a transporter, Uzair Baloch’s rise to the crime scene was spectacular. He apparently joined one of the most notorious criminal gangs led by Rehman ‘Dakait’ after the murder of his father by a rival group. He became the leader of the gang after the death of Dakait in an alleged police encounter. That also brought him close to the PPP which had still retained some support in its erstwhile political stronghold of Lyari.
According to some reports, his ‘dastarbandi’ as gang leader was a huge public event attended by several PPP legislators. His influence in the PPP grew so much that the party tickets for the MNA and provincial assembly seats from Lyari in the 2013 elections were allegedly awarded to his nominees. Although the PPP strongly denies the allegations, some pictures that show Baloch with several senior party leaders seem to confirm his organisational affiliation.
His main patron was Zulfiqar Mirza, the then powerful provincial home minister. Mirza, who has now turned against his old friend and former president Asif Ali Zardari, does not make any bones about his close association with Uzair Baloch. It is quite puzzling that the security agencies have yet to question Mirza for giving protection to a proclaimed offender. The former home minister is on record admitting that scores of gun licences were granted to members of the Amn Committee, which many alleged had been turned into the militant wing of the PPP.
But PPP leaders soon became apprehensive of Uzair Baloch’s rising political influence and grip over the party. The falling out also led to the Sindh government issuing an arrest warrant against the former fellow traveller. But there was never any serious effort to arrest him. Following the launch of the Rangers’ operation against criminal gangs in Lyari, Uzair Baloch fled the country to the Gulf.
It is not just the PPP that patronised Uzair Baloch and his Amn Committee. At one point, according to some media reports, a senior PML-N leader also approached him to bring him into the party’s fold. He reportedly tilted towards the PTI at the end, but apparently it remained a one-sided affair. Some Pakistani intelligence agencies are also reported to have used him to keep a tab on Baloch separatist groups operating from the area.
Meanwhile, this nexus of crime and politics turned Lyari into a lawless territory. Bloody gang wars forced many habitants to leave their homes. With no effective policing, drugs and gambling dens thrived in the area. Unemployed youth provided a constant supply of recruits for the criminal mafias that ruled this poor neighbourhood. The Rangers’ operation may have brought some peace to the area, but the situation is far from normal.
The arrest of Uzair Baloch has stirred a hornets’ nest, worsening the predicament of an already tottering Sindh provincial administration. Many PPP stalwarts, who allegedly had close links with the gangster, had fled the country much before the arrest. Some suspect that the investigation may lead to the PPP’s top leadership.
But there is also a strong apprehension that Uzair Baloch may just end up as yet another pawn in the hands of the security agencies in the power game as seen in some recent cases. Many believe that he may just become the Saulat Mirza of PPP.
Saulat Mirza’s death-row statement implicating top MQM leaders in a murder case was surely used to bring the party under immense pressure, but no action was taken against those named in the declaration. It could, however, not save the former MQM hitman from the gallows. Will this be a repeat of the Mirza episode?
Uzair Baloch is yet another example of the sordid nexus of crime and politics that has been one of the major reasons for Karachi’s pervasive lawlessness and violence. It is imperative that he be brought to justice for his crimes. But it is equally important to expose his political patrons. The Uzair Baloch case must not be allowed to turn into a political bargaining chip as we have seen in the past. Karachi cannot return to normality unless the political patronage of crime is halted altogether.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, February 3rd, 2016