Karachi crime's changing face

Mapping the crime statistics in the ‘City of Lights’ over nine years shows how the Karachi Operation has had an impact.
Published November 25, 2018

It’s an irony of our times that the era of democratic reconciliation in Karachi was also among its most violent. The city of lights was the centrepiece of the coalition government of Asif Ali Zardari, at the Centre and in Sindh, back in 2008. It brought together all “secular” allies — Zardari’s Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Awami National Party (ANP) — on to the same page in the country’s most ethnically diverse city and its financial capital.

The policy of ‘reconciliation’ in spirit meant that political differences were going to be handled through dialogue and sincerity. On the streets of Karachi, however, that policy meant that politically-marked localities were going to be violently contested. Hundreds of bodies fell in what was described as targeted violence and drive-by shootings. The political will to stem this violence, meanwhile, depended on the health of the coalition government.

Fast forward to 2018 and those times of terror seem like a different country.


The primary mode of spreading terror in Karachi was culpable homicides. In the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC), this would be referred to as Qatl. Before the enactment of the Qisas and Diyat Ordinance which introduced the word Qatl into the legal framework, murder was called homicide. Homicides in Karachi — or Qatl-i-Amd — were carried out in multiple ways: targeted killings and drive-by shootings are the larger categories but bomb blasts, killings because of extortion, killings at the hands of the land mafia, street crime and personal enmity are also significant. There is intent involved and therefore, localities can be marked as safe or insecure or something in between. When the numbers are mapped out, the trajectories between 2009 and 2017 reveal that the heart of the city is the most sensitive homicide zone. It is only over the past two years that a substantial decrease in homicides has been recorded.

Mapping the crime statistics in the ‘City of Lights’ over nine years shows how the Karachi Operation has had an impact. And where it hasn’t...


All data tells a story. The data set on homicides in Karachi tells a tale of violence but perhaps it is also a poignant way of understanding political relationships as well as the decisions and movement of political actors.

The 2008 government might well have been formed by parties seemingly closer to each other in terms of ideological bent. But underlying this relation was mistrust and suspicion. Much of the incidence of homicides can be attributed to ethnic violence fanned by political parties but that isn’t the entire story either.

While political actors engaged in cynical abuse and misuse of power, a newer force had also started organising. The Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) did not operate out of Karachi but had relied on the metropolis to raise funds.

At first, its cells were involved in committing bank robberies. But later on, entire operations shifted to Karachi as TTP hideouts elsewhere began being dismantled (in Swat, for example).

Our data was, therefore, meant to capture many different political happenings. Localities that were marked by one party would tend to show victims from supporters of other parties. Violence that took place on the street was often in terms of political activists crossing into rival territories. And localities where power structures and influence were changing would reflect higher numbers of homicide.

Data for our analysis was obtained from Police Head Office Karachi and the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee (CPLC). Numbers recorded here are based on exact addresses. Police records tend to store the exact location of where an incident took place, a lane or a shack on a street, for example. We took these addresses and began mapping them. Our analysis is based at sub-division level; 31 sub-divisions in six districts.

Numbers, of course, have their restrictions. But in the analysis below, the localities of Lyari, Orangi and Gulzar-e-Hijri are going to be repeated often. Lyari, back then, was dominated by the PPP and the now outlawed Peoples Amn Committee. Orangi had great ANP presence that catered to its large Pakhtun population. Changes to the number of homicide incidents reflect, in part, the Awami National Party’s (ANP) routing from the city as well as the TTP filling in that void and using violence to make space for itself. Similarly, sectarian crimes in Gulzar-e-Hijri reflect the rise of the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat (formerly Sipah Sahaba Pakistan) in Karachi and the simultaneous sense of insecurity pervading the city’s Shia community at the time.

This is a story of Karachi, as told by the number of homicides committed in the city.

Our data reveals that 2009 is when the coalition begins to aim guns, literally, at each other: 550 deaths were recorded, of which the highest number of homicides were recorded in the low- and middle-income locality of Aram Bagh. Similarly Gulzar-e-Hijri, Korangi, Model Colony, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and SITE sub-divisions emerged as high homicide areas: only one sub-division recorded 8.9 percent of the total killings for the year; the other five recorded 29.09 percent.

That year, 2009, a “moderate” range of homicides committed was defined between 30 and 40 killed. This category recorded the highest percentage of victims claimed that year — 30.73 percent. Localities with moderate incidents of homicide were scattered over Ibrahim Hyderi, North Nazimabad, New Karachi, Shah Faisal, Baldia, Manghopir and Landhi.

In 10 sub-divisions, the loss of life was low. These included Mominabad, Liaquatabad, Gulberg, Lyari, Murad Memon, Garden, Jamshed Quarters, Civil Lines, Nazimabad and Orangi. The lowest number of homicide sub-divisions were Ferozabad, Saddar, Mauripur, Airport, Harbour, Bin Qasim, Gadap and Shah Mureed.

In comparison with 2009, the total volume of homicides in 2010 decreased by 10 percent. But there was a shift: the highest number of homicides shifted to Orangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Civil Lines sub-divisions, which in 2009 had varying ranks, i.e. 23rd, 5th, and 21st respectively. And out of 31 sub-divisions, together they accounted for 21.82 percent of the killings within the range of 32 to 41 killed.

A high range of killings in 2009 was observed and recorded in SITE, Korangi, Ferozabad and Baldia with their respective rankings being sixth, third, 24th and 11th respectively. In 2010, they recorded 22.22 percent of the killings within the range of 24-32.

Moderate range was found in sub-divisions Shah Faisal, Saddar, Mominabad, Nazimabad, Ibrahim Hyderi, Gulberg, New Karachi, Garden and Lyari with 35.35 percent of the killings. Lyari sub-division somewhat maintained its 2009 position in 2010, with 14 and 16 killings respectively — i.e., 17.17 percent the total for the years; and 17th and 16th ranks respectively. The lowest killings sub-divisions were Shah Mureed, Gadap, Harbour, Bin Qasim, Arambagh, Mauripur, Airport and Murad Memon which recorded 3.43 percent of the year’s killings, totaling eight.

In 2011, in comparison to the previous year, homicides more than tripled with 1,705 killings. The exceedingly high range of killings (117-147) bracket revealed that, in addition to Orangi and Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Garden sub-division replaced Civil Lines as among the most violent. The position of Garden was changed due to an escalation of killings from 2010 to 2011 which pushed Garden from 15th in rank to second.

In the high range bracket (88-117 killings) were Lyari and Baldia sub-divisions, one dominated by PPP support and the other by MQM constituents. Lyari deteriorated to 4th in 2011 against its 2010 rank of 14th. Baldia stood at fifth against its seventh rank in 2010, with 11.63 percent victims of the total being recorded in this locality.

Homicides might well have gone down but street crime has risen sharply. The experience of the past decade has been that street crime is the basis of raising funds among various political actors. Are we in for a repeat?

The six moderate range sub-divisions were SITE, Gulzar-e-Hijri, New Karachi, Ibrahim Hyderi, Mominabad and North Nazimabad. In 2010, SITE with 31 killings had ranked fourth, but in 2011, it ranked sixth despite a higher number of killings (78).

Low crime range (30-59) was recorded in 14 sub-divisions: Manghopir, Ferozabad, Civil Lines, Korangi, Jamshed, Nazimabad, Shah Faisal, Model Colony and Saddar among others, which witnessed 35.25 percent of the killings of the city total.

Civil Lines fell in the highest range in 2010 while in 2011 its position dropped to 14th. Korangi and Ferozabad were in high range position in 2010 but in 2011 they were in the moderate range with change of ranks from fifth to 15th and sixth to 13th. Gadap and Shah Mureed remained in the lowest range, of 1-30 killings, along with four other sub-divisions. They recorded only 4.75 percent of the killings that year.

In 2012, crime rates shot through the roof in Lyari, Mominabad and Gulzar-e-Hijri sub-divisions. Homicides escalated by 32.43 percent with reference to 2011. Orangi, which had ranked first in 2011 with 147 homicides out of 1,705, ranked fifth in 2012 with 124 killings out of 2,258 total for the city.

Garden sustained its second position; Gulzar-e- Hijri came in third while Mominabad and Orangi stood fourth and fifth, respectively. A total of 29.50 percent of the homicides in the highest category, within the range of 120-147, took place in these five localities.

Ibrahim Hyderi, SITE, Jamshed Quarters, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Manghopir, North Nazimabad and Baldia sub-divisions comprised the high range (between 91-120 killed) with 15.90 percent killings for the year. New Karachi, Korangi, Nazimabad, Harbour and Ferozabad sub-divisions were in moderate range of 62-91 killings with 16.43 percent killings collectively.

Gulberg, Liaquatabad, Landhi, Murad Memon, Saddar, Model Colony and Aram Bagh revealed low ranks in 2012, within killing range of 33-62 in comparison to 2009 when Aram Bagh had bagged top position with 49 killings. Similarly, Civil Lines which stood third in 2010 with 32 killings was 21st in 2012 with 46 killings.

Six sub-divisions — Mauripur, Shah Faisal, Airport, Bin Qasim, Gadap and Shah Mureed — fell in the lowest range of 4-33 killings, i.e. 4.56 percent for the year. Gadap recorded the least number of killings, six, which was six times higher than that of the previous year. In other words, political conflict reached Gadap in 2012.

Total homicides in 2013 reduced in number to 2,062. Gulzar-e-Hijri and Lyari were the two bloodiest localities, falling within the range of 145-179 killings. These accounted for 17.11 percent of the year’s casualties. Gulzar-e-Hijri in 2010, 2011 and 2012 had ranked 20th, seventh and third. Lyari sub-division was in second position with 174 killings, although in 2012 it had first position with lesser (147) killings. Moderate range of killings for the year being 75-100 was found in Orangi, Korangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Ibrahim Hyderi, Baldia and Jamshed Quarter sub-divisions with 27.50 percent killings. Orangi being the worst hit sub-division in the years 2010 and 2011, with first position in both and in 2012 ranking fifth. Gulshan-e-Iqbal in 2010 and 2011 was in the highest range with second and third positions respectively. The lowest range of killings for 2013, involving five to 40 homicides, included 10 sub-divisions.


On September 12, 2013, the Sindh Police teamed up with the Sindh Rangers to begin the Karachi Operation to rid the city of terror and crime. Within four months, a significant reduction (11.74 percent) in homicides was recorded in comparison to the previous year. But it was in 2015 that the results started becoming visible on paper.

Homicides fell to 918 that year. In comparison, the preceding years recorded 1,820, 2,062, 2,258 and 1,705 incidents. Data from 2016 reveals that the homicides declined by 43 percent in comparison to 2015.

Ibrahim Hyderi and Korangi fell into the highest range of homicides with 45 and 42 killings respectively or 16.54 percent for the year 2016. Gulzar-e-Hijri, Lyari and Mominabad recorded 34, 32 and 29 killings respectively. Moderate category within the range of 39-58 killings included SITE, Baldia, Gulshan-e-Iqbal, Nazimabad, Gulberg and North Nazimabad. The fourth range included 11 sub-divisions including Landhi, Manghopir and Mauripur. The fifth or lowest range comprised nine sub-divisions: Airport, Model Colony, Liaquatabad on the higher side but the least number of incidents being recorded in Shah Mureed (0), Gadap (one), Garden and Aram Bagh with five each, accounting for 9.13 percent of the killings in Karachi for the year 2016. Garden had ranked 22 out of 31 sub-divisions in the previous year, with 19 killings.

In 2017, killings were reduced by another 14.45 percent in comparison to 2016. The year 2017 recorded the lowest number of killings — 450 — among all the years of the study period, i.e., 2009 to 2017. First position was recorded in Mangophir, second and third in Gulzar-e-Hijri and Ibrahim Hyderi which recorded 27 and 11 killings respectively. The second-highest range comprised of two sub-divisions, SITE and Gulshan-e-Iqbal, with 31 and 28 killings respectively. The third range comprised Korangi, Lyari, North Nazimabad and Mominabad with 18 percent killings. The fourth range accounting for 28.89 percent of killings comprised of 10 sub-divisions with Ferozabad, Orangi and Jamshed Quarters ranking highest. The lowest range of killings spatially covered 12 sub-divisions, with Mauripur, Model Colony, and Nazimabad at the top of the list.


While the numbers prove that homicides have declined dramatically after the Karachi Operation, they also provide us with a cultural map of which political actor exerted what influence and where.

Consider this: in 2010, the major shift of homicides was towards Orangi, Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Civil Lines. 2010 was also the year when the highest number of targeted killings took place in Karachi as 1,233 lives were lost. Similarly 335 suicide bombings claimed 1,208 lives. Civil Lines emerged quite unexpectedly on the headlines of homicides in 2010, although it is an upscale locality in Karachi. But all these localities were politically marked by the MQM, PPP and ANP. A newer player named the Tehreek-i-Taliban was just emerging on the scene back then.

In 2012, the focus of killings shifted to Lyari, Garden, Gulzar-e-Hijri, Mominabad and Orangi and in 2013, to Gulzar-e-Hijri and Lyari. In 2014, Lyari was the hub of homicides. But it is Orangi that is the most fascinating case.

Orangi is a sub-division with a concentration of Mohajirs and marks the ethnic faultline between Pashto- and Urdu-speaking areas. The killings there explain ethnic strife — real or constructed — with acrimony brewing between Pakhtun migrants from Afghanistan and upcountry and settled Urdu-speaking populations. The conflict was cynically exploited by political actors and the data reflects this.

Similarly Gulzar-e-Hijri has off and on been the focus of high homicides rates because of the prevalence of sectarian killings. Simultaneously, it indicates the rise of organisations such as the Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat as it started flexing its muscles to announce its presence in the city’s power matrix. Peaks in violence in Gulzar-e-Hijri tend to be about sectarian disagreement, which sometimes also saw the MQM pitted against the ASWJ.

The year 2016 depicts that homicides had started shifting towards the coastal areas into Ibrahim Hyderi and Korangi. And in 2017, an additional north-westerly shift to Manghopir and Gulzar-e-Hijri. In a nutshell, conflict had been driven way from the city centre and towards the peripheries.

A perusal of all the maps shows Orangi in prolonged turmoil in 2010, 2011 and 2012. Gulshan-e-Iqbal is a frequent site of violence in 2010-2011 while this changes from 2012 into 2013 with Gulzar-e-Hijri, Garden and Lyari all recording high numbers of incidents — Gulzar-e-Hijri being prominent as the solo homicide top-most ranking sub-division in 2014 and 2015. All localities were beset with sectarian violence.

From 2012 and until 2014, Lyari was the focus of conflicting political activities and turmoil among sectors of a political party. Once being renowned for its football champions, it became the battle ground of the Lyari ‘gang war’.

In 2017, Manghopir became the prominent homicide sub-division due to protesters agitating against the alleged rape and murder of five-year-old Rabia, whose body was found several days later from Manghopir Northern Bypass. Furious protesters attacked police personnel at Manghopir and Katti Pahari, with police as well as protesters were killed and injured in the violence.

An investigation into the densities of homicides across the city reveals that the year 2014 recorded the highest crime density in Lyari. This is followed by Aram Bagh in 2009.


Law enforcement in Karachi ever since the operation has largely been handled by the Rangers. This was necessitated since enforcing the writ of the state against actors well-versed with terror and gang activities required a para-military force that had access to sophisticated armoury and ammunition. In that respect, the numbers bear testament to the fact that the Karachi Operation had been a success.

But there is a flip side.

Homicides might well have gone down but street crime has risen sharply. The experience of the past decade has been that street crime is the basis of raising funds among various political actors. Are we in for a repeat?

The numbers involved in homicide and street robbery between 2013 and 2016 reveals a negative relationship that indicates that those involved in homicide are hardened criminals who do not believe in committing petty crimes such as street robbery, since it is not lucrative.

But the same data reveals other insights as well.

Through a technique known as ‘regression analysis’ or ‘the best guess’, we discovered that there is a positive relationship between homicides and the snatching of cars. Criminals who snatch and steal cars do not hesitate in killing their victims if they show signs of resisting. For motorbikes, the numbers state that seldom do criminals murder the motorcycle owners, they mostly get away by snatching and racing away into the distance.

Another relationship thrown up by the data is that criminals involved in heinous crimes, such as kidnapping-for-ransom, do not waste their efforts on minor and petty offences such as street robbery. Where a relationship exists is between kidnapping-for-ransom and snatching four-wheelers. The regression analysis points to the fact that criminals kidnap the owners of expensive cars in order to steal more money off them. This relationship does not exist in the snatching of motorbikes.

But this is what the numbers tell us. Society continues to be in flux, sometimes to the detriment of many who are not privileged.

The writer is a doctoral candidate in the geography department at the University of Karachi

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 25th, 2018