Crime in Karachi

08 Jul 2020

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SEEN together, the just released JIT reports about the Baldia factory fire and Uzair Baloch’s alleged criminal career shed some light on Karachi’s dark underbelly and the urban violence that blighted the city until a few years ago. Nevertheless, there is little that can be described as major revelations in these accounts. At most, they confirm long-held suspicions pertaining to both the Sept 11, 2012, tragedy as well as the man often described as the kingpin of Lyari gang warfare. The horrific Baldia inferno, in which 259 workers perished, was no accident, but a “planned sabotage/terrorist activity” allegedly carried out by MQM thugs in reprisal against the factory owners for refusing to pay the protection money demanded. The investigation gives a glimpse of the atmosphere at a time when the MQM ruled Karachi with an iron fist, using fear and violence to intimidate law enforcement, the media and anyone it deemed an adversary. The report describes the initial police investigation into the case as having been carried out in an unprofessional manner that worked to the offenders’ advantage. The JIT report about Uzair Baloch reveals details about his espionage activities, a crime for which he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment by a military court in April. It also lists a large number of targeted killings and politically motivated murders allegedly carried out on his orders.

In Pakistan, and other dysfunctional democracies where institutions of governance are weak, the truth is inevitably a casualty of political machinations and point-scoring. Indeed, the public has justifiably little faith in the willingness of the state machinery to get to the bottom of even the most heinous offences. It does not appear therefore to be too far-fetched to assume, given earlier leaked information from the report on Uzair Baloch, that some inconvenient truths may have been excised from that document before it was released. Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Haider Zaidi alleged as much yesterday. Of course, facts that could have given a more complete picture of how criminal elements are exploited by multiple actors to further strategic objectives were undoubtedly never considered for inclusion in the first place.

The one bitter truth is that the state is indifferent to its duty to protect the people, if that goes counter to its own interests. The three JIT reports — including one on Nisar Morai, former chairman, Fisherman’s Cooperative Society — did not see the light of day until long after the crimes in question were committed. Why have hard-core criminals been allowed to get away for years with terrorising civilians? The Sindh government seemed to have only made the reports public when its hand was forced by the provincial high court acting on the petition filed by Mr Zaidi, also no doubt acting in service of political point-scoring. When will the state realise the dire, long-term effects of such sinister games?

Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2020