THERE is nothing in the three JIT reports recently made public by the Sindh government that is not known. The latest debate on the reports is more political gamesmanship than a serious move to address the problem of heinous crimes and bring those involved to justice.
Brought down from the shelf where they were gathering dust, the reports may provide some insight into the sordid nexus between crime and politics. But they may be only half true; some actors in the play are never exposed. There are scores of JIT reports on incidents varying from political murders and financial crimes to terrorist attacks that are just put on the backburner and forgotten until they are required to serve certain political objectives.
Apparently, the Sindh government was compelled to release the reports after the tirade launched by a federal minister accusing the PPP leadership of patronising criminals responsible for the pervasive lawlessness and violence that had gripped the country’s biggest metropolis until recently.
While challenging the veracity of the JIT report released by the Sindh government, Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi conveniently ignored some partners in the crime who seem to have been declared kosher as they are now aligned with the powers that be.
The powerful nexus of crime and politics has little to fear.
One of the JIT reports that has been the main focus of the contention involves the notorious gangster Uzair Jan Baloch also known as the leader of the Lyari gang war. The man who had been in the military’s custody for some years before being handed over to civilian law-enforcement agencies for trial has allegedly confessed to having been involved in the murder of more than 150 people. He has also been accused of spying for a foreign country. The story of Uzair Baloch seems right out of a Bollywood crime thriller.
These are very serious charges indeed. But several dots are missing in the plot. Surely the PPP leadership has a lot to answer for in connection with its alleged patronage of a most feared criminal who was responsible for turning part of Karachi into a killing field. While his past association with the PPP appears irrefutable, there are also some reports of his links to influential political figures from other parties as well as to intelligence agencies.
His arrest from the outskirts of Karachi by the Rangers in 2016 after his mysterious disappearance from Dubai where he was detained for a considerable period gave currency to all kinds of conspiracy theories. Some reports suggested that he had been in the custody of the security agencies for several months before the official announcement.
Unsurprisingly, the PTI is silent on the alleged role of Zulfikar Mirza in the Lyari gang case. The then powerful provincial home minister Mirza was the main patron of the Aman Committee. Mirza, who has now turned against his old friend and former president Asif Ali Zardari, would not make any bones about his close association with Uzair Baloch.
It is quite puzzling that the security agencies didn’t question Mirza for giving protection to a proclaimed offender. The former home minister is on record as having admitted that hundreds of gun licences were granted to members of the Aman Committee, which was basically turned into the militant wing of the PPP.
Mirza fell out with his old friend after Zardari reportedly took away two sugar mills that the former president had bestowed on him. He was also unhappy over the betrayal by his party of Uzair Baloch against whom the Sindh government had at one point issued a warrant of arrest. Mirza is now aligned with the PTI government and his wife is a federal minister.
It is not just the PPP that patronised Uzair Baloch and the Aman 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 for keeping a tab on Baloch separatist groups operating from the area.
Politics and crime form almost a symbiotic relationship. Both are driven by the same impulse — the acquisition of money and power. Politics needs money to buy influence, and crime needs the protection of politics to run its enterprises. Yet nothing could be more shocking than the alleged nexus of crime and politics in the case of the 2012 Baldia Town factory inferno that claimed more than 250 lives.
The JIT report on the incident, though it had already been leaked earlier, provides an insight into the criminalisation of politics. There is evidence that activists belonging to the MQM set the factory on fire after the owners failed to pay extortion money. The crime was allegedly committed on the instructions of the party leaders. The revelation about the MQM being linked to the factory fire is just the tip of the iceberg. The party has faced countless criminal charges ranging from murder to extortion in the past. A faction of the party is now part of the PTI ruling coalition; that may be reason for the PTI not highlighting the incident.
It is not only Karachi where crime and politics fuse; the situation is not significantly different in other parts of the country either. Pakistan is fast turning into a country where the state is so weak that it is unable to fulfil even its minimum responsibility, exercise authority or offer citizens a modicum of security and order. The powerful nexus of crime and politics has little to fear.
It is, however, despicable the way the JIT reports are used now to settle political scores. Rather than taking the issue seriously, these have been turned into a tool against rivals in a political power game. We have often seen in the past how serious crimes directly involving political parties and their supporters have been hushed up for reasons of political expediency and then how the matter has been revived to settle scores. There is strong apprehension that Uzair Baloch may also end up as a pawn in the political chess game.
The writer is an author and journalist.
Published in Dawn, July 8th, 2020