LYARI, one of Karachi’s oldest districts and the oldest paradox, is rare. Its mesh of unpaved streets resounds with political chatter, punches in boxing rings, gravelling vehicles, football, angry yells and an occasional bullet. Traffic fumes, the smell of fried fish and drugs hang in the air like a noose. Everyone here has a weapon.
Dad Chowk is a small cross-section named after Dad Mohammad, father of Abdul Rehman Baloch or Rehman Dakait. It’s wrapped in Dakait’s memories, posters and buildings. On one side is his family home built around a small grille courtyard under a tree with creepers on trellises. Haji Dad Mohammad building is next door and a library, school, computer centre and Pakistan Baloch Association work their way through daily chores across the road.
Although Rehman Dakait was killed in a police encounter in 2009, he remains a figure of allegorical valour and compassion for Lyari — a charismatic gang leader and messiah who led a fierce battle for Lyari and then purified his group with the launch of the Peoples Amn Committee. Today, Lyari is home to multiple ethnic communities but the banned Baloch-led committee still presides over it.
“Locals will tell you that Rehman did more for them than any politician. He established a school, hospital, madressah, ambulance service and a welfare centre. Every woman was safe in his time,” says Fateh Mohammad, son of Abdul Rahim, Rehman’s youngest brother who was also shot down.
“From Lyari to Gwadar, widows relied on a staple from Rehman. Women lodged complaints at Amn Committee branches or came to his door. They could wander out at night and leave homes unlocked,” says Fateh’s mother.
At present, both Fateh and Dakait’s son, Sarbaan, are out on bail. His younger son Sultan, indicted by ATC in November, is in jail.
“When my father’s news broke, I was 13 years old. My mother raised all seven of us. The police even picked up my husband, Sheheryar. When the women are on their own, they burst in and misbehave with us. I have led many protests at Karachi Press Club against SHO Asif Munawer,” says Ateeqa, Rehman’s feisty daughter.
The deeper one goes, this district becomes darker, hardened, and frenzied. The alleys are more deserted. Rehman’s cousin and rebel successor, Uzair Baloch, and his mother’s grand homes tower on either side of a lane worn by time. Baloch was a prime ally of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) in the 2013 polls. The same year, in a theatrical twist of fate, he was arrested in Dubai and his explosive confession against the PPP was a message that he was not ready to go down alone. This was also the year when Karachi’s murder tally was a staggering 3,000. Since then, he has been acquitted in some 17 cases.
Lyari’s current irony is planted firmly on Baloch’s street. It’s suspicious and alert. On seeing a stranger, tall, dark, long-haired and thick-set men begin to gather as security cameras glare from different doors with padlocks on the outside and audible activity inside. Servants and guards at Uzair’s black gate are hesitant to let us in. On resolute insistence, they relent. A concrete driveway is lined with greenery, vines trail down from four storeys. They claim that his wife and children are at a wedding. However, in the blaze of light from open windows, gold edged mirrors, gilded columns and the swimming pool on the ground floor endure in opulent glory. Uzair had said that gangster Baba Ladla was his interior designer.
“We don’t have any problems here. The police ensure security and bonhomie. He set up a blood bank and madressah. Crime has returned but political patronage is responsible,” says Sanaullah, a shopkeeper.
Interestingly, Mehru, an old lady on the lane, has another view. “This part is peaceful with the support it has. But women have no one to turn to anymore.”
On the main road, near Kalakot and Chakiwara Police Station complex, Asif, a property dealer, speaks of police partiality. “One family is a target and the other, protected. It is political and police exploitation.”
In the police complex, the atmosphere is worse than familiar. A garden separates the two police stations. Some two hours later, SHO Asif Munawer of Kalakot Police Station appears in an orange track pants and a blue T-shirt. “I can’t speak about Dad Chowk without permission from the superintendent,” he says and leaves. He was transferred last week.
“Uzair’s area is safe and even his son never steps out of the house. But Rehman’s sons and nephew are criminals and will face more charges. We can’t go to Afshan gali and Dad Chowk without proper escort,” says sub-inspector Kalakot PS, Mohammed Latif.
“Dubai Chowk and Golimar are where Baba gang has begun to stir and Uzair’s return is not far. This peace is temporary,” smiles ASI Bahadur, an intelligence officer.
“A nexus of police, politics and regional crime reporters coerces people to break the law. Police focus on gutka and not hard drugs as the latter promises money. It uses family history to implicate youth in false cases,” explains Saeed Sarbazi, a senior journalist and Lyari resident.
Criminologists believe that gangs cannot be silenced, only managed. But theories ring hollow when the sustenance of crime is political barter. Lyari knows it was spoils of office. Therefore, it is waiting to explode. And own power and identity.
The writer is a journalist and an author
Published in Dawn, January 3rd, 2022