KARACHI, Aug 24: While some sources claim that the fear of collateral damage is proving a major impediment in the launch of a fully-fledged operation against ongoing gang wars in Lyari, other circles — including some residents of Lyari — present the theory that the criminals enjoy the patronage of the country’s intelligence agencies. Meanwhile, a number of citizens are fleeing the area citing extortion, harassment and threats to their personal and financial security.

According to a spokesperson for the provincial police officer (PPO), Ziaul Hasan, the possibility of an operation cannot be completely ruled out and the PPO is being furnished with a daily report concerning the law and order situation in the troubled area.

He told Dawn that policing requirements are being met, including the surveillance of all entry-exit points, and the area’s police force has been assigned additional manpower. “If the situation so dictates, however, a go-ahead will be given for an operation while taking into consideration precautionary measures to avoid the loss of innocent lives,” he stated.

However, SP Lyari Fayyaz Khan, who admitted that a fresh wave of violence targeting policemen in particular has broken out since he took charge, said that the Lyari police are in dire need of reinforcement. He told Dawn that he has received various offers in return for allowing the situation to remain at status quo – “auto”, as it is referred to in the local lingo – and commented, “they are sending a message by targeting policemen but at least common citizens are not being gunned down now.”

The conspiracy theory being floated by some circles is that the toothlessness of the local administration in tackling the problem is because the patrons of the criminals are no other than the intelligence agencies themselves. As proof, a resident offered instances when police cordons were removed as soon as they got close to rounding up the wanted men, and the fact that some criminals are back on the streets the day after their arrest. “All this suggests that there is patronage at some level,” he pointed out. Residents further complain that the police conduct pre-dawn raids at residents’ houses, under the pretext of being in pursuit of criminals.

A reign of terror

The two main gangs involved in the Lyari unrest are those of Arshad Pappu and Rehman Dakait. In jail since his arrest in October last year, Arshad – who was wanted in over 60 cases of murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and other crimes – is believed to nevertheless be in contact with his men. The whereabouts of the elusive Rehman Dakait, meanwhile, remain unclear. Some believe him to be in Lyari while others place him in the Lasbela district of Balochistan. Rehman escaped on Aug 22 last year after spending just over three months in the custody of the police and intelligence agencies. Some law-enforcement officials are of the view that Rehman’s arrest in Quetta and his subsequent escape from unofficial custody was facilitated by “an intelligence agency.” It was his second successful break-out, since he escaped while being taken to court in 1997 also.

The gangs currently imposing a reign of terror in Lyari are heavily armed and residents say that they are better equipped than the local police force. Having taken control of different localities and established their fiefdoms, these gangs safeguard their territorial limits by trading heavy gunfire sometimes stretching over days.

Meanwhile, flourishing drug dens sell contraband – including charas, kopi, tariaq and heroin – to dealers and users, while teenagers and children are used to market the illegal substances.

‘Abandoned by the government’

As one resident put it, “the government appears to have moved out of this densely populated part of the city, handing charge over to the criminals and abandoning the residents.”

Given the situation, it is little wonder that many of the area’s residents who have the means to do so are choosing to leave the area, leaving their locked properties behind at the risk of being occupied by gangsters. People want to sell their properties and move out, but no buyers are available. Several families have moved out of Ali Mohammed Mohallah to settle in Faqir Colony and Naval Colony at Hub River Road, while others have taken the risk of locking their houses and living elsewhere on rent, says Zaheer Alam, a resident of the area. He told Dawn of a woman who recently purchased a house in Ali Mohammed Mohallah from her neighbours, who were moving out; before she could take possession, it was occupied by Ghaffar Zikri’s men, said to be loyal to Arashad Pappu.

Similarly, armed extortion has forced many businesses to shut down or move. In a manner reminiscent of Chicago’s mafia, the gangs simply send a slip of paper bearing the amount of cash demanded. A Nagori milk shop on Shah Abdul Latif Road recently closed, for example, when the owner was sent a slip asking for a Rs200,000 payment – which he could not meet. The closure cost the owner his father’s life, who suffered a heart attack after witnessing his life’s investment go down the drain. Similarly, Nayabad’s Madina Bakery, which by all standards was doing good business, pulled down its shutters when members of the previously unknown Jango group sent an extortion demand. A number of transporters have also moved out from Lyari into Yousaf Goth.

In terms of extortion, even residents are not spared. People told Dawn that they are forced to pay protection money for holding a marriage ceremony, under threat of the groom being kidnapped.

The areas worst affected in Lyari include Gul Mohammed Lane, Shapkilane, Ali Mohammed Mohallah, Shah Beg Lane, Haji Puncture Road and Juma Shah Road.

A proposal for the allocation of 1,000 police personnel for Lyari is pending with the quarters concerned, but the fact is that the situation ought never to have been allowed to reach its currently alarming proportions. While confirming the disbanding of the Lyari Task Force on April 19 this year, the then acting IG Sindh Niaz Siddiqui told Dawn that “since the purpose of its formation has largely been achieved, there is no rationale for continuing with the task force.”

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that the decision to disband the force was premature if the government was at all serious about keeping peace in Lyari.

Arshad Pappu

Arrested in October last year, Arshad Pappu is currently in jail but said to be in contact with his men.

• Arshad’s front-man Ghaffar Zikri rules Ali Mohammed Mohallah in the Kalari area of Lyari.

• Mullah Nawaz, who rules Gul Mohammed Mohallah in Kalakot, works for Arshad Pappu.

• Rashid Rekha works for Ghaffar Zikri and looks after the gang’s interests in Baghdadi area.

• Dr Shoaib and Jabbar Langra work for Ghaffar Zikri and control the Singulane area in Chakiwara.

Rehman Dakait

Rehman Dakait was arrested in Quetta last year but escaped in Aug 2006 after just over three months in custody. Earlier, in 1997, he escaped from the police while being taken to court.

• Rehman’s front-man, Baba Ladla, controls Dubai Chowk and the area around it falling in the jurisdiction of Baghdadi.

• Jango works for Baba Ladla and safeguards the gang’s interests in Baghdadi’s Shapki lane.

• The Kalakot area is considered Rehman Dakait’s stronghold where his men Amjad, Laghari, Sajid Tunta and Sikandar maintain a presence.