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Lyari: a virtual war zone

Published Apr 28, 2012 10:05pm


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Policemen presenting Guard of Honour to the coffin of the police inspector who was killed in the Lyari operation, at Garden Headquarters.— ONLINE PHOTO by Sabir Mazhar

KARACHI: For the last several days, the densely populated neighbourhood of Lyari has been resounding with endless volleys of gunfire. At times the sound of gunfire is interrupted by rocket-propelled grenades, forcing most residents to either remain indoors or run for life.

Violence seems to have become a permanent feature of life in one of the oldest and most impoverished neighbourhoods in Karachi. In the latest round of bloodletting, security forces have squared off against gunmen and ‘gangsters’ following the murder of a seasoned Pakistan People’s Party activist on Thursday.

A resident told this writer on Saturday that his locality had been without water and electricity since early Friday morning. Families had run short of food and milk for children along with other essentials since no shop was open.

If anyone dared venture outside, they risked being caught in the crossfire. A station house officer was shot dead in a clash with criminals on Saturday. The manner in which the SHO and his team were trapped and ambushed shows the nature of organised violence in the area.

However, while security forces confronted gunmen armed with grenades and other heavy weapons, many outside of Lyari are unaware of the bloodshed and lawlessness that now appears to rule Karachi’s old city area.

Local PPP leader Malik Mohammad Khan Niazi was killed at Aath Chowk while leading a procession against the conviction of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani in the contempt case. Law enforcers have blamed the ‘defunct’ but active People’s Amn Committee -- formerly associated with the PPP — for the killing. If this is assumed to be true, it must be asked why the organisation, considered a criminal outfit by its detractors, turned its guns on the party.

“Maybe because of the feeling of betrayal,” a disgruntled youth said. The ‘committee’, or at least a major faction of it led by Uzair Baloch and Habib Jan Baloch, became the sole target of an earlier operation “at the behest of the largest extortionist group of the city”, he added. Amn Committee sympathisers say another faction of the organisation, led by Baba Ladla, has been spared, while criminals loyal to the rival Arshad Pappu gang are being used by police to identify Amn Committee fighters.

Having failed to enter Lyari through Lea Market in the last round of the so-called operation against extortionists in mid-April, this time the police and other security forces, led by SP ‘Chaudhry’ Aslam Khan, tried to “conquer” — as some locals put it — the area by entering from Cheel Chowk.

Their target was the infamous Kalakot area, but to block its entry and exit points the law enforcers cordoned off neighbouring Nawa Lane and Kumhar Wara. As a result a population of around 100,000 was held hostage. Situations like this have earlier led to massive protests by residents.

Political dimension

The ‘selective’ operation has led to the estrangement of the Amn Committee from the PPP to such an extent that according to reports its leader Uzair Baloch has decided to quit the party and is seriously thinking about joining the Pakistan Muslim League-N.

Residents say the process of alienation is not confined to the Amn Committee alone but has engulfed almost the entire population of Lyari, because of sufferings they have to go through during the operations. Some have also alleged that Chaudhry Aslam has used his ‘private army’ — gunmen not belonging to the police or other law-enforcing agencies — in the operation.

They allege Aslam has a personal vendetta because of insults heaped upon him by the Amn Committee when it was led by the notorious Rehman ‘Dakait’, or Sardar Abdul Rehman as he wished to be known.

PPP stalwarts including Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah and Home Minister Manzoor Wassan have kept insisting that it is a targeted operation against extortionists without discrimination. This has rubbed some in Lyari the wrong way.

“Why only in Lyari? Why isn’t an anti-extortion operation launched in other areas of the city where extortion takes place at a larger scale?” asked Abdul Mutallib Qasarqandi, a political activist and businessman.

“Extortion in Lyari used to be limited to local shopkeepers, traders and transporters. When the extortionists started expanding operations to Kharadar, Jodia Bazaar and Tower, those who had a monopoly over the business started objecting and demanded an operation against Lyari criminals while indulging in the same business in the entire city,” he added.

‘Robin Hood’ phenomenon

When the current PPP-led government assumed power, Rehman Dakait started harbouring aspirations about a future in politics — a wish still nurtured by his successors. Due to the apathy shown to the voters by PPP lawmakers, the Amn Committee started to fill in for the state, re-branding itself as a social/community organisation.

While MNA Nabeel Gabol and MPA Rafique Engineer were seldom seen in their constituency and accused of neglecting Lyari, the Amn Committee worked on its image by getting involved in the area’s uplift.

Some locals are of the opinion that if the PPP continues to take its voters for granted, even Bilawal Bhutto Zardari may find it difficult to win a National Assembly seat from Lyari. However, former People’s Party MPA Nasreen Chandio said that though the allure of the Bhutto family may compel Lyari’s people — diehard supporters of the PPP — to vote for the young Bhutto, the party’s vote bank is bound to shrink in the coming general elections.

Until a few years ago, Lyari was regarded as vanguard of pro-democracy agitation. But residents said utter neglect by its political class allowed the local gangsters to take the centre-stage. Many were involved in running local dens, but soon strengthened their political position by involving themselves in social work. Within no time the situation degenerated into turf war between various warlords like gang leaders, posing themselves as politicians or social activists. And in all this local and central PPP leadership remained silent spectator, complained many former party activists.

Now it appears this is a political war the PPP is set to lose because its leadership makes decisions about Lyari to appease others, and when the situation aggravates, it depends on advice offered by leaders such as Nabeel Gabol and Rafique Engineer, who have become unacceptable as far as the politics of Lyari is concerned.


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Comments (12) Closed

Asim May 02, 2012 08:40am
Can you guys ever think of any broader than Balochs being killed and forced out of Karachi?? Are these innocent guys in Liyari fighting with RPGs and armour piercing bullets? The gangs of liyari are famous and well known for their notoriety and they have to end. Offcourse people from every community are welcome to live in Karachi and they actually are living and working here with other residents. On the other hand, notice what happens if someone from Karachi, from a city from Punjab or from Hazara community goes to Balochistan! He hardly makes it back home alive! So stop whining and accept that the 'Gangs of Liyari' as well as gangs anywhere else have to go, whether they have Balochs, Punjabis. Sindhis, Pathans, Kashmiris or Mohajirs.
S. Masood Apr 29, 2012 01:27pm
All criminals anywhere in the nation should be treated with the full force of law. Be it rich, poor, with the government, against it, with agencies, army, any political party etc - if crime is committed, it should be tackled. This is the only recipe if this nation is to remain intact. Full marks to government for being courageous to tackle - 'extortion gangs'. This should apply equally to all such gangs in the city.
Javed Apr 30, 2012 08:12am
If this government can not govern a small constituency of its own, no wonder rest of Pakistan is in shambles. I agree with Tahir, our people have become addicted to inflicting suffering upon themselves by electing criminals into power - now SUFFER
Adil Jadoon Apr 29, 2012 11:17pm
"estrangement of the Amn Committee from the PPP to such an extent that according to reports its leader Uzair Baloch has decided to quit the party and is seriously thinking about joining the Pakistan Muslim League-N." says a lot about our political parties. I will be voting for PTI this time and so should anyone else interested in having a future for their children.
tahir Apr 29, 2012 10:28pm
you reep what you sow. We elect incompetent leaders and then we cry they fails us.
Shoro Shahnaz Apr 29, 2012 03:42pm
Innocent people of Liyari are being killed and tortured for their unconditional love for PPP. Present Government's this act is reminding the days of Dictator general Zia. One has to think whether this is the democracy for Bhutto the Great and Benazeer Bhutto scarified their lives. These killing of Liyari's poor people by the Present Government's will be considered as one of the worst step taken by any previous regime of Pakistan. If Bilawal Bhutto is the true follower of BB of ZAB he himself should go to Liyari but no one seems to have courage. No matter how many innocents are being killed red. The worst act, the most condemnable act by this government. WHERE IS MIRZA WHOSE FAMILY IS SHARING AN ATTRACTIVE CHUNK OF POWER ????
Out spoken Apr 29, 2012 07:41am
The Government think that they are the "Masters" whatever they think is right may be taken as "Right" by All! But in democracy it is not so, one have to see the other side of the coin. Be the servants of the People not the "Masters" you may be right, but listen to others they may not be "wrong"
krishna prasad Apr 29, 2012 02:45pm
So parochial, pathetic and disgusting politics when lives and livelihood of people in the area are involved just by targeting some specified elements without any logic or rationale to support. Criminals are criminals wherever they exist - be it in bureaucracy, politics, or administration. Police acting to appease one party or some people won't help the situation controlled. It aggravates due to mis-governance and wrong core values in the society. It will snowball into bigger in the coming years engulfing the whole Karachi one day or the other. A principled stand and common law should prevail and it should be seen by public as impartial is important.
Gangozar Apr 29, 2012 06:44pm
The little Brazil called for its soccer craze and the great ground for boxers in the entire South Asia - Lyari is burning thanks to corrupt politicians from PPP and other opportunist political parties. Spare Sportsmanship ground of Karachi!!!!! For God's sake.
Capt Mansur Apr 29, 2012 02:11pm
We need socialism in Pakistan. Enough of these Politicians.. extremism...we need some one to look after common people.
Aijaz Solangi Apr 29, 2012 11:41am
No one criminal is hanged in the history of Pakistan. Killers of many people are at the top levels of government. Always governments tried to prove themselves that they are doing hard to arrest all the criminals, but infact its all opposite, even if few were real criminals and arrested, they'll get easily relief from courts. If your courts would be the place of justice, then there will be no need of such kind of so-called operations against indigenous people. The problem is only our judiciary system is not effective or they have the bundles of cases and no time. The higher courts are kept engaged in political issuing, keeping away the fundamental issues of people.
Masood Baloch Apr 30, 2012 05:00pm
When you read about Lyari operation, one question comes to mind; are all the criminals of Karachi operating from Lyari? If not, then why the operation only in Lyari. To analyze the situation of Lyari we have to understand there is always a political and economical motive of the oppressors in suppressing a community or a nation. Those who know the history of Lyari will understand when I say the land of Lyari is the most lucrative real estate of Karachi. Since the birth of Pakistan, the rulers of have been trying to force the Baloch of Lyari to migrate so they can grab the land. Other than this, what you see is just a smoke screen to hide the real motive.