The Lyari area of Karachi resembles a warzone – an urban Waziristan where various militias fight each other every day to gain control of territory. And they survive despite a number of law-enforcement operations.
At least 1,831 people have been killed in violence in Lyari in the last three years, most of which is a consequence of notorious gangster Baba Ladla parting ways with Uzair Jan Baloch, the head of the ironically named Amn Committee of Lyari.
“The problem is that law-enforcement authorities are siding with one group or another,” Baba Ladla said while speaking from an undisclosed location. “There are extrajudicial killings.” He accused Uzair Baloch of killing his friends and relatives. Lately, he is fighting turf wars against his rival’s aide Shiraz Comrade over control of Lyari.
Uzair Baloch fled to Oman and then to the UK because of worsening ties with his former ally Pakistan People’s Party, and is trying to control Lyari from London. Baba Ladla is likely residing somewhere close to the Iranian border in Balochistan.
According to Karachi police-chief Shahid Hyat, “We are operating in Lyari but we have our limitations, there are some five hundred people policing a 1.8 million population.” In a high-level security meeting with Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Rangers direction general Rizwan Akhtar said there was “political interference” in the locality and some gangsters were being backed by the PPP.
[quote]”About 500 cops are policing a 1.8 million population”[/quote]
History of the conflict
Lyari is one of the oldest towns in Karachi, with a population of over one million. According to Yahya Baloch, a teacher of history, Lyari was first called Dirbo, but later renamed Kolachi-jo-Goth after a fisherwoman who settled in the town. “It was inhabited mainly by fishermen of Baloch descent.”
Eventually, the bed of the Lyari River was reclaimed for housing. On the other side of the Lyari River, “Khadda” had already been built to accommodate fisherman who were removed from Machi Meanee in 1870. In 1964, Dad Muhammad, also known as Dadal, formed a gang with his brother Sheru, who worked at Rex Cinema, and began to illegally sell Hashish. Dad Muhammad was the father of Rehman Baloch, now known as Rehman Dakait. Together, Dadal and Sheru took on the biggest drug peddler in Karachi, known as Kala Nag. Nag was later killed in a police encounter.
Nag’s son Fazlu (or Kala Nag II) and Iqbal Dakait aka Babu competed with rival Haji Lal Mohammad aka Lalu, who was Rehman Dakait’s godfather. In the 1990s, Rehman consolidated his power in Karachi with the support of PPP-backed Khaled Shahanshah and others. In the mid-1990s, Rehman Dakait abducted Saleem Memon, a trader from the Kharadar area, for ransom. Lalu asked Rehman to release the man for free, but secretly took the ransom himself. Ties between the two men broke down after that.
Later, Lalu’s son Arshad Pappu abducted businessman Faiz Muhammad – who was Rehman’s cousin – and killed him. Faiz’s son Uzair Baloch eventually became Rehman Baloch’s successor.
Arshad Papu and his brother were brutally beheaded last year, likely in a revenge killing by Uzair Baloch. Uzair also helped federal agencies cleanse Lyari of Baloch nationalists and separatists, winning their support in return.
The role of PPP
Over the years, traditional PPP supporters with a political clout had kept peace between various groups in Lyari. But the polcy changed under former Sindh home minister Zulfiqar Mirza and his aides.
The Amn Committee was originally known as People’s Amn Committee, and was expected to act as the PPP’s armed wing and a deterrent against the MQM. But the strategy seems to have backfired.
“The idea was to pitch us against MQM and to take on the MQM,” Uzair Baloch had said in 2012. “We were initially given the task to take over four or five National Assembly constituencies. In return we were promised perks, which were never delivered.”
PPP’s key political liaison in the Amn Committee was Zafar Baloch, who was close to Uzair and was known to have political ambitions of his own. In the first phase, the committee banned PPP legislator Nabeel Gabol (now with MQM) and provincial assembly member Rafique Engineer from entering Lyari. Then, Zafar Baloch was killed mysteriously last year in a murder now claimed by Baba Ladla. But Bilawal House developed a new liaison with the Amn Committee – Abdul Qadir Patel.
In 2013, the People’s Amn Committee demanded political recognition, and in a settlement, the PPP gave out some political stakes to them. MPA Sania Baloch and MNA Shahjahan Baloch (now jailed for Arshad Papu’s murder) were elected in the elections that followed. The PPP continues to keep its ties with the Amn Committee secret.
Why Lyari is important
“Lyari is big business,” said Imtiaz Chandio, a resident and former police officer in Lyari. According to him, “Lyari remains a drug distribution hub of the region along with countless gambling rings and now a flourishing extortion center of Karachi.”
Another police official who wanted to remain anonymous confirmed said the new Karachi police chief was a clean man, but “Lyari’s police stations are sold at around Rs 2.5 million to Rs 5 million for an SHO posting.”
A stern attempt by Rangers to control crime in the area did not succeed either, apparently because the gangs developed new allies in law-enforcement agencies.
In an unprecedented Jirga recently, Sania Baloch and elders representing Baba Ladla announced a ceasefire. The peacemaker was Ayaz Latif Palejo. “Lyari is the most poor and underdeveloped area of Karachi marked by violence,” he said. “As a citizen of Karachi, I thought it was my duty to make peace in absence of government, which I did, and that must be appreciated.”
It remains to be seen whether the truce will translate to lasting peace.