To the oldest locality of Pakistan’s largest city, violence and illegal activities is not new. Lyari saw its first well known gangster back in 1960s. Gangs were typically involved in drug smuggling, bootlegging and other street crimes. The situation took a turn for the worse in the 1980s when weapons and arms began to enter Pakistan through the anti-soviet war in Afghanistan.
Two of the largest and widely known gangs of Lyari are Arshad Pappu’s Gang and Rehman Daicait’s Gang. They once used to be on the same side but a conflict over profits caused Rehman and Haji Lalu, Arshad Pappu’s father, to split. This was a great setback for Lalu as Rehman took his supporters and contacts with him to form the Peoples Amn Committee in 2009.
The latest operation in Lyari was prompted by the murder of a Pakistan People’s party (PPP) leader, Malik Mohammad Khan a week ago. The continuous state of insecurity has brought life to a standstill. Basic amenities of life like water, gas, electricity are not available. Meager food supplies and high resistance against relief packages are a constant source of worry for the residents. Exceptions for medical aid are not even made. It is reported that Edhi ambulances are forbidden from entering the zone in case their Baluch- ethnic drivers assist the criminals.
The violence stemming from gang wars has swollen to such great proportions that law enforcers are finding it difficult to quell the unrest. These gangsters have been using sophisticated weapons including rocket propelled grenades and some of their local inventions like the Awan, a combination of a grenade and a rocket launcher. The police have returned fire by their Armored Personnel Carriers, which some believe are of little help as they frequently break down, are too large for the narrow lanes in Lyari and are not bullet proof. Other techniques like blocking mobile services in the area have also been used to disadvantage the criminals. But since they use walkie-talkies the only disadvantaged party are the common people who cannot communicate with each other. Although rangers and paramilitary forces have been called to reinforce the operation, the deteriorating living conditions have forced many families to abandon their homes for safer neighborhoods.
The situation is not merely of a group of gangs involved in unlawful activities. The gangs themselves are struggling to control internal conflicts. One of the most notorious gangs, People’s Amn Committee, has witnessed a race amongst successors for its leadership. Rauf Baluch, who previously served as an advisor to Rehman and his brother, was accused of tipping the police about the latter’s whereabouts in order to accede to his position. Rehman’s cousin, Akram Baluch was also interested in becoming the leader but his efforts were in vain. The gang is currently being lead by Uzair Baluch, who has not been as successful at uniting the gang’s members as Rehman was able to. CID reports claim that over 450 lives have been lost in the past 4 years from intra-gang conflicts. The death toll is even higher for disputes amongst gangs like the Ghaffar Zikri gang, Faizu Dada gang, Rauf Baloch gang and Amjad Lashari gang.
What makes these rivalries even worse is political interference. Lyari is popularly known as the hub of PPP support. Party leaders like Nabeel Gabol and Rafiq Engineer have won through this constituency. In fact, PPP has won every election it has contested in Lyari since 1970 till 2008. It has kept a steady relationship with local gangs particularly the People’s Amn Committee. The gang’s leader, Uzair baluch, was reportedly appointed by PPP. Zulfikar Mirza,senior leader of PPP has patronized Uzair baluch and Zafar baluch while Gabol has been on record for holding a meeting with Uzair Baluch as recent as one to one and a half year ago. So one wonders what transpired between the two organizations that caused Gabol to accuse PAC for Malik Khan’s murder.
Some security analysts hold political parties responsible for the creation and development of militancy in gangs. PPP’s support to the Amn Committee is countered by MQM’s support to Arshad Pappu’s Gang and the Kutchi Community. Zafar Baluch recently attested to the fact that PPP armed the locals with weapons to aid their political rallies especially against MQM. These weapons are now allegedly being used against law enforcers. Both parties deny any involvement.
According to the Amn committee their rift with the PPP came about when the latter refused to help them in acquiring employment and achieving better living standards. Others believe the real reason to be the forced closure of the gang’s drug havens which affected their incomes. PPP leaders deny any involvement in illicit activities and pledge to stop all kind of criminals in the city.
The ethnic dimension of the violence is too distant an issue. The Baluch political parties have protested against the biased operation in Lyari which are targeting their community. They feel betrayed by the government for whom they voted for in the past. Protests have been carried out at various location like Nishter Road, PIB Colony and Malir. Shops were closed, roads were blocked, tires and effigies of PPP leaders were burned. But the Baluch Liberation Army’s (BLA) literature seized from some of Lyari’s gang members tells another story. The police believe BLA is using the help of Lyari gangs for their insurgency operations.
Law enforcement agencies are not free from allegations and scandals either. Numerous reports have been heard about the gradual success of police forces in securing parts of Lyari but many have been found to be an exaggeration. The efficacy of the police forces is questionable when about 15000 forces are deployed to take down only few hundred criminals. If gangsters are being caught and killed, the level of violence has not assuaged and neither has the public been given any proof of the convicted or killed criminals. There are rumors which claim the police has joined forces with Arshad Pappu’s gang to take down members of the Amn Committee. At the same time, the weapons confiscated by the police are said to have vanished implying some underground deal. Many cases of corrupt actions have been heard against Chaudhry Aslam, the face of the law enforcement forces in Lyari. Some believe he yields more power than IG Sindh.
The situation in Lyari should be an eye opener for the government which at the moment is engrossed with new provinces and the fate of a convicted prime minister. Internal discontent is not intrinsic to Pakistan but the repetitive unwavering violence in Lyari should be taken seriously.
Irrespective of who is responsible in Lyari, the public is witnessing a change in their mood and probably loyalties. The well known hub of PPP may no longer be in the clutches of PPP. Extremely vocal and visible dissatisfaction has been shown regarding their leaders. The ruling party is already cornered on all fronts by the nation’s troubled economy, security and foreign policy situation. Internal divisions in the heart of its province may be the last blow for PPP.
More importantly, the perseverance of criminals and non-state actors to influence the state is dangerous. The ease with which internal peace can be disrupted makes Pakistan a prey to all kinds of possible schisms. The unlimited provision of warfare to criminals is already a sign of how much our unity has been eroded.
At the face of it Lyari’s grievances seem very simple- the right of employment, basic amenities and safety. Achieving these goals is not hard if the rulers and leaders of all the involved parties agree to put the interests of the public before their own interests. For the time being however, the unabated killings and siege in Lyari has to stop. The army has been quite adept at handling the violence in Karachi in the 1990s and more recently in Swat. A strong hand is needed to halt this violence but an even stronger will on the part of all political and social leaders is needed for sustainable peace.