By Daneen Baloch | DAWN.COM
KARACHI: On a seemingly calm Sunday, when the Rangers’ operation in the city’s oldest quarter was on and Zulfiqar Mirza was making headlines with his diatribe, many in Lyari felt that their voices were not being heard by the politicians and the media.
“Our locality and its inhabitants are being singled out as being part of a gang war that is sabotaging peace in the city,” said Mohammad. A driver by profession, Mohammad, 33, belongs to the Katchi community and is a resident of Old Kumhar wara. “Despite the hype we see about Lyari’s gangs and goons, I was never hurt or threatened by any Baloch in Lyari. For me, the town is my second home.”
Visibly frustrated at the way things were going on in the city, he said, “If the Rangers operation is necessary it has to be across the board. Why is it that it’s only Lyari that is being targeted and termed as a ‘gangsters’ town?”
Living in abject poverty with little means to sustain their day to day existence, the locals feel that broken promises of their elected representatives and the media are responsible for the crisis that this area faces.
“I’m a Baloch from Lyari and I’m not a gangster. Please stop Lyari’s media trail,” said Raza (not his real name), a 23 years old student who runs a net café in the area.
Talking about the recent turn of events that have once again shoved Lyari into the limelight for all the wrong reasons, he says, “The media is very biased and polarised. Lyari was never a ‘No Go’ area for anyone. We have all kinds of ethnic groups living in the same neighborhood; we share each other’s sorrows and happiness together. However, the media is hell bent on creating a hostile picture and there is no one willing to share our stories.”
Of the ethnic violence and gang war in the area, he says its “political in nature with extortionists calling the shots.”
“But it’s not only the killings that are worrying us. After the brutal killing of five men from Lyari, many employers have asked their Baloch workforce not to come to work as security cannot be guaranteed. As it is, poverty and lack of employment opportunities has been frustrating the residents of Lyari for years. Now, this will allow more youngsters to go for the guns and drugs.”
With its narrow interlinked lanes that are no less a maze, a trip to the area is an eye opener. With many communities living side by side, the place once known for its late night rendezvous and football crazy locals is now a shadow of its former self.
Shahid Husain, a senior Journalist and former activist, termed Lyari the most vibrant place in Karachi with its unique sub-culture. “I have never seen such a lively place. I use to go to Lyari everyday when I was a student. I never felt threatened because the people there were so friendly and loving.” But that was over three decades ago and then the downfall of this peaceful locality began. “Considered a stronghold of the Pakistan People’s Party, Lyari was transformed when heroine and Kalashnikov were introduced during the Afghan War. That was a dictator’s gift.”
A highly populated area, with the 1998 census stating Lyari’s population to be over 600000; Lyari is no more than a slum. Come elections and the politicians throng the area for getting the maximum political mileage and disappear once in the assembly. Years of neglect and official apathy hasn’t gone unnoticed by the locals and nor has the ‘gifts’ of dictators.
“Despite being the oldest slum in South Asia, Lyari was always known for its peace and calm and the mutual respect that people had for various communities. It was a peaceful coexistence,” said Asghar Baloch, a government school teacher.
Sharing a similar sentiment as Raza and others, he too blamed the media for being biased, with “the ‘gang war’ being created by the media”.
“Petty drug peddlers in Lyari are portrayed as larger than life characters by the media,” he said.
“The then government of Arbab Ghulam Rahim and its ally the MQM deliberately allowed the killing of the people of Lyari by two rival gangs,” he alleged.
“The Musharraf regime allowed for the systematic nurturing of violence. The drug peddlers and goons, who were criminals and should have been dealt accordingly, were given a freehand and now they rule the roost. They (government) ignored the killings in Lyari when one Baloch was killing another Baloch for drug money. Many of the Baloch men who were killed were not gangsters or from the drug mafia. But because Lyari was never their vote bank, they looked away.”
“No one did anything for this area and the communities living here. The very youngsters who lost their family members in gang war back then are now holding guns and trying to avenge for their loss. Today Lyari is once again being used for political gains while the future of its people looks bleak,” he added.
Fearing for their lives and afraid of being singled out, many Baloch residents have stopped venturing to other parts of the town. A vocal matriarch, Hamida Baloch says that her children have barred her from travelling to other areas. “I wear Balochi dress. My children say that I could be kidnapped and killed,” she said. She claimed that some of her acquaintances were humiliated and had their heads and eyebrows shaved by men from the Urdu-speaking community.
Recalling old times, she said that she was born and bred in Karachi and her family members playing an active part in the development of the Karachi port. “Our forefathers moved to Karachi back in 1880’s from Balochistan. Their sweat and blood is there in the foundation of the Karachi Port Trust. My grandchildren are the fifth generation who were born here in Karachi. We are the children of this soil and are more loyal and patriotic to Karachi than anyone else and today we are being called criminals, it really hurts!” she complained.
On the Rangers’ operation in Karachi, she said that her family and those in neighbourhood did not join in the protests as “we want an operation against anyone who is involved in violence in the city.”
Pakistan’s long list of problems has a new addition this summer: vicious communal violence in Karachi.
More than 300 people have been killed in recent weeks, some under grisly circumstances that include decapitations, torture chambers and bodies placed in gunnysacks and dumped on the side of the road.
The neighborhood of Lyari, a warren of streets and rampant crime, has been a no-go zone during the escalating violence. The Date Market is a landmark in this congested part of Old Karachi. It’s showing signs of life now, but some are still reluctant to venture out at a time when they should be marking the end of Ramadan, and a month of daytime fasting, with the celebration of the Eid holiday.
“It’s really very bad, especially for the laborers and the working-class people, they have been crushed because of this violence,” said Mohammad Naeem Baloch, a date merchant. “In such conditions, how would you celebrate Eid?”
A City Of Ethnic Tensions
Karachi was a modest port city at Pakistan’s independence in 1947. It’s now a sprawling, chaotic mega-city with roughly 18 million people, though no one knows the number for sure. Much of that growth has come from migrants. They include the ethnic Baloch from the rural southwest of the country. In addition, Pashtuns have come in large numbers from the war-ravaged northwest of Pakistan.
Millions more are known as Muhajirs, or Urdu-speakers who are descendants of Indian immigrants. Politically, the Muhajirs support the MQM, the dominant political group in Karachi.
The People’s Party, led by President Asif Ali Zardari, the widower of Benazir Bhutto, is also a force in Karachi. But there are many competing factions — like the gang leaders who are also lionized on billboards.
Most of the recent violence has involved the Baloch and Muhajir communities.
Baloch Men Targeted
After one recent killing spree, five young Baloch men from the same neighborhood, Lyari, were buried on the same day. In the night hours spanning Aug. 15 and 16, all five were abducted and tortured, and after they were killed, their bodies shoved into gunnysacks.
One of them, Shahnawaz Baloch, was the father of baby triplets and was going out to buy his children new clothes for Eid when he was kidnapped, according to his father, Maula Baksh.
If the murderers of a prime minister could not be arrested, then who would nab our children’s killers?
– Malik Gulzar, whose son was brutally killed recently, referring to the 2007 killing of Benazir Bhutto
Baksh said that when he saw his son’s body, it bore the marks of severe torture. His face was so disfigured that one side was unrecognizable. He says his son was tall and healthy, and the killers stuffed his legs into one gunnysack and his torso in another and stitched them together. They dumped his son’s body on the side of the road near a graveyard.
Maula Baksh’s son was not alone that night. He had piled onto a single motorcycle with his two best friends, Kamran and Saqib. Police say the bodies of all three men were discovered on a road in an area of town dominated by Muhajirs.
Kamran and Saqib’s uncle, Mohammad Hanif, saw their bodies when an ambulance service brought them home. He said they were wrapped in simple white linen but were drenched in blood, and he sent a nephew to ask a mufti, an Islamic scholar, whether the bodies should be washed. The mufti ruled that the linens could be changed, but the bodies should not be washed because he said they were martyrs.
Two more youths, who were cousins, were killed with guns and hand drills.
Motives Not Clear
Relatives say the five who were slain said they did not belong to any political party, and worked in shops and small industries.
A report published in a leading Pakistan newspaper, Daily Jang, claimed that a Baloch gangster killed the five young men on suspicion that they had been spying for a rival gang.
The families of the dead men deny this, and have accused the MQM, the Muhajir political party that has long been accused of cultivating gangs to consolidate its political power.
However, President Zardari’s People’s Party has been seeking to counter the power of the MQM in Karachi, according to Moin-Ud Din Haider, a retired lieutenant general who served as a caretaker governor in Karachi in the late 1990s. “Every party wants to increase its influence on its political turf,” he said. “And that is also a cause of friction.”
Muhajirs Also Targeted
Muhajirs, too, have been victims. In a Muhajir area across town, parents grieved for their murdered son, Malik Irfan. The mother, Zareena Begum, said her son was decapitated.
“Our hearts are broken,” she said, adding that during Eid, a time of celebration, her family felt only sorrow.
This Muhajir family was expert in Baloch embroidery and even opened a shop in an area many Muhajirs dare not go. But as tensions rose over the murders of the five young Baloch men, 28-year-old Irfan was a convenient target for those seeking revenge.
Malik Gulzar identified his son at the morgue.
“I didn’t have enough courage to look into the gunnysack of my son’s remains,” he said. “But others I saw had their arms and legs chopped off. Even an animal is not killed in the way my son was killed.”
Malik Gulzar does not wish to avenge his son’s killing. He said he has lived among the Baloch for many years, and that “the majority are good; the criminals are very few.”
Still, he lacks faith in the judicial system.
“If the murderers of a prime minister could not be arrested,” he said in a reference to the 2007 killing of Benazir Bhutto, “then who would nab our children’s killers?”