November Issue 2013

By | Newsbeat | Published 11 years ago

Almost a month after the launch of the Ranger’s operation in Karachi, one of the most dangerous and violence-prone areas in the city became a battlefield all over again. The five-day operation, which took place late October, highlighted the power struggle between gang leaders Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla, who were not so long ago hand in glove with each other.

The operation resulted in the deaths of 12 people and dozens more were injured. The area was completely paralysed as schools and colleges were closed and people could not even go for their jobs. The clean-up operation also exposed the astounding number of arms in Lyari and raised serious questions about the prospects for peace in Karachi.

Rehman Dakait

Rehman Dakait

I frequently attend the Supreme Court’s proceedings on Karachi’s law and order situation. On a recent visit, I was surprised at how the bureaucrats and officials were misguiding the court. When the Chief Justice asked about the situation in Lyari, he was informed that it was a fight between the two groups and the situation was now under control with no neighbourhood marked as a “No Go Area.” But I knew that even the Advocate General, who was making this claim, cannot visit certain parts of Lyari without police and Rangers’ escort.

One also wonders why the police and Rangers failed to capture Baba Ladla and Uzair Baloch. Ladla’s house was raided during the operation and many of his gang members were killed in the operation, but he is still at large. A few rival gangsters such as Shiraz Comrade were nabbed by the police earlier this year, but major powerplayers such as Uzair Baloch seem untouchable. Some people in Lyari feared that this battle may never end because elements within the police and intelligence agencies do not want peace and normalcy restored in the area.

Shiraz Comrade

Shiraz Comrade

Chief Justice Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, who has been hearing this case since 2011, was surprised upon learning from customs officials that although they are aware that most weapons enter Karachi through land, as opposed to sea, routes, they have not yet intercepted any of these illegal channels.

He was also not fully informed that the Lyari gang war is closely linked with the drug trade and the massive sums of money required to purchase arms come from it.

Arrests of over 5,000 alleged criminals may not bring peace to Karachi unless the accused are prosecuted.
“The Lyari Gang War is a multi-million dollar business that has its patrons in the international underworld and thus it may never end,” remarked a senior official, on condition of anonymity.

Baba Ladla

Baba Ladla

From drug-trafficking, car smuggling and human trafficking to illicit supply of arms, various gangs operating in and around Lyari are suspected of being involved. Furthermore, all these criminal activities are taking place under the nose of the police and intelligence agencies, he maintains.

“Uzair and the ‘most wanted members’ of his gang could have been arrested as they were never in hiding, but they didn’t want to touch them,” the official added.

The truth of the matter is that all members of the Lyari gangs are used for nefarious ends and then eliminated. Once the agencies were done with Rehman Dakait and Arshad Pappu, they were bumped off in strange circumstances.

Zafar Baloch

Zafar Baloch

Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla may suffer the same fate and be replaced by another set of gangsters, contends another official of an intelligence agency.

Lyari, which over the past four decades was considered a stronghold of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), and was inhabited by the traditionally liberal and secular Baloch, has now turned into a safe haven for religious extremist groups and jihadi outfits.

Moreover, there is a recent trend among the Baloch youth of joining the Balochistan Liberation Movement. Many Lyari residents, including those who once worked for the PPP or nationalist parties and did not want to join any sectarian group or gang war, backed the Baloch groups involved in the mini insurgency in Balochistan. The appearance of a large number of bodies of “missing persons” in Karachi is also linked to this factor. Only recently, the body of the journalist turned nationalist, Abdul Rehman, who was picked up in March this year, was found in Karachi. He had been shot.

Uzair Baloch

Uzair Baloch

Hence, it is premature to infer that peace has returned to the “city of lights.” All wanted criminals, including those who carry “head money,” or those released on parole, are still at large. Moreover, out of an estimated two million licensed and unlicensed weapons, not even two per cent have been recovered.

Incidentally, the results of the operation in other parts of the city are also not very different, despite the tall claims of federal Interior Minister, Chaudhary Nisar Ali Khan that over 5,000 alleged terrorists have been arrested. Even the details regarding the recovery of illegal weapons, which according to earlier official claims was said to be in millions, is only around one million.

The Lyari gang war took a new turn with the murder of Zafar Baloch, a former spokesman of the People’s Amn Committee (PAC). Baloch, who was born and brought up in Lyari, was allegedly killed by members of the PAC, which he had joined in the ’90s.

Officials who are conducting the investigation into Zafar Baloch’s murder, rule out the possibility of the involvement of MQM legislator and former PPP leader from Lyari, Nabil Gabol.


One of the officers admitted that Arshad Pappu and Rehman Dakait operated in connivance with some of the police officers, and both were also used by the local politicians from time to time. There were occasions when both expressed a desire to quit the criminal way of life, but they were warned not to do so and were thrown behind bars in different cases. Thus, they had no option but to continue leading the lives they had become used to.

“It appears to be an inside job,” an intelligence official revealed, soon after the initial investigation.
In the last two or three months since his killing, there have been a series of murders of gang members, particularly those close to Baba Ladla, the official added, hinting at the split between Baba Ladla and Uzair Baloch — one of the “most wanted and vulnerable members” of Lyari. But depite his Most Wanted status, Uzair managed to arrange an Iftar dinner for some 300 journalists from the print and electronic media, an event which was broadcasted on television.

But Zafar, who was very close to Uzair, had so much faith in his own people that he rarely moved around with any security. He was killed near Bizenjo Chowk, the place from where he had once courted arrest during the PPP movement against martial law.

It is ironic that several men who have become members of the Lyari gang, by accident or by design, were once actively involved in popular sports such as football, boxing and cycling. But with the ban on employment for sportsmen in government departments, many of them were rendered jobless and subsequently resorted to other means to earn money.

“Many militant groups and non-state actors pay you good money for undertaking dangerous jobs. Extortion and kidnapping for ransom are among the most paying and convenient businesses for them,” says Rahim Baloch, a resident of Lyari.

The Lyari war had not spread to the rest of the city prior to Zulfiqar Mirza’s tenure as home minister, during which period he had issued over 100,000 arms licenses including licenses for prohibited arms, giving the gangsters a free hand to take on the militants of the MQM, which resulted in the most brutal killings the city witnessed in early 2012.
The brutality of the Lyari gang war can also be judged from the manner in which Arshad Pappu, who allegedly killed Uzair Baloch’s father years ago, was kidnapped along with two others. All three were killed, their bodies were burnt and their ashes thrown into the gutter. Some unconfirmed reports also suggested that Pappu was beheaded and his assailant played football with his head at the Lyari football stadium.

Uzair Baloch, Zafar Baloch and Baba Ladla were the leading lights of the PAC, along with the old PPP jiyala, Habib Jan Baloch. All of them were united in their grievances against the PPP leadership for ignoring the people of Lyari, who had always backed PPP candidates on account of their old loyalties to the Bhuttos.

The Gabols also have a stake in Lyari and have been actively involved in Lyari’s politics since 1937, when Nabil Gabol’s grandfather, Allah Bakhsh Gabol defeated Sir Abdullah Haroon in 1937; 33 years later Nabil’s uncle, Abdus Sattar Gabol defeated Mahmoud Haroon in 1970 on a PPP ticket. However, the Gabols fell victim to the ongoing bloody feud, when Nabil sided with Rehman Dakait, who was also his polling agent in the 2008 general elections.

The People’s Amn Committee that had emerged following the 2008 elections, accused Nabil of favouring Rehman Dakait’s men and ignoring party workers. When Habib Jan Baloch, who is close to Uzair and Zafar Baloch, demanded action against him, Nabil quit the group. And unlike Qadir Patel, the other MNA from the area, he has no intention of returning to the PAC fold any time soon.

“There was no room left for me in this new trend of doing politics in Lyari, whereby the PPP leadership is backing non-political actors,” says Gabol. He has since then joined the MQM, who awarded him a ticket not only from Lyari, but also from its stronghold, Azizabad. He lost from his old constituency but won from the Mohajir constituency.
The Lyari gang war, which started with a minor dispute between two gangsters, at a time when criminals didn’t carry pistols but knives, has taken the lives of hundreds of Lyari residents.

Some of the senior police and intelligence officers who have followed this gang war closely are of the view that the tussle from day one was over who would “control the area.”

One of the officers admitted that Arshad Pappu and Rehman Dakait operated in connivance with some of the police officers, and both were also used by the local politicians from time to time. There were occasions when both expressed a desire to quit the criminal way of life, but they were warned not to do so and were thrown behind bars in different cases. Thus, they had no option but to continue leading the lives they had become used to.

While police suspected that Pappu was killed by militants from the People’s Amn Committee, no arrests have been made so far. Also, there has been no official comment on his murder from the PAC.

The PAC, which controls Lyari today, became extremely powerful during Zulfiqar Mirza’s tenure. It was former president, Asif Ali Zardari, who forced Mirza to stop his anti-MQM politics, which eventually led to his ouster from the scene. But it was a belated decision as, by that time, the PAC had become so powerful that the PPP had to surrender to their demands to nominate candidates like Shahjahan and Sania Naz Baloch from Lyari for the general elections.

Lyari, which was once known for its uprising against General Zia’s martial law — leading to hangings of several of its workers for showing their loyalty to Bhutto, including Nasir Baloch and Ayaz Samoo — is today struggling to revive its traditional politics.

The PAC formed an elder’s committee to thrash out a reconciliation with the PPP. They negotiated with Owais Muzaffar alias Tappi and Zardari’s sister Faryal Talpur, as many of them wanted to enter mainstream politics after the May 11 elections.


Lyari, till the ’70s, was politically controlled by the Haroons, but their traditional hold was broken by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto when he launched the PPP in 1967 and challenged the Haroons in the 1970 elections by awarding a ticket to a local, Abdul Sattar Gabol. PPP has never looked back and won all the elections since then. But they have failed to end the Lyari gang war and, on the contrary, wittingly or unwittingly, sided with one gang or the other.

With its old guard out of the way, the Lyari gang war may continue with new characters mainly because of the huge stakes involved. The family feud, which began with gangsters Kala Nag and Shero Dada, may have ended with the elimination of Rehman and Pappu, but the war continues and the hope of seeing normalcy return to Lyari may remain a distant dream.

“It really pains me to see the state Lyari is in today. Children, who once had boxing gloves on their hands, now carry guns. Those who loved football, watched World Cups and supported Brazil, now play football with the heads of those they have beheaded,” says veteran journalist Nadir Shah Adil. Adil had to leave Lyari after spending five decades there, when his two sons were badly beaten up by members of the Lyari gang, because he asked them not make a din around his house.

“I know the boys who almost killed my sons; when they were kids, I use to take them along to watch football matches at the Peoples Stadium in Lyari — a ground where football is now played with the heads of the likes of Arshad Pappu,” he adds as his eyes glisten with tears.