The story of Lyari: A history of the gang wars in Karachi's oldest town

By Ali K. Chishti

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.

Gang wars

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.

Uzair now heads the controversial People’s Amn Committee (PAC) in Lyari, Lalu operates from Dubai, and his son Arshad Pappu was recently released by the police. Both the groups claim links with the Pakistan People’s Party.

“The People’s Amn Committee or Lyari Amn Committee had traditionally been backed by the PPP. The Sindhi elements in the party wanted to increase its influence in Karachi,” a source in the party said. “The idea backfired.”

People’s Amn Committee

“We formed the PAC in 2008, when I came back from jail,” Uzair Baloch said. “There was a feeling in Lyari that there is no one to look after us and that we had been deprived of our rights. It is more or less a pressure group working for the betterment of Lyari.” Uzair said the group included health, legal aid and education committees that helped the people of Lyari. “It also promotes peace between various communities. Our members include people from all sects, religions and ethnicities.”

Uzair said his father and uncle Rehman Baloch were PPP supporters, and so was the rest of Lyari. “We were the foot soldiers of the Bhuttos and of President Asif Zardari,” he said. “But the PPP has betrayed us.”

He criticised the party for the recent law-enforcement operation in Lyari. “We did whatever the party asked us to do, including taking on the MQM. And now they have unleashed the police on us.”

Uzair’s rivals, Haji Lalu and his son Arshad Pappu, are said to have been backed by the MQM. He said Arshad had threatened in a phone call that he would arrive on a Sindh Police vehicle and occupy his house.

“We feel betrayed,” he said. “First they killed Rehman Baloch, and now they will kill me.”

Law-enforcement operation

The ongoing law-enforcement operation in Lyari has been sanctioned by the top authorities in the PPP and a close relative of President Zardari is monitoring it personally.

Nabeel Gabol, the People’s Party MNA from Lyari, recently survived an assassination attempt after he was banned by the PAC from entering the city.

Former Sindh home minister Manzoor Wasan was recently sacked for being too close to allied parties. He declined to comment on the operation, but added, “I tried my best for things to go back to normal.”

More than 20 people have been killed in the operation so far, eight of them policemen. The operation is now in its final stages and Uzair Baloch, Zafar Baloch and Shahid Baloch are among primary targets. Arshad Papu has meanwhile set up offices in Lyari.

Karachi police chief Akhtar Husain Ghorchani denied that police were using or siding with rival gangsters in Lyari.

A source in the police said intelligence and law-enforcement agencies had already initiated another wider operation. “We have picked up criminals and target killers from the MQM, PPP, ANP and Sunni Tehrik.”

Ali Chishti is a TFT reporter based in Karachi. He can be reached at akchishti@hotmail.com

Source: The Friday Times