By Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Pakistan’s entrenched strategy of playing armed non-state actors against one another, to the progressive detriment of security and stability in the country, was manifested, once again, in efforts to ‘manage’ the rising organised crime-terrorism nexus in the port city of Karachi, the country’s financial capital and the provincial capital of Sindh. Islamabad launched a ‘grand operation’ in the Lyari area of Karachi on May 4, 2012, against the People’s Aman (Peace) Committee (PAC), which, till recently, was in the ‘good books’ of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP). Continuing their policy of playing one group against another, reports indicate that Security Forces (SFs) were using the rival Arshad Pappu gang in the ‘operation’. An unnamed SF officer, requesting anonymity, admitted that the SFs had sought assistance from Arshad Pappu’s men in identifying the hideouts and suspects. Source indicated that the SFs had decided to ‘hand over’ Lyari to the Arshad Pappu gang after the ‘evacuation’ of PAC operatives. The PAC is allegedly linked to, and supported by, the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) and, official sources now claim, the Balochistan Liberation Army (BLA), adding a ‘terrorism’ dimension to what are, in essence, organised crime activities.
The SF operation, which was launched early on April 27, 2012, had already claimed a total of 51 lives by May 5, 2012, including 26 civilians, 12 SF personnel and 13 ‘criminals’. Despite the body count, however, the SFs have failed to make any inroads on the ground, and the gang continues to control its areas of dominance.
Indeed, acknowledging that the SFs had no idea how much resistance they would face, the Inspector General of Sindh Police, Mushtaq Shah nevertheless asserted, on April 30, 2012, that the fight to clear Lyari of ‘criminals’ would take ‘about three days’. As with earlier operations of comparable nature, including the five campaigns (1993-96, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2011), to divest the city of its burgeoning arsenal of illegal small arms, such projections have proven unrealistic, and the operation entered its eighth day on May 5, 2012, without any sign of imminent success. Meanwhile, Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, on May 5, stated that the Lyari operation has been suspended for 48 hours on ‘humanitarian grounds’. At the time of writing, the operation remained suspended. The PAC appears to have forced a stalemate, in a response involving the massive use of automatic weapons, rockets and grenades.
The PAC currently led by Uzair Jan Baloch, is dominated by members of the Baloch community, and ‘controls’ the Lyari area, where the largest majority is that of the Baloch, followed by the Kutchhis, Sindhis, Punjabis, Pashtuns and Urdu-speaking communities. Another prominent group operating in the area is the Kutchhi Rabita Committee (the Kutchhi Contact Committee, KRC). In early 2003, during President General (Retired) Pervez Musharraf’s regime, Rehman Baloch aka Dakait, the leader of the dominant gang in Lyari, fell out with an associate, Arshad Pappu, over sharing bhatta (protection money) from intercity and goods transporters who passed through the area. Reports also indicate that, in January 2003, Arshad Pappu killed Uzair Baloch’s father, Mama Faizu, in uncertain circumstances. Arshad Pappu then formed a new group and started supporting the KRC. The war between the two gangs started from this point, and it is estimated that around 500 and 600 people were killed between 2003 and 2008.
After the 2008 General Elections, the Rehman Baloch group, backed by the Police, began the process of forcing the Arshad Pappu gang out of Lyari. Arshad Pappu was jailed on several charges, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and dealing in narcotics. The PAC was, at that time, patronised by the PPP, and the idea was to give the Rehman Baloch gang dominance in the Lyari area. Significantly, in the midst of this operation, Uzair Baloch, who succeeded Rehman Baloch after the latter’s killing on August 9, 2009, claimed that the PAC was President Asif Ali Zardari’s brainchild, and that the President wanted to ‘control crime’ and start ‘social work’ in Baloch-and Sindhi-dominated areas of Karachi, and that, “the task was given to Rehman Baloch.” Politically, Rehman Baloch was angling for a seat in Parliament, and, consequently, began ‘reforming’ his public image by dabbling in social work, and naming his gang PAC. However, Uzair Baloch alleges, he was killed in 2009, on the instigation of PPP Member of National Assembly (MNA) Nabeel Gabol and other elected Members of the Provincial Assembly (MPAs) of the area. According to Uzair Baloch, crime went down by 70 per cent when Rehman launched his initiative against street crime in Lyari and Malir, and this did not go down well with various elected representatives who were patronising criminals. “Rehman Baloch had to be tackled,” he argued. Significantly, reports claim that the PPP had earlier used PAC as a militant wing to ensure electoral victories and security for the PPP. The PAC has also openly claimed that the PPP armed it to counter the Muttahida Quami Movement (MQM).
Meanwhile, reconfirming the militant-politician nexus, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf Chairman Imran Khan on September 11, 2011, declared that political parties were failing to control the anarchy in Karachi because their own militant wings were the ‘root cause’ of the unabated violence. “Name any political party in Karachi that gets votes but doesn’t have a militant wing,” Khan demanded, “Militant wings have become a trend now. Our party has made a huge effort to curb internal pressure to establish such a wing.” Similarly, Dr. Zulfiqar Mirza, former Home Minister of the Sindh Province, on August 29, 2011, had claimed that the MQM was a “band of terrorists and criminals”. On April 23, 2012, Rehman Malik, revealed that activists of PPP, MQM, Awami National Party (ANP), and other political formations were involved in extortion in the metropolis.
The ongoing ‘grand operation’ against the PAC was launched as the group had irked the PPP leadership, because, after Rehman’s death, it was felt that the gang’s loyalty to the PPP was uncertain. Moreover, Nabeel Gabol claimed that Lyari had now been established as a PPP stronghold, and PAC’s ‘help’ had become redundant. Further, the MQM, now an ally of the PPP both at the Federal and the Provincial levels; KRC, which also supports PPP; and the business community, were increasingly complaining about growing PAC involvement in extortion and abductions. It was, indeed, the killing of KRC leader Abdul Rasheed, on March 18, 2012, by PAC cadres, which resulted in the complete breakdown of a steadily worsening relationship. The KRC claimed that the PAC killed Abdul Rasheed for arranging a successful rally in support of PPP leader Nabeel Gabol.
The TTP has a visible and strong presence in Karachi. However, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah’s and the Police’s allegations regarding a PAC-BLA nexus, without any significant evidence, gives an indication of the intention behind the present ‘grand operation’. Significantly, Baloch nationalist parties, such as the Jamhoori Watan Party (JWP), Balochistan National Party (BNP), BNP-Awami Asad Baloch, have staged demonstrations in various Districts of Balochistan to protest against what they called the ‘targeted operation’ in Lyari against Baloch people and leaders, who are in majority in the area. The operation, it is alleged, had assumed the shape of an anti-Baloch movement, with BNP Information Secretary Agha Hassan declaring that the Lyari operations were part of the “genocide of the Baloch”. “The excessive use of force against the Baloch, which had started from Balochistan, has now been extended to Karachi,” Agha claimed. Talking about the impending threat, an unnamed local journalist from the Baloch community, noted that the ‘Lyari action’ would create a backlash against the PPP Government, just as the Lal Masjid operation did, against General Musharraf.
Even as the ‘grand operation’ resulted in an escalation in violence in Lyari, the rest of Karachi has witnessed a flare up. The relative calm which had been attained in the last quarter of 2011 [93 fatalities in terrorism related incidents, according to the South Asia Terrorism Portal (SATP) database], has been shattered, and the city has recorded at least 185 fatalities in the first quarter of 2012. 202 of fatalities have occurred after April 1, 2012. According to the SATP database, the Sindh Province has witnessed a total of 2,594 fatalities, including 2,170 civilians, 158 SFs and 266 militants, since January 1, 2010. Of these, 2,427 fatalities, including 2,024 civilians, 156 SFs and 247 militants, have been recorded in Karachi alone.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Chairwoman Zahra Yusuf, in a statement on April 3, 2012, noted that “about 300 people have been the victims of violent shootings in the last three months,” in ethnic, sectarian and politically-linked violence in Karachi. “The figures compiled by our staff and the death toll for the last three months confirmed by the Police shows the number of victims of violence was not less than 300,” she claimed, adding that the figures include the assassination of 49 political activists.
Federal Minister of the Interior Rehman Malik, on May 3, 2012, asked the people to give the Government ‘one month’ to expose the elements who were involved in terrorism and who were destroying Karachi’s peace, the targeted operation against the Baloch-dominated PAC may, in fact, polarize armed ethnic formations even further, resulting in an escalation that can only be brought to an end through an even-handed effort to end the activities of all armed and organised criminal non-state players in Karachi. The old tactic of patronizing some groups, even as others are actively and violently targeted, can only deepen the ongoing bloodbath in this troubled city.
Tushar Ranjan Mohanty
Research Associate, Institute for Conflict Management