It has taken the promise of millions in development funds and a directive from President Asif Ali Zardari for the now defunct Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) and the Kutchi Raabta Committee (KRC) to agree — at least verbally – to suspend hostilities after months of violence.
The two groups have been jostling for control in Lyari, which is a stronghold of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). However, recently, a new actor on the scene, the KRC, emerged as a contender to the PAC. It has attempted to paint itself as a peaceful group compared to the PAC, whose roots are entangled in gang violence. But then, when it comes to pointing fingers, both groups have blamed each other.
While the PPP’s Karachi division and its minister Zulfiqar Mirza had been speaking to both groups for months in an attempt to put an end to the fighting, the two finally came around after a meeting with President Zardari. The PPP co-chairperson reportedly told both groups not to be emotional. PAC’s leaders agreed to disband and be absorbed within the PPP according to the President’s wishes. They now say it is possible to co-exist with the KRC.
Ex-PAC leaders also tend to take their cue from President Zardari. His statements and directives become fodder for their rhetoric, surfacing as regurgitated political platitudes. “If the spirit is there, then anything is possible,” said Zafar Baloch, who was associated with PAC.
But it remains to be seen if the peace deal will hold. The KRC’s Karim Shah says they have, “No expectations from criminals”. “We have told the president that we will not tolerate any criminal activity and we want the writ of the police to be established in Lyari.”
PPP’s Karachi Division President Syed Najmi Alam offered a realistic perspective. “In a city like Karachi, you can never tell. Even if one Baloch fights with a Kutchi it could spark something. In the future, we will need to constantly keep them united and talk to them so they feel involved.”
While the PAC was absorbed into the PPP in March, the KRC has refused to follow suit because it is “representing different groups of Kutchis”. According to Shah, “There needs to be a representative organisation for all Kutchis, and we will be working on the same lines as the Memon federation.”
All of this fancy footwork for a ‘peace deal’ is dancing to the tune of about Rs800 million which was announced for the neighbourhood in the Sindh budget. This is an expansion of government largesse which came in the form of a package after the PPP took charge in 2008. While many of the initiatives – such as building and renovating roads, parks and schools – were completed last financial year, the new projects include schools, colleges and water plants as well as self-employment schemes. Zardari had assured them that he would personally monitor the work since Lyari had been long neglected.
For its part, the KRC has identified areas that need development projects such as water plants. It has also asked to be consulted on Lyari’s development or any new PPP district offices. This is interpreted by Baloch as an awakening of the KRC to its needs and proof of the newly brokered peace. “We have opened our hearts and given up the claim to a plot in the Kutchi area which was supposed to be for a supermarket for the Baloch people,” he said. “There will be a park with a basketball court there now, since there are no amenity plots in their area for such facilities. The only thing they have is the orphanage founded by Sir Abdullah Haroon.”
The move appears to be an effort to unite the PPP vote bank in Lyari, since Kutchis and Baloch (represented by PAC) are loyal PPP voters.
Lyari has seen a great deal of political activity under the current PPP-led government. In January, the PAC demanded that MNA Nabeel Gabol resign for his neglect of the constituency. He appears to have been sidelined from the political process in Lyari.
Zulfiqar Mirza then stepped into the vacuum and cemented the party’s ties with PAC by declaring it a part of the PPP, much to the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s consternation. President Zardari, who won a National Assembly seat from Lyari in 1990, announced this week that Lyari would be Bilawal Bhutto Zardari’s constituency. Alam said the announcement was very well-received in Lyari, where the late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Benazir Bhutto are revered.
Bilawal has said he will not be contesting the next elections, which are scheduled for 2013. He is legally unable to contest a seat for the national or provincial assembly until September 2013, when he turns 25.
The PPP does not appear to be worried about who will replace Bilawal if he does not contest from Lyari. Baloch said the party had no shortage of dedicated political workers but he refused to name any contenders since it was too early to speculate.
Alam remarked confidently, “Anyone could win under the PPP flag – even you! It doesn’t matter who contests, Lyari residents’ votes are marked for the Bhuttos. Even if these two groups fight with us or among each other, they will always elect a PPP candidate.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 29th, 2011.