Hundreds of people working in offices on II Chundrigar Road watched in horror as police battled protesters in the streets below with a combination of aerial firing, teargas and baton charge on Friday.
The law enforcers were trying to prevent a rally by the People’s Amn Committee (PAC) from reaching Bilawal House. A crowd emerged from Kharadar and passed newspaper offices on the main financial artery but it turned into a mob when they found that the roads leading to the Supreme Court registry, Shaheen Complex and MT Khan Road were all blocked, effectively preventing them from directly reaching their destination.
The PAC was protesting against the fact that the law enforcers had not taken any substantial steps to apprehend the men who murdered two Baloch football players, Elahi Buksh, alias Alok Gawadari, and Jaffar Baloch, alias Momia Baloch. They were killed during a clash between activists from the PAC and the Katchi Rabita Committee in Lyari on December 13.
At a press conference held on Tuesday, the leader of the PAC, Zafar Baloch, said that a rally would be organised outside Bilawal House in order to galvanise the government into taking action against the perpetrators. However, five days ago, the additional IG, Akhtar Hussain Gorchani, declared the area around Bilawal House a red zone where no public meetings or rallies would be allowed.
Matters came to a head by the end of the week when the area around Shaheen Complex turned into a battleground. More than 100 protesters were detained by the police and several others were injured in the clash. The protesters showed resilience and first tried to march to Chief Minister House even though the roads leading towards it and Governor House were blocked by containers.
Angered by a few arrests from the rally, fleeing rioters on II Chundrigar Road smashed the windshields of parked cars mostly belonging to journalists and other staff working in media houses there. Men in the mob even fired in the air in frustration. According to witnesses, a heavy police posse retaliated with tear gas shelling.
Zafar Baloch and a few dozen diehard PAC members then staged an hour-long sit-in while negotiating with top police officials who came in after intervention by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani.
At one point, the 20-feet long containers were removed for a few minutes amid rumours and added confusion that the rally was being allowed to proceed to Bilawal House. But they were set back down minutes later.
“The PAC rally is aimed at removing the iron wall between Pakistan Peoples Party voters from Lyari and the PPP chairman,” Zafar Baloch told the media. “Bilawal House is our house, it is our political home. How can we not go there or be stopped? It cannot be a Red Zone for us. If we have to complain or protest we can only go to our house,” he told The Express Tribune. “We can’t go complain at Nine Zero, Idara Noor-e-Haq or Mardan House for our rights,” he said, referring to the headquarters of the MQM, Jamaat-e-Islami and ANP. He said he had been accompanied by thousands of supporters earlier in the day.
“We are PPP jiyalas, the local leadership, and this treatment of us…” Baloch trailed off.
But despite all that has transpired with PAC in the past year – being banned, targeted by the Rangers and Baloch’s own brief detention – it still enjoys the support of the PPP and is fiercely loyal to the party. “My Karachi leader Faisal Raza Abidi and his team are supporting us,” Baloch said.
Baloch also laughed off any expressions of support by other parties. PTI’s Karachi leadership issued statements in support of Lyari’s residents earlier in the day. “They can shed crocodile tears,” Baloch said, “But we were, are, and will remain PPP workers.”
PAC leader Uzair Jan Baloch remained in Lyari through Friday’s events, and PAC members at the site told a sordid tale of tear gas shelling, cars colliding and women and children being affected as the area near Shaheen Complex and Jang Press turned into a melee.
A police officer at the site said they were mentally prepared for the day’s events but that the issue arose when 20-odd men broke off from the rally and climbed atop the containers placed to block the protesters. By 7:30pm or so, the last of the containers placed were being lifted and Baloch headed to Bilawal House for ‘talks’.
Meanwhile, district South DIG Commandant Shaukat Ali Shah said that the negotiations at the Bilawal House were also ended after the government ensured them of their full cooperation and also promised PAC leaders to release the detainees, who numbered around 50.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 7th, 2012.