It is 8 pm and Lyari is pitch black because the gangsters have blown up all the PMTs by firing at the electricity poles. There is an eerie silence as the policemen wait in nervous anticipation of the next onslaught by the gangsters and whisper about their next moves.
The road between Cheel Chowk and Ghas Mandi Chowk is full of nearly 1,500 policemen, mobiles, armoured personnel carriers (APCs), two APC tanks, ambulances and the media.
At a time, around 100 to 150 policemen venture inside the narrow gulleys of Kalakot. With them are slim young men in trousers, t-shirts and scarves wrapped around their faces. They go inside with the policemen to help them navigate the labyrinth of narrow lanes while some sit outside and keep an eye on whoever comes out of the cordoned off area. Since Saturday, the residents have been leaving the area by droves because there is no water, food, or electricity and they have been imprisoned in their homes.
Some say that they are Arshad Pappu’s men while others say that they are from the Kutchi Rabita Committee, a rival of the Peoples Amn Committee.
Since Sunday morning the gangsters and law enforcement personnel, including Anti-Extremist Cell, Crime Investigation Department, Frontier Constabulary, Rapid Response Force and Special Protection Group have been fighting a pitched battle. They have been attacked by eight rockets, 20 hand grenades and Awans – a clever invention of the Lyari gangsters. An Awan is a combination of a grenade and a rocket launcher. In the midst of all this chaos, the Rangers are conspicuous by their absence.
The gangsters have been able to push the forces back towards Cheel Chowk and reclaim Nawa Lane and Afshani Gali, the areas which the police had claimed on Saturday to have cleared of the gangsters.
The APC tanks which the police had especially called for the operation do not seem to be helping as well. They keep breaking down, the policemen have difficulty in driving them since they are not used to it and they are not exactly bulletproof. A policeman was even shot and injured while sitting inside one of these APC tanks. Most importantly, these tanks are too big for the narrow lanes of Lyari.
According to one policeman who lives in the area and is also a part of the operation, there are three or four gangsters in each lane and about five more at the pickets set up at corners for back up. At first, the police and gangster fight a verbal battle, when the policemen go inside and come face to face with the gangsters, as both shout profanities at each other. More often than not, as has been the case, policemen come back without achieving anything. “Even the APCs can’t enter the narrow lanes. We can only target the gangsters when we have some sort of cover,” he says. “They have light machine guns and G3 rifles and there are snipers inside. They first shoot at our vehicles then corner us.”
The injured men are put in ambulances and then driven to hospitals. But interestingly, none of the gangsters who were killed or injured have come out of the area which leads the police to suspect that the gangsters have also stocked up on medicines and first aid with the weapons.
But only Chhipa ambulances are allowed inside because the security forces believe that the Edhi ambulances, many of whose drivers are Baloch, might be helping the gangsters.
On Saturday, many frustrated and sceptical policemen threatened to quit if the operation kept continuing the operation without a plan. SSP Chaudhry Aslam of the Anti-Extremist Cell told The Express Tribune that the forces had information that the PAC men were in Lyari. “We tracked them using their cell phones. It is accurate up to one kilometre. Now we have to pinpoint their exact location,” he said. “I cannot give a time frame because we don’t know how many days the operation will take.”
Published in The Express Tribune, April 30th, 2012.
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