KARACHI: At this time last year, Uzair Baloch, the head of the Peoples Amn Committee (PAC), would get upset if questioned about his loyalty to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP).
Fast forward twelve months, and the same Uzair Baloch is now worth Rs1.5 million in bounty and is cursing the same PPP he once claimed to love. The founder of the PAC, Rehman Dakait aka Sardar Abdul Rehman Baloch provided security to the late PPP chairperson Benazir Bhutto, but on Wednesday, Uzair even questioned her loyalty to Lyari.
As the air filled with the smoke from burning effigies of President Asif Ali Zardari, MNA Nabeel Gabol and SSP Chaudhry Aslam, Uzair and PAC leader Zafar Baloch joined a ragtag crowd of a couple of hundred residents of Lyari. Holding aloft posters of Uzair, they chanted along with him: “Baloch ka yeh qanoon hai… khoon ka badla khoon hai” (the law of the Baloch is that blood will be avenged by blood).
Uzair and his followers think differently, claiming that they have been abandoned and exploited by the very people they voted in. “The people of Lyari were wronged and tyrannised during Musharraf’s time but when did Mohtarma speak out against this?” Uzair asked. As he said this, the protesters responded in scarlet language for Bhutto’s widower, President Asif Ali Zardari, MNA Nabeel Gabol and MPAs Rafique Engineer and Shazia Marri for what they perceived has been their role in the operation in Lyari.
This public expression of anger was largely organised in response a day after rather off-colour declarations were made by PPP MPA Rafique Engineer at a press conference with Shazia Marri. By saying that, “Ten to twelve thousand rupees a month would make the innocent people [of Lyari] forget everything”, Engineer appeared to have belittled them. He had perhaps wanted to stress that jobs and social welfare in the shape of the Benazir Income Support Programme fund for the residents of Lyari would solve the problem. But it was not read that way:
“Do they think we will sell out for Rs10,000?” questioned Arshad, an associate of Uzair’s. “We are not hungry for money.”
“What kind of Baloch is Shazia Marri?” questioned a woman.
Uzair has emerged as a Pied Piper of sorts, but whether the residents of Lyari will follow him into the river is up to them. For now, they appear willing to take down every PPP leader they can think of. “Faisal Raza Abidi, Najmi Alam… these people used to clutch my feet and ask for people to come to their PPP rallies. They are now concerned they will have no one!” Uzair told The Express Tribune. Clad in a white t-shirt, trousers and sporting a large gold ring, Uzair Baloch looked remarkably calm and unconcerned for his personal security and every sentence of his speech was met with roars of approval. “I will stand against Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari in the elections myself,” he announced. “Since 1968, we have supported the PPP but what have we received in return? We will not be used by them anymore.”
The crowd also raged over the police operation led by CID SSP Chaudhry Aslam and shouted in favour of the army, which many see as an impartial force.
For now, Uzair and Zafar Baloch are sticking to the public claim that they are being targeted because of their opposition to ‘outsiders’ meddling in Lyari. Other residents feel that they had only asked for jobs, but were being gunned down in the streets instead.
As communication has shut down in the area, lurid claims have been making the rounds. Several women said that there were four bodies lying in a house in Kalakot but there was no way to bury them. Another, Imran, walked up with bloodied clothes and what he claimed was a “piece of a brain” on his hand, the remains of a young boy who was reportedly killed in Lyari on Wednesday afternoon. Another, Faheem, said that it had been impossible to get in touch with anyone. “If my brother isn’t home I have to go out and look at him… and there is a hail of bullets outside.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 3rd, 2012.