The promise of elections holds a thaw for those who were frozen out. After nearly a year of sub-zero relations, the ruling Pakistan Peoples Party has brought to the table Lyari’s two warring groups. The party is, after all, mindful of the high stakes in the constituency where its popularity had sunk.
The president’s sister broke the ice. MNA Faryal Talpur has met Baloch and Kutchi representatives after some groundwork was laid by three PPP Karachi leaders in a series of meetings. Abdul Qadir Patel, Senator Yousaf Baloch and Senator Saeed Ghani were tasked with wooing back the men who represented the wounded voters. It got so bad that men considered loyalists, Uzair and Zafar Baloch, had announced that they would stand against PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.
The two groups are the Kutchi Raabta Committee, and the Peoples Amn Committee, which was banned by the Sindh government on October 10, 2011. In order to get around the slight difficulty of negotiating with a banned organisation, a Buzurg [Elders] Committee emerged from the Peoples Amn Committee. These elders are Professor Iqbal, Shabir Baloch, Habib Hassan, Mama Umair Ali, Pir Bux Lasi and Kamran Baloch. The Kutchis sent 10 men, including Akhtar Kutchi and Siddique Kutchi.
Initially the PPP met the Buzurg committee and the Kutchis separately. On Friday night, Talpur chaired the third one at Chief Minister House, a significant setting. As expected, the Buzurg Committee complained about the Lyari operation and cases registered against Uzair Baloch, Zafar Baloch and Habib Jan Baloch. This skirmish between the police and resistance in Lyari lasted eight days and left 26 people dead in April. An estimated 150 people were injured, including 28 policemen. The committee put the number of casualties at 40, however. “The people of Lyari have given sacrifices with their lives,” said Habib Hassan, referring to the past under Benazir Bhutto. “But instead of rewarding them, the government has put head money for their arrests.”
Sources privy to the development said that the PPP reportedly assured both groups that cases registered against their people, including PAC’s Uzair Baloch and Zafar Baloch, would be withdrawn. These two key players in Lyari are worth a combined Rs6 million in head money. Compensation would be given to those who either were killed or shot and injured during the Lyari operation. For their part, the Kutchi Raabta Committee complained about the Peoples Amn Committee who according to them was patronizing the gang war in the area to kill their workers. “We have no issue with Baloch people living in Lyari, but some criminal elements have made our lives miserable,” Kareem Kutchi told The Express Tribune on Saturday while referring to his earlier meeting with Talpur. “We have clearly asked her to take action against them.” He did say, however, that Talpur had stressed they mend fences with Baloch families.
Another significant conciliatory overture was the assurance that Lyari’s local leaders would be consulted before candidates were nominated from Lyari for the local and general elections. Kareem Kutchi told The Express Tribune that Talpur had promised that Kutchi and Baloch families will have major stake in local government and general elections. “There are two provincial and one national assembly seats, which will be divided among Kutchi and Baloch living in Lyari,” he said
Zafar Baloch, who once was in charge of security at Bilawal House, Benazir Bhutto’s residence, and later became a founding member of PAC, confirmed the meetings took place. “[Faryal Talpur] is our addi (sister in Sindhi),” he told The Express Tribune. “President Zardari Saheb has no time to meet us. She called us many times to sit and resolve the issue and that is why our people have held a meeting with her.” Sources said a further meeting may take place with the president.
“People living in Lyari, whether they are Baloch or Sindhi, are diehard supporters of the PPP,” remarked Senator Yousuf Baloch, who was one of the three negotiators. “Families fight. But you can fix it.” The fixing will involve a certain amount of legal gymnastics when it comes to the cases against PAC’s Uzair Baloch and Zafar Baloch. “We will look into the matter,” said Senator Yousuf Baloch. “The decision can be reviewed if they are innocent.” This news will not make the Muttahida Qaumi Movement happy. The party is part of the PPP’s coalition government and has been a vocal critic of the PAC, saying it was patronizing gangsters involved in extortion and other crime. On Saturday, the MQM’s Wasay Jalil said, however, that they had no idea about the meetings. “The government has banned the PAC. We cannot comment at the moment on this recent development, but we will give our reaction later on.”
No matter what the reaction is, it seems for now that the PPP and its estranged supporters in Lyari have warmed to each other. Hassan Habib of put it plainly. “It will be difficult for the PPP to get votes from Lyari without the support of PAC,” he said. “We have persuaded Addi Faryal and she has promised to withdraw the cases against PAC leaders.” The winds of change are already blowing. Following the Friday night meeting at CM House, the PPP named Hassan Habib the vice-president of the party’s Karachi division.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2012.