Zafraan Bahraam didn't complain about the gaping gunshot wound in his left leg. His only regret was that he was unable to rescue his 20-year-old nephew Arif who was killed late Thursday night when bullets were fired upon their house in Qasba Colony. He didn't even have any attendants with him at Jinnah hospital's ward No. 3 since his relatives were unable to make it because of the violence. When asked whether anyone from Sind Club, where Zafraan works as low-level employee, had come to ask for him, he said: "Nobody cares for you in times of need."
Bahraam is one of the countless victims who have been pouring in from Orangi Town. SP Orangi Khurram Waris says his town is the only area in the city where the "mother of all battles" are not only staged, but also where it all ends. But why Orangi? Also, are there any stakeholders that could possibly benefit from this conflict?
Anwar Rashid is one of the pioneers of the Orangi Pilot Project and has been associated with the programme since 1982. "The violence we see today in the town is wrongly being portrayed as an ethnic clash. Actually, it is not a fight between two groups," he believes.
According to Rashid, Orangi, which is one-tenth of Karachi's size in terms of population, has over the years become an ideal breeding ground for mafias working in land grabbing, drugs and gun running in the city.
Towns like Orangi are a strategic asset for criminals since it provides the best escape routes. "The town is located at a strategic location, connected by land routes to Balochistan via the Mai Garri road and touches the Northern Bypass through a 12-minute drive from Maymarabad," he says. And to add insult to injury, the same criminal elements have taken refuge in different political parties. Given these affiliations, the law enforcement authorities wouldn't dare enter their narrow streets.
The more violence Orangi sees, the more business the arms mafia gets. Rashid alleges that even the law enforcement authorities like the police are beneficiaries of this bloody conflict, since the same mafia also grease their palms.
There is no treasure hidden in the hills of Orangi, quips Rashid. However, the material from the hills are being used to make cement. "There is one [...] cement factory in the town that exploits the resources of the hills this way," he says. Orangi is also the hub of the cottage industry.
Criminologist Dr Fateh Mohammad Burfat says that the law enforcement authorities haven't been able to control the violence in the city, specifically in Orangi because they lack a "free hand".
"Sindh Police officers have been posted in peacekeeping missions in Sudan, where they have been very successful. So if the same officers can maintain peace there, don't you think they can handle Orangi?" he asks. The Karachi University professor blames the government for failing to establish its writ since the criminals are being backed by all mainstream political parties. "This way the government too has a stake in the violence."
Burfat, who was posted in Orangi during the 1980s, recalled that the first sparks of ethnic violence emerged there because of the infamous Bushra Zaidi bus accident. Although the mindset of ethnic hatred that began in 1986 because of General Ziaul Haq's policies remains the same, Burfat believes today the balance of power has somewhat shifted between two ethnic groups since they are all heavily armed. "Back in the 1980s, I recall one political party leader chanting the slogan 'TV baycho, bandook lo' [sell your tv, buy guns]," he says, adding that it is an irony that the same group which sold its arms and ammunition was now being targeted by the same people who bought them.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 9th, 2011.