KARACHI: The two men sat on the floor of a room that looked more like a billet than a dera befitting the leading members of Lyari don Arshad Pappu’s gang.
One of them, Pappu’s brother, named Yasir Arafat after the legendary revolutionary Palestinian figure, looked like a dehydrated parrot with a beard. His brother in arms, Waheed Baloch, sat in the corner with an expression of defiance made prouder by his worn-out threads.
The two men were released on the eve of Eid. They said, however, that freedom came only after they paid a packet to senior police officials, who had refused to let them go even though no charges were proven in court.
Thirty-year-old Arafat was facing 33 cases, including the murder of the defunct Peoples Amn Committee (PAC) chief Uzair Baloch’s father Mama Faizoo, five murders and various police encounters. He was caught in 2005, but when none of the charges stuck, his lawyer and friends bailed him out on Chand raat last week.
As Coca Cola bottles, tea and joints were served in the hash-hazy room, Waheed Baloch, who served nine years for killing Mama Faizoo, introduced himself as a cousin of Arshad Pappu. “My only crime, like Yasir, was that I had blood relations with Pappu,” he said, repeatedly stressing that he had nothing to do with the murder of Uzair’s father.
But the fact is that these two groups - Arshad Pappu’s and Rehman Dakait’s - have been on the warpath long before the PAC was formed. The history of bloodshed dates to the time when Rehman Dakait turned on his boss, Arshad Pappu’s father. The blood went bad between prodigal son and biological son. Later, Arshad Pappu went to jail and Dakait was shot dead in a police encounter in 2009. Nonetheless, there were men to keep the torch burning. Uzair Baloch took over Dakait’s group that continued to battle Pappu and his men.
Today, as Waheed emerges from nine years of incarceration, 45 years old, he has another battle to fight. Unless he exacts some form of revenge for the killings that have marked these years, he will not be able to face his eight children and wife who left Lyari and fled to Balochistan.
The men have emerged to find a different Karachi. “Things weren’t this bad during our time,” said Arafat. Waheed has noted that in the current wave of violence many innocent Baloch have been killed.
They both claimed that they could “clear Lyari of the PAC goons” in just five hours if the government did not “side” with them and stayed out of “their conflict”. “The people who are with us haven’t taken up arms for 500 rupees like the PAC,” sneered Waheed.
The Pappu group members ridicule Zulfiqar Mirza’s claim that he was working for the good of the people of Lyari and the Baloch people. “Who are these people who Mirza is backing?” said Mohammad Yousuf, a group member who also served time. “They are not the sardars of the Baloch people like Arshad [Pappu].”
For Waheed, PAC chief Uzair Baloch is a nobody, whose father was a driver. “Baba Ladla is a kid in front of us. His dad Ghulam Hussain was just a low-level [electricity company] worker,” he said, rhetorically asking how these ‘low lifes’ could claim to be leaders of the Baloch and the people of Lyari?
Arafat and Waheed alleged that the Amn Committee not only had political backing from a powerful personality but that they were also minting money for him. The PAC denies the claim. “At least Rs100 million was being made a week in extortion rackets, land grabbing, gambling dens and the drugs business in Amn Committee-controlled areas,” said Waheed. “Where does it all go?”
He alleged that the one political bigwig has armed the PAC to the teeth. “The fact of the matter is that today Lyari has as many arms as the state of Afghanistan itself, all of which are with the PAC.”
Although it is clear that Arshad Pappu’s group is gearing up to settle old scores, Arafat chose restrained words when asked about a course of action. “We are the victims who have been kicked out of our homes. Our houses have been burnt down. So many of our people have been killed…I’m just hopeful that God would lead our path.”
Waheed was more direct. “I used to be a man like you, just making an honest living for my family,” he said. “I was a crane operator at the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation and worked there for 18 years. Just put yourself in my place and tell me what would you do if you came out of prison after nine years for a crime you didn’t even commit?”
It is more personal than political: “My father, a frail old man who fought with no one in his lifetime, was killed mercilessly on the footsteps of a mosque. Forty bullets were pumped into his body. We’ve lost count of the number of our brothers and people who have been butchered. So tell me, what do you think we will do next?”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.