While gangs and smugglers have operated in Lyari for decades, the most recent of these clashes emerged in 2002. The fallouts and gains of these fights are what has shaped the current conflict in Lyari
In 2002, gang leader Haji Lalu controlled the drug operations in Lyari, with Rehman ‘Dakait’, who had run the operation since the 1990s. The two had a strong connection because Lalu had good relations with Rehman’s father and uncles. But the two split in late 2002 when Rehman began asking for a share of the profits – a rumoured Rs30 million – and Lalu refused. Rehman had built connections with drug suppliers and as a result of the split; Haji Lalu suffered a considerable financial loss. In January 2003, Haji Lalu’s son Arshad Pappu ended up killing Uzair Baloch’s father Mama Faizu in unclear circumstances.
The war between the groups started from there. In the meantime, a decimated Haji Lalu offered his arrest.
Enter Chaudhry Aslam, the notorious police officer who wanted to make his name on the case and be credited with solving the issue of Lyari. Rehman was detained and escaped from jail but he eventually ended up commanding an organised, well-disciplined gang that no one could rein in.
After the 2008 elections, Rehman, along with the police, began the process of kicking out the Arshad Pappu group, which was then headed by Ghaffar Zikri. At the time, the Zikri group controlled several areas in Lyari including the Ali Mohammad Mohalla, where Zikri lived.
Arshad Pappu was jailed on several charges, including murder, attempted murder, kidnapping and drugs.
The idea was to give Rehman’s group control of Lyari. Zikri said that the police had committed to them that this would be an even-handed operation and they would take similar action against Rehman’s group. But this did not happen, prompting Zikri to say: “You have seen the police et al enter this area. But if they don’t fulfil their commitment you’ll see them leave. Even if the police and Rangers are in Lyari for 10 years they won’t be able to chase us out.”
Zikri re-emerged and took control of his areas. Eventually, Rehman was forced to negotiate with him. Of all the opponents Rehman had faced – who he sidelined, chased out or killed – Zikri proved to be the most challenging. Rehman asked Zikri to work with, not against him. Rehman then began reforming his public image and dabbled in social work and called his group the Peoples Amn Committee (PAC). Politically, Rehman was angling for a parliament seat. However, he was killed in 2009 in an alleged police encounter led by Chaudhry Aslam.
In the fray
The PAC blamed Rauf Baloch, the ex-nazim of a union council in Lyari who had once advised Rehman and his brother Amjad Lashari, for tipping off the police for Rehman’s death.
Rauf had assumed that he would be able to replace Rehman as the head of the PAC and that Lashari would replace Baba Ladla as operational commander. However, the PAC and Rauf battled it out and the brothers left Lyari. They spent some time in Dubai before returning. Rauf was detained by the police and reportedly released last year; however the brothers’ whereabouts are unknown.
PPP MNA Nabeel Gabol was a key supporter of Rehman and would have faced severe retribution if found to be involved in Rehman’s death as some people allege. He had also helped play a role in asking for cases against PAC to be revisited and for fake charges to be dropped.
Another opposing group was led by Akram Baloch, Rehman’s cousin, who also thought he would replace him as the head of PAC.
Rehman’s successor was Uzair Baloch, who served as its public face and political representative, while Baba Ladla continued as operational commander. Shahid MCB and Zafar Baloch also became prominent within the group.
Ghaffar Zikri then left the PAC. There were also internal struggles within PAC over control of areas, and this is one of the problems: instead of being as united and disciplined as they were under Rehman, they have struggled to keep it together with Uzair.
Why did the operation start?
The PAC’s main operations include managing the drug trade. This comprises extorting from dealers as well as smuggling and transporting drugs. It also is implicated in kidnapping for ransom, extorting from businessmen and the arms trade. To a smaller extent, PAC has also been involved in land grabs. It also controls lucrative gambling dens in the area.
That the PAC has been involved in these activities is not new. But the current police operation was started because it had become too much. Complaints flowed in from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) – who want control of Lyari for its key constituencies - and the Kutchis of Lyari, who are also PPP supporters.
There was also pressure from the business community over PAC’s involvement in extortion.
The killings of Kutchi members did not help, and a group representing them, the Kutchi Raabta Committee, complained to the president.
The establishment has played a role in building up a city alliance that includes MQM opponents. This counter-force – comprising criminal elements – gives the establishment the constituencies that it can then award to any party it wants. It also cuts into the MQM’s dominance in the city. One hint of this came in the form of an anti-US protest last year led by Uzair Baloch, which PAC called a ‘show of support’ for the military and Inter-Services Intelligence. Protesters managed to reach the US Consulate easily. Another hint is that the paramilitary Rangers force has not faced resistance in Lyari as compared to the police.
Gabol reportedly realised after Rehman’s death that PAC would not be as loyal to the PPP. The party had used PAC as a militant wing, and it would ensure electoral victories and security for the PPP. Gabol believed Lyari was a PPP stronghold; it didn’t need PAC to help.
This message now seems to have gone to President Zardari and his half-brother, Owais Muzaffar ‘Tappi’, but there has not been a clear make-or-break statement from either the PAC or the PPP. While PAC has openly claimed that the PPP helped arm it to counter the MQM and the PPP has initiated an operation against it, if either group were serious, there would be anarchy in Lyari and scores of people would have been killed. The PPP representatives have also backed down over PAC. This treatment is similar to how PPP first ignored PAC when Rehman was killed. But when PAC began hitting out at the PPP, it refocused on it.
What happens next?
The police may eventually tire and they, or the gang leaders, will ask the Rangers to take over. The Rangers will easily carry out an operation without facing resistance, be praised by residents, arrest 10 to 15 people, seize a large cache of arms and claim success.
What is the objective of the current operation?
The main objective is to either arrest or kill the PAC’s leadership and its operational structure and eliminate the gambling dens.
How difficult is this?
The operation has so far only been in two areas – Lea Market and its surroundings, controlled by Shiraz, and Cheel Chowk, Nawa Lane, Saifi Lane, Afshani Gali, which are held by Taju and Mullah Nisar. But this is the tip of the iceberg and the police have already been shown up by just three PAC commanders. There are still 15 odd commanders who haven’t begun fighting as yet.
One indicator of the tough fight ahead came from a source who recently met a PAC commander. He saw two large rooms filled with weapons still packed in boxes.
While the operation is being led by Chaudhry Aslam, if he exits the picture – as he is one of the PAC’s main targets – the police will not be interested in fighting since the only reason they’re sticking around is because of Aslam.
The battle could turn worse if there is infighting in PAC. There have already been reports of arguments between Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla over killing Aslam and other police officers. As a fighter, Baba Ladla wants to go in for the kill, while Uzair is thinking of political leverage and the future.
The situation has also been complicated because it appears that Owais Muzafar ‘Tappi’ is in charge. Sindh Home Minister Manzoor Wassan was sidelined and the IG Police was brought out as the public face.
Given the police’s public failure, they are now claiming that it has been difficult to clear out Lyari because PAC has support from the Baloch Liberation Army. While PAC members may have personal connections to BLA members, the organised linkages are enjoyed by the rival Zikri group. The Arshad Pappu group, which had relocated to Sakrand, has also been seen in Lyari in recent days.
On Tuesday, the home department issued a notification for head money placed on Lyari gangsters. An amount of Rs3 million was set for Uzair Baloch, Baba Ladla, Zaman Mehsud and Ilyas Pappu, while Rs1.5 million was announced for Rashid Rekha.
Rauf Baloch group
Rauf Baloch and Amjad Lashari (absconders)
AKRAM BALOCH GROUP
Afzal and Sumair (imprisoned)
Areas: Bheempura and Salar Compound localities in the Old City
Areas: Nayabad, Kharadar, Moosa Lane, Khadda Market, Baghdadi, Chakiwara, Kumhar Wara, Agra Taj Colony and Bihar Colony
Arshad Pappu group
Arshad Pappu and his six brothers including Arafat and Sher Mohammad (absconders)
Chief operational commander Ghaffar Zikri (absconder)
Peoples Amn Committee
The current leadership with their residences. These are also the areas they command.
PAC Head Uzair Baloch - Singu Lane
Zafar Baloch - Ghareeb Shah
Shahid MCB - Eidu Lane
Uzair Baloch’s financial backer Amin Dada
Chief operational commander Noor Mohammad alias Baba Ladla – Dubai Chowk
Sikander alias Siku - Dubai Chowk
Jabbar Jhengu - Saifi Lane
Taj Mohammad alias Taju, and his right hand man Shahid Mix Patti – Nawa Lane
Omar Kutchi - Nayabad
Wasiullah Lakho - Memon Society, Khadda Market
Shakeel and his brother Fahim - Niazi Chowk, Maripur truck stand
Zakir Siataj - Kara Bai Karim Jee Road near Ali Hotel
Rashid Rekha and Mullah Arif - Ali Mohammad Mohalla
Rashid Bengali - Umrabad, Baghdadi
Mullah Nisar - Nawa Lane
Sheraz Comrade and Imran Kawwa - Saifi Lane, Lea Market and Sheedi Village road
Sajjad Khatri - Khadda Market
Anwar Khojak - Pak Colony, Old Golimar
Rehman Dakait’s family
Dad Mohammad alias Dadal
Rehman Dakait’s father
Sher Mohammad alias Sheru
Rehman Dakait’s eldest uncle
Taj Mohammad alias Taju
Rehman Dakait’s youngest uncle
Rehman Dakait’s mother, Dad Mohammad’s second wife
Rehman Dakait’s brother
Saleem and Ghaffor
Rehman Dakait’s stepbrothers from Dadal’s first wife
Published in The Express Tribune, May 2nd, 2012.