Thousands of people, mostly belonging to the Katchi community, have left or are leaving Lyari – one of the oldest localities of Karachi as the Sindh government is unable to provide security to them. These people, who have lived for several generations in Lyari say that they are being harassed and intimated by rival gangs, who are themselves at war with each other.
Over the years the Lyarites have seen their neighbourhood turn from a happy and vibrant part of the city to an area where rival gangs dominate and where the city’s drug and crime mafias have firmly entrenched themselves. It is easy to say that Lyari has become a no-go area. What is more accurate is that it has been left at the mercy of elements whose existence is required by one or the other in power.
On the other side of Karachi, in the belt beyond what is known as “Katti Pahari” we have another state existing within a state. There is a contrast with Lyari. Here the local Taliban call the shots and administer justice. They decide not only what you do and who you meet but also what you wear. Both the police and the Rangers do not venture in these areas. There is no outside interference. In comparison to Lyari, this area – though stifling, is peaceful.
In between Lyari and Katti Pahari, there are other areas that are effectively under the control of one group or another. These groups can be political, religious or simply criminal. The common element amongst all these places is that the writ of the state does not exist here.
Gradually Karachi is being gobbled up by gangs and mafias, who live off each other. Urban planner Arif Hasan warns us that encroachers are not eating away at the Goths that surround the city. Much of what is on the outskirts of Karachi – housing societies and colonies that line the Super Highway and the National Highway, two arteries that connect the city to the rest of Pakistan, are under the effective control of encroachers.
Thousands of hapless plot owners run from pillar to post to have their pieces of land vacated but nothing is happening. Many of these encroachers belong to the militant wings of our mainstream political parties. These plots and housing societies are now being re-settled with others, possible creating more areas that would eventually be out of the control of the state.
The scenario is worrisome. But the government insists that this is not a big issue. Frightening is that one government is not listening to another. Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif may want to help change things in Lyari but the Sindh government considers this as interference. Some of the groups active in Lyari, it has been reported, have support from within the party in the province. This possibly explains why Qaim Ali Shah said that internal migration is nothing new and nothing to worry about.
In Ramazan, as these people make the passage from their bullet-ridden alleys to far away places like Thatta and Badin, there is no one to help them. The government has provided no camps or compensation. NGOs, who usually rise to the challenge, are missing. And these unfortunate people are not even sure when they will return and whether their houses will be there when they do.
As part of a national security policy, we somewhat agree that we need to look at the threats posed by extremist and militant organisations. But what about the threat posed by the militant wings of
parties and those elements that are supported by those in government? It is unlikely that the clampdown, if any, would affect them. This in turn means that the targeted killings and crime will continue.
In all this, another worry has been the rise in escapes of convicts involved in heinous crimes from court rooms and their annexes in Karachi. Possibly these come as the government intends to do away with the moratorium on capital punishment.
We need to evolve an effective national security policy. But this can only happen if our politicians are serious. So far, this does not seem the case.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2013.
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