Lyari, the mother of Karachi and the birthplace of Baloch nationalism, is now a scene of hopelessness. Instead of resonating with the prophetic speeches of Baloch literary icon Syed Zahoor Shah Hashmi and the magical voice and lyrics of Ustad Abdul Sattar, today one hears guns, cannons, rockets, shells and snipers. Resembling the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, weapons have seized upon the mystique of the poorly-enriched Baloch society.
Politically ill-represented and exploited, around two million Baloch in Lyari and Malir at the mercy of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), have been treated as loyal, submissive subjects. Young, muscular Baloch youth have been hired as bodyguards for the PPP’s top leaders, including Benazir Bhutto. Elderly Baloch mothers serve as unpaid housekeepers at Bilawal House. The PPP wants to retain this status quo at all costs. Any sign of change in behaviour, positive social transformation, political organisation and awareness among the Baloch in Lyari is considered to be defiant and disloyal by the PPP.
It is not difficult to understand why Lyari transformed from being the Mecca of Baloch nationalism to a haven for gangs and the drug mafia. Once the PPP realised that educated Lyariites were prone to Baloch nationalism and rights-based politics, it began sowing the seeds of crime, drugs and gangs to systematically destroy the social fabric of one of Karachi’s most powerful, energetic and united communities. During the 1980s, some of these prominent gangs and mafias were reinvented by the powerful establishment to counter the Baloch Students Organisation, the only powerful political and social forum for the Baloch of Karachi during General Ziaul Haq’s military rule.
After using drugs and gangs as weapons of mass destruction, the second phase of economic marginalisation of the Baloch started with the rise of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) by discharging thousands of Baloch labourers from the Karachi Port Trust and other Baloch-dominant departments.
Recent political developments and the growing empowerment of the MQM by the Pervez Musharraf regime further exacerbated life for the Baloch in Karachi. Sitting on Karachi’s strategically significant land strip, Baloch social and human rights activists had been long on the hitlist of criminals. Prominent human rights activist Nisar Baloch was shot dead on November 7, 2009 in Karachi for addressing members of the press and publicly saying that certain groups were after him. The Balochistan National Party Karachi president, Zahid Baloch, was also murdered on November 1, 2008, in Karachi and, this was mainly because of his role in mobilising Karachi’s Baloch for demanding their due rights.
The ongoing operation is not aimed at liberating Lyari or at empowering its people. The entire drama is a part of the government’s policy of replacing the gangs with their own chosen ones. By doing this, the ruling clique seeks to ensure that its stranglehold on Lyari is strengthened — after all, precious resources such as land are at stake.
A truly liberated and empowered Lyari is considered very dangerous. Liberated Lyariites will question the ruling coalition’s policy of systematic enslavement and forceful political expansion. Impoverished, marginalised, politically enslaved by the PPP and disowned by the state due to its Baloch identity, Lyari has turned into a hunting ground for notorious police officials like Chaudhry Aslam. The ongoing operation will have long-term consequences. The feeling of alienation has already been elevated. Thousands of marginalised youths will be further radicalised leading to more instability.
Since the state has subcontracted its responsibilities to political mafias in the country, particularly in Karachi, it is hard to envisage a sensible approach with regard to a resolution for the multilayered social, economic, ethnic and political conflicts. Social development and harmonisation of society need unbiased social reengineering. Addressing socioeconomic, political and other challenges faced by the people in Lyari, need more attention rather than costly operations for the replacement of unfavoured groups of people or gangs by another privileged mafia.