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February 22, 2016

Lyari healing but residents still trying to shake off stigma


February 22, 2016


After years of living amid constant fear, listening to gunshots and seeing blood on the streets, the residents of Lyari are slowly but surely healing with gang violence coming to an end in the neighbourhood.

The arrest of Uzair Baloch - the chief of the outlawed People’s Amn Committee – is being seen as the chapter of criminal gangs’ turf wars in one of the oldest areas of Karachi coming to a close.

With that, its residents are becoming exposed to what they had been longing for years – a normal life.

Chakiwara, which was a no-go area even for the residents of other localities of Lyari, now offers a picture of new life staggering to its feet and more importantly, hope.

Its streets echo with the laughter and hustle bustle of schoolchildren

Thirty-year-old Aliya remembers the terrible days when she and other mothers were reluctant to send their children to school because of the rivalry between the gangs of Uzair Baloch and Baba Ladla.

Although the area’s relatively peaceful following Uzair's arrest, there are still some groups operating there that pose trouble.

A resident requesting anonymity said some localities in Lyari were still no-go areas and one of them was the Salar Compound - controlled by Uzair’s rivals.

He added that the residents of the areas where Uzair’s gang dominated still could not enter the zones controlled by its rivals without being searched.

Sources told The News that Rauf alias Lala, a close confidante of Baba Ladla, was still operating a group in Lyari’s Rexer Lane but its members were lying low to escape arrest.

They added that Rauf alias Lala was seen in a shopping mall located in a posh area of Karachi a few days ago.

Another resident of Lyari said Uzair and his rival gangs were not the only groups that posed a threat to peace in Lyari, but some banned organisations including the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi too were operating there.

He added that the law-enforcement agencies had also rounded up members of banned outfits in Lyari along with gangsters.

A Pakistan People’s Party activist, who was once close to slain People’s Aman Committee leader Zafar Baloch, said Uzair’s group was hit by internal rifts following his arrest as there was no one to lead it.

“One possible replacement is Faisal Pathan, but he too is on the run and doesn’t seem to be in a position to take over the group’s command,” he added.


Hardships not over

Peace may have returned to Lyari, but the stigma associated with the area continues to create problems for its residents.

Ali, who lives near Lyari’s Aath Chowk, said he employers were reluctant to hire him because he was a resident of Lyari.  “Nobody gives me a job after reading my address in the resume,” he added.

“I have stopped looking for jobs in Karachi and trying to go to a Gulf country,” he added.

 Twenty-two-year-old Ghazala, also a resident of Lyari, was refused admission to the Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto Medical College, Lyari even though there is a special quota for the neighbourhood’s residents and she also had the required marks.

“I was denied admission because I live in Lyari,” she said tearfully.  “There are only a few hundred gangsters in the heavily-populated Lyari,” she added. “People should understand that the face of Lyari is not these gangsters, but the talented boxers, cyclists, footballers and the educated youth of the area.”

However, Ali said Lyari had completely changed after Rangers launched a crackdown on the area’s gangsters, especially after the arrest of Uzair.

Haseeb, a resident of Rexer Lane, told The News that the Uzair and Baba Ladla gangs had turned his area into a war zone.

“Constant clashes between the two groups had made lives extremely difficult for the residents,” he added. “But now the situation has improved.”

A trader in the area said gangsters regularly extorted money from him, but that had stopped after the crackdown.

SSP City Fida Hussain told The News that police had killed over 200 criminals affiliated with gangs, the Balochistan Liberation Army and the Lashkar-e-Jhangvi in a year and around 300 had been arrested.

“Lyari has almost been cleared of gangsters and one can see the difference between how it is today and what the situation was a few years ago,” the official added. The SSP said Uzair’s accomplices Shiraz Comrade and Wasiullah Lakho were still at large. He added that Baba Ladla was alive and might be hiding in Afghanistan or Iran. Ladla’s brother, Zahid, is in Iran.

“The shutting down of drug dens in Lyari is the biggest success of police as the area’s gangs turned youngsters into addicts and then used them for criminal activities,” the official said.