By: Afiya Shehrbano
Criminal designs, collusion and mistrust: The sisters of Ibrahim and Shoaib, the murdered activists of Kucchi Rabita Committee (KRC) in Lyari, testify to the collusion of the law-enforcement with ‘Gang War’. They allege that their brothers were shot dead during peaceful protests on Mauripur Road. The KRC is very different to the Lyari Aman Committee which, according to the women of Lyari, comprises only of the representatives and members of the ‘Gang War’.
Why is there more resistance from the Hingorabad community in comparison to the others? It seems this may have to do with the fact that this community is predominantly third-generational owners of their own properties, unlike in some of the other councils, which are a mix of rental and owned homes. Whether this is an accurate statistical assessment or not, the women of Hingorabad are clear that the residents cannot give up the resistance because if they are evicted from Lyari they may as well be evicted from this world. “The only other residence we can expect will be in the afterlife”, say the women of Hingorabad.
These women have no fear in naming the criminals or identifying the abuses of the law-enforcement agencies. “The police are benign extortionists but the Rangers are both impotent and complicit with the ‘Gang War’. Rangers are also abusive towards women”, observes the bold Naimat with sarcasm, “In Lyari, the women do not wear the niqaab but the Rangers do. Why does a state force have to hide its face if it is not doing anything wrong?”
Another woman is exasperated by the government’s cat and mouse approach and utter impotence against the power of ‘Gang War’. “When the threats got murderous, we escaped from Lyari and went as far as Badin. Some took refuge elsewhere. For a month we staged demonstration under open skies and in different public locations. Do you know what explanation the government gave when asked why we were displaced right up to Badin? They said, ‘Oh, they are not displaced…they have gone to the shrines to offer pilgrimage and pray.’ This is their policy….blame the victims.”
False comparisons: The similar modus operandi of the Lyari armed criminals and Islamic militants in the tribal areas has tempted several TV anchors and journalists to make false comparisons between the two conflicts. In many cases, the more analytical Pakistani journalist usually has better information and insight into conflict situations. Yet, the cacophony of electronic and social media journalism has muddied the worth of serious journalism over the past decade.
So yes, when the electronic media shows the sheer weaponisation of Lyari and its unchecked use that has militarised this ghetto and enabled ‘Gang War’ to occupy and dominate the entire town, the visuals resonate with those strategies and tactics used by Islamic militants in north Pakistan. Yet, the purposes behind the occupation of Lyari and the insurgency in Fata are very, very different.
Quite apart from their common methods of issuing threats, targeting detractors, inflicting violence with impunity, kidnappings and extortion, when ‘Gang War’ actually manages to evict residents through intimidation and literal elimination, the purpose does not seem to be to establish some squatter settlement in place. Nor does the motive seem to be a political replacement or substitutive form of governance.
Rather, the residents report that over the last few months, after many displaced residents took refuge outside of Karachi (mainly Badin) the ‘Gang War’ has been breaking their houses, cutting off gas supply lines and tunnelling holes from house to adjoining house, through entire communities. This is literally like creating a rat maze or the work of termites, which corrodes through the insides of the community and enables a secret passageway of access, while the outward structures seem intact. This is not the method or design of squatter intentions. The plan is clearly bigger and more commercial – it’s more permanent, complete erasure.
Political mistrust: “Other than peace, our second demand is the removal of Qaim Ali Shah as chief minister”, say the disenchanted women. “Lyari used to be the uncontested PPP constituency for generations but we are paying the penance of voting for them. Their leadership watched us burn and our brothers and sons die in our arms. We do not say we are realigning ourselves with any other political party. Rather, we forfeit our political affiliation and support altogether. We are empty of political hope. Our only shield is Allah.”
These women of Lyari do not see the conflict through any ethnic prism either. Repeatedly they recognise and identify the Baloch members in ‘Gang War’ and also their representation in the mockery that is the Aman Committee. But they always qualify this by saying that they are well aware that the perpetrators are also from the Kucchi communities. They also acknowledge that Baloch women may be from families that are the beneficiaries of this conflict but they can equally be victims of the violence.
This is another feature that distinguishes the current conflict from the one Karachi witnessed in the 1980s. It differs too in the nature of the political consciousness and stance of the Lyari women compared to the women of the MQM who align and privilege their ethnic politics over gendered ones.
Rizwan Qureshi was a teacher in the school nearby and was shot in the back on his way to pick up his year-old son. His sister-in-law has brought a photograph of him just like all the other women who converge on the Jamaat Khana on hearing that someone has come to hear their testimonies. It took forever to get Rizwan out of the goth to the hospital because he was alive even after being shot.
The police vans and Rangers baktarband cars would not unblock the exits to let the ambulance or cars in or out. Rizwan died at the hospital when he eventually got there. Another mother shows me the photo of her 16-year-old son who was also a victim of a bullet wound but she says Civil Hospital let him lie untreated in the corridor because the people of Lyari have no patron and, therefore, are not worth saving.
Shoaib’s sister admits that the KRC members are now armed but she maintains they all carry licensed guns. Still, it’s all futile, she says, because according to her reports Shoaib was picked up in a police van and shot while he was in their custody in the van. At his protest funeral procession, they were sprayed with water and tear gas, she says.
The most significant consequence of all this is summed up by the bold Naimat, “The mistrust and fear has become so endemic, we don’t know if there are informers among us right now.”
The emotional burden of deaths is a collective one. The women tell me they console the young children who ask after their dead fathers with another kind of escapist imaginary. “We tell them they have gone to Saudi Arabia for work and will bring you many toys.”
The Karachi chapter of Women’s Action Forum has had a history of playing the broker of peace in the city dating from the 1980s when they carried out similar interventions for peace with the women of the MQM. They know well that while recording testimonials does not provide empirical evidence for the resolution of conflict, such interventions give a voice to the survivors who are often unheard and offer some bridges of communication between citizens, activists and government.
There is no doubt that serious steps need to be taken to quickly resolve this volcanic situation in Lyari and the responses have to be by taking in the accounts of the affectees and the families of victims. Otherwise, the current policy of surrendering to any form of armed militancy will become the norm in Pakistan and that’s not a solution to any kind of conflict.
The writer is part of the Lyari Peace Committee team formed by Women’s Action Forum. Email: [email protected]