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Senior women activists slam ‘botched’ police operation in Lyari

KARACHI: Senior women activists associated with human rights bodies and other non-governmental organisations engaged in social welfare activities in Lyari, as well as other parts of Karachi, strongly condemned on Wednesday frequent waves of violence, killing of innocent people, growing menace of extortion, gang warfare as well as the botched police operation in the once most peaceful old city area.

Speaking at a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, leaders of Karachi Concerned Citizens Forum (KCCF) including Nargis Rahman, Zeenat A. Haroon Rasheed, Nargis Hatim Alvi, Prof Shaista Zaidi, Akram Khatoon, Sabiha Shah, Mahnaz Rahman and Rana Asif Habib called for a meaningful solution to the Lyari issue.

KCCF convener Nargis Rahman described the recently launched police operation in Lyari as an attack on the fundamental rights of citizens, and said the state-sponsored action resulted in a total erosion of people’s confidence. “For the operation, a week-long siege was laid and over 1,400 personnel of the law-enforcement agencies were deployed in parts of Lyari. However, the ill-planned operation and poorly executed raids during it had to be stopped abruptly and the government came out with a promise to launch a better and well-planned operation against gangsters, mafias and militants who, according to it, were responsible for the lawlessness in the area,” she said.

She said questions were raised about the very objective of the operation during which peace-loving people of Lyari suffered a lot. She pointed out that most people in Lyari were still living below the poverty line despite the fact that a Rs2.5 billion package was announced for their uplift. “Who are the beneficiaries of the package,” she asked.

The KCCF leader called for the implementation of the Supreme Court’s ruling on curbing violence in Karachi in letter and spirit.

Zeenat A. Haroon Rasheed said that residents of Lyari were the same patriotic and peaceful citizens who lived there when Pakistan came into being. She regretted that the peaceful atmosphere that prevailed there for many decades was disturbed so much that public welfare activities had to be stopped by many NGOs and their members.

Nargis Alvi also recalled the days when there was no hatred among the members of a large number of communities living in Lyari and anyone could freely move into any part of the area without any fear. Today, the situation is just opposite. Terrorism, criminal activities and corruption had spread fear in the local population while vested interest had managed
to sow hatred among communities, she said.

Prof Shaista Zaidi regretted that political elements were playing with the sentiments of Lyari people and this was turning many of the exploited individuals into criminals.

Akram Khatoon warned the government against adventurism in the low-income group people’s areas such as Lyari, Orangi, Qasba and katchi abadis, saying that the city’s industrial sector, which contributed heavily to the provincial and national economy, drew much of the manpower from these areas. Disturbance in these areas was bound to directly affect the economy, she argued.

Sabiha Shah said her NGO worked in Lyari for long but had to stop word on its projects due to lawlessness. She said that quite a large number of NGOs had been working in this area at a time and a huge number of social workers remained associated with them until recently. Lyari, she said, was seen as the only area that did not get affected while the rest of the city was hit by crippling strikes.

A woman from Lyari, Ms Jamali, apprised the media of the ordeal experienced by most families living in the violence-hit localities during the so-called police operation. “We had run out of food and water… we had to starve for eight days while there was shooting all around our houses. Many innocent people lost their lives and many more received bullet
injuries but lifting a body or transporting an injured victim to hospital was highly risky. Even police did not allow a man to pick up the body of his brother, who was caught in the crossfire in my neighbourhood.”

Following the press conference, KCCF leaders and activists staged a demonstration outside the press club to express solidarity with the people of Lyari.