Crime and pol­i­tics

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Zahid Hus­sain

WHO is Uzair Jan Baloch? A pawn in the political chess game or a pow­er­ful mafia don with strong political con­nec­tions? While his as­so­ci­a­tion with the PPP ap­pears to be ir­refutable, there are also some re­ports of his links with in­flu­en­tial political fig­ures from other political par­ties as well as the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies.

A leader of the so-called Lyarib­ased Peo­ples Amn Com­mit­tee, Baloch is im­pli­cated in dozens of mur­der and other crim­i­nal cases. He over­saw char­i­ties, but also al­legedly ran drug and ex­tor­tion rack­ets. He was a key leader of the Lyari gang war that left hun­dreds of peo­ple dead and turned that im­pov­er­ished neigh­bour­hood of Karachi into a ver­i­ta­ble bat­tle­ground. The story of Uzair Baloch seems right out of a Bol­ly­wood crime thriller. His re­ported ar­rest from the out­skirts of Karachi by the Rangers last week af­ter his mys­te­ri­ous dis­ap­pear­ance from Dubai where he was de­tainedal­most a year ago gives cur­rency to all kinds of con­spir­acy the­o­ries. No one takes the Rangers' ver­sion se­ri­ously. It seems quite plau­si­ble that he has been in the cus­tody of the se­cu­rity agen­cies for the past sev­eral months. Then why the ar­rest an­nounce­ment now? It gives an in­trigu­ing twist to the whole saga.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, the news of Uzair Baloch's ar­rest has come as the noose around some top PPP lead­ers is be­ing tight­ened. That gives some cre­dence to the spec­u­la­tion that he may be used as an ap­prover against them. Some re­ports sug­gest that he has al­ready been talk­ing.

What is most in­ter­est­ing, how­ever, is that sev­eral joint in­ves­ti­ga­tion teams are be­ing formed to ques­tion him on the 2007 Karsaz bomb at­tack tar­get­ing Be­nazir Bhutto's wel­come pro­ces­sion and also the mur­der of the for­mer prime min­is­ter's body­guards fol­low­ing her as­sas­si­na­tion a few months later. Surely the scope of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Uzair Baloch is be­ing ex­tended be­yond the al­ready pend­ing mur­der and other crim­i­nal charges against him.

The son of a trans­porter, Uzair Baloch's rise to the crime scene was spec­tac­u­lar. He ap­par­ently joined one of the most no­to­ri­ous crim­i­nal gangs led by Rehman ' Dakait' af­ter the mur­der of his father by a ri­val group. He be­came the leader of the gang af­ter the death of Dakait in an al­leged po­lice en­counter. That also brought him close to the PPP which had still re­tained some sup­port in its erst­while political strong­hold of Lyari.

Ac­cord­ing to some re­ports, his 'das­tar­bandi' as gang leader was a huge pub­lic event at­tended by sev­eral PPP leg­is­la­tors. His in­flu­ence in the PPP grew so much that the party tick­ets for the MNA and pro­vin­cial as­sem­bly seats from Lyari in the 2013 elec­tions were al­legedly awarded to his nom­i­nees. Al­though the PPP strongly de­nies the al­le­ga­tions, some pic­tures that show Baloch with sev­eral se­nior party lead­ers seem to con­firm his or­gan­i­sa­tional af­fil­i­a­tion.

His main pa­tron was Zul­fiqar Mirza, the then pow­er­ful pro­vin­cial home min­is­ter. Mirza, who has now turned against his old friend and for­mer pres­i­dent Asif Ali Zar­dari, does not make any bones about his close as­so­ci­a­tion with Uzair Baloch. It is quite puz­zling that the se­cu­rity agen­cies have yet to ques­tion Mirza for giv­ing pro­tec­tion to a pro­claimed of­fender. The for­mer home min­is­ter is on record ad­mit­ting that scores of gun li­cences were granted to mem­bers of the Amn Com­mit­tee, which many al­leged had been turned into the mil­i­tant wing of the PPP. But PPP lead­ers soon be­came ap­pre­hen­sive of Uzair Baloch's ris­ing political in­flu­ence and grip over the party. The fall­ing out also led to the Sindh govern­ment is­su­ing an ar­rest war­rant against the for­mer fel­low trav­eller. But there was never any se­ri­ous ef­fort to ar­rest him. Fol­low­ing the launch of the Rangers' op­er­a­tion against crim­i­nal gangs in Lyari, Uzair Baloch fled the coun­try to the Gulf.

It is not just the PPP that pa­tro­n­ised Uzair Baloch and his Amn Com­mit­tee. At one point, ac­cord­ing to some me­dia re­ports, a se­nior PML-N leader also ap­proached him to bring him into the party's fold. He re­port­edly tilted to­wards the PTI at the end, but ap­par­ently it re­mained a one-sided af­fair. Some Pak­istani in­tel­li­gence agen­cies are also re­ported to have used him to keep a tab on Baloch sep­a­ratist groups op­er­at­ing from the area.

Mean­while, this nexus of crime and pol­i­tics turned Lyari into a lawless ter­ri­tory. Bloody gang wars forced many habi­tants to leave their homes. With no ef­fec­tive polic­ing, drugs and gam­bling dens thrived in the area. Un­em­ployed youth pro­vided a con­stant sup­ply of re­cruits for the crim­i­nal mafias that ruled this poor neigh­bour­hood. The Rangers' op­er­a­tion may have brought some peace to the area, but the sit­u­a­tion is far from nor­mal.

The ar­rest of Uzair Baloch has stirred a hor­nets' nest, wors­en­ing the predica­ment of an al­ready tot­ter­ing Sindh pro­vin­cial ad­min­is­tra­tion. Many PPP stal­warts, who al­legedly had close links with the gang­ster, had fled the coun­try much be­fore the ar­rest. Some sus­pect that the in­ves­ti­ga­tion may lead to the PPP's top lead­er­ship.

But there is also a strong ap­pre­hen­sion that Uzair Baloch may just end up as yet an­other pawn in the hands of the se­cu­rity agen­cies in the power game as seen in some re­cent cases. Many be­lieve that he may just be­come the Saulat Mirza of PPP.

Saulat Mirza's death-row state­ment im­pli­cat­ing top MQM lead­ers in a mur­der case was surely used to bring the party un­der im­mense pres­sure, but no ac­tion was taken against those named in the dec­la­ra­tion. It could, how­ever, not save the for­mer MQM hit­man from the gal­lows. Will this be a re­peat of the Mirza episode? Uzair Baloch is yet an­other ex­am­ple of the sor­did nexus of crime and pol­i­tics that has been one of the ma­jor rea­sons for Karachi's per­va­sive law­less­ness and vi­o­lence.

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