Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Karachi’s crime world

Amazingly, people in the funeral procession of Rehman Dakait, Karachi’s most well known gangster, began firing on people they identified as enemies. As a result, eight died in the first flush of revenge, some of them pointing to the old political rivalries in the mega-city.

The “police encounter” is already enveloped in doubt, as most encounters tend to be. Rehman, with Rs 50 million on his head, was not in hiding and not returning from Hyderabad but had gone to Gadap Town to try and sell the 50 acres he “owned” there. The gangster was in the habit of travelling openly in the city because of his political “connections”, which included “many ministers”. But somebody at the political apex had made a decision; and Rehman Dakait finally met his comeuppance.

What the TV channels showed during his funeral at Lyari was mind-boggling. The crowd was mammoth and all of them were in tears for “Sardar Abdur Rehman Baloch” and talked of the good that he had done in the vast but officially neglected Lyari They talked of the free dispensaries and training schools that he had opened for them. Women in particular were greatly upset over his death, pointing once again to his involvement in social work in the area. Abdus Sattar Edhi, who was present in the midst of his devotees, called him “mujahid”.

Rehman spread around a lot of unspecified wealth. He could kidnap for ransom and come into a lot of money whenever he wanted. He hitched his power to the politics of the PPP and legitimised himself. Lyari, with its majority Baloch population, has been a PPP stronghold; and politicians have added to their muscle power by protecting his gang. Not much was hidden because the legend of the drug gangs of Lyari is public property; and Rehman Dakait was doing what his father used to do, only with more sophistication.

Rehman was aware of the changing trend in PPP politics. It was becoming apologetic about him, signalling to him to mend his ways. In response, he had begun financing marriages of the poor girls of Lyari and started social service in real earnest. But vendettas kept snapping at his heels; he had killed too many people. He was also not completely free of the new gang wars erupting in the city. A conflict between the Baloch and the Katchi community was fomented in Lyari.

Rehman had escaped from custody a number of times, clearly because of his political connections. He soon developed his network of informers within the administration and was able to terrorise the police too by killing their officers. Only last year a Karachi police officer had recommended “peace talks” — sounds familiar? — rather than arrest and trial of the great dacoit. He was the Veerappan of Pakistan.

But he was not the only one. His death nearly synchronised with the death of Baitullah Mehsud whose funds too came from drugs and kidnapping for ransom and who had a “syndicate” of criminal activities based in Karachi. The chain of madrassas that supported him also did a lot of social service by offering boarding and lodging to the children of the poor. Before his death, it was feared that he could take over Karachi any time he wished.

There is the “international” figure of an Indian don allegedly luking in the backdrop of Karachi, owning properties the same way as Rehman Dakait and disposing of killers he can activate at will. Stories about the gang war that killed some of his close associates have been published in Pakistan to the embarrassment of the government which denies — not very credibly — allegations from India that the gent is in Pakistan. In the case of all the gangsters of Karachi, some direct or indirect linkage with the state has always come to light.

Let’s be frank. So dominant is the trend of patronising gangsters in Karachi that it is no longer possible to do politics in the city without an army of killers on your leash. People in Karachi need protection as they do in Swat and Waziristan and Quetta. Their allegiance will go to the person — it no longer matters if he is a gangster or a terrorist — who gives them protection or spares them when killing others. Karachi votes along these patterns; and these days the only mode of political communication there is “target-killing”. (Daily Times)