Interview: Uzair Baloch and Zafar Baloch, People’s Amn Committee
In 2008, the People’s Amn Committee (PAC) was created by gang leaders in Lyari purportedly to restore peace in the crime-ridden neighbourhood. While the organisation won the hearts of Lyariites by providing welfare services, it also became synonymous with target-killings and extortion in Karachi. The PPP initially supported the PAC since it provided a bulwark against the MQM’s expanding power. However, the PAC’s rising popularity soon began to threaten the PPP. In 2009, the PAC’s leader, Rehman Dakait, was killed and in 2011 the organisation was banned by the government – although that did little to curb its activities or power.
Just days after the Lyari operation, Newsline sat down with the current PAC head, Uzair Baloch, and spokesman, Zafar Baloch, to understand why the Committee turned against the hand that once fed it and what they make of Lyari’s future.
What was the PPP’s involvement with the People’s Amn Committee (PAC)? What was Zulfikar Mirza’s role?
Zafar Baloch: The People’s Party and Lyari are incomplete without each other. After creating the Amn Committee, we were invited to Bilawal House and PAC eventually became the PPP’s political wing. If a jalsa or sit-in had to be organised, we got it done. The Amn Committee won the hearts of the people since we were working at the grassroots level with schools and hospitals. And the entire party took ownership of the committee. Zulfikar Mirza, Sharjeel Memon, Shahid Durrani – all these people were completely involved with the committee.
But what are your political affiliations right now? There are rumours of you joining the PML-N and Uzair Baloch has stated that he will stand in the elections opposite Bilawal Bhutto.
ZB: PML-N, JUI, Jamaat-e-Islami, PTI, etc. have all approached us to join their parties and they wouldn’t have done so if they thought we were criminals.
Uzair Baloch: We have political dialogues with everyone and yes, I have said that I’ll stand opposite Bilawal Bhutto in the elections. Since 1968 we have voted for the PPP but be it the Lyari General Hospital or the government schools, everything is in a state of neglect. Things have been worsening since Musharraf’s time. But today, although the PPP is in power and we have a PPP president, a PPP prime minister, a PPP chief minister, we are still deprived of our rights and basic necessities.
How did the rift between the PPP and Amn Committee emerge exactly?
ZB: I initially became involved with the PPP because it was handed down to me from my father and grandfather. We have been committed to the PPP for 40 years but what have they given us in return? The party is enjoying its fourth term but they haven’t even raised the most basic issues for us. You will not be able to find a single 17th grade government officer with a nice, air-conditioned office and car who can say he holds that office because he comes from Lyari and his father made sacrifices for the party. You will, however, find such examples in the MQM, even if the people did not deserve those posts.
What we have to do is demand our rights while this government is still in power so that they can’t make any excuses. And it’s because people like Uzair Baloch asked for our rights that the government is cracking down on us.
UB: The PPP has done nothing for Lyari. They only show up when the elections draw closer. Nabeel Gabol once admitted in a drunken state that he has 500 crores even though back in the day he didn’t have money to buy shoes. He thought he was revealing this to his loyalists but they too became disillusioned with the PPP and exposed him.
We kept voicing our concerns and eventually the party invited us to Bilawal House, saying they’ll make the final deal with me. Around this time Zardari had put Owais Muzaffar Tappi in charge of Karachi. We sat with him to share our grievances and he promised us around 500 jobs. He ordered the city nazim to come and sure enough, the nazim showed up in a flash as if summoned by a remote control. The health secretary and DC South were also called in but all this was done for show. After the meeting, I was offered 25 crores worth of contracts but I told Tappi that I didn’t need money and instead wanted Lyari’s problems to be solved. He called me obstinate and then I left.
Later I heard that Tappi was planning on contesting the elections from Lyari. Are the people of Lyari dead? Why is it that people from outside come here to win their seats. I appealed to Zardari that we want representatives from Lyari and this caused rifts between us.
We were then accused of siding with the PML-N when we invited them to the Baloch Culture Day on March 2, even though we had invited people from other parties as well. Tappi took these issues personally, which resulted in the eight-day operation. However, the public was on our side and that is why the government had to retreat. Tappi wants things to go on as they did before. He’s taken government property and sold them for crores. He wants us to remain his slaves but we’ve had enough. I have taken an oath on the Kalima that if I am the son of a Baloch I will never return to the People’s Party.
They are mistaken if they believe I’ll return to the PPP. And they are also mistaken if they think I’ll return because of Zulfikar Mirza. I will never return to the PPP.
I asked this earlier as well but what exactly is your relationship with Zulfikar Mirza? First he claimed to have no links with PAC. Later he said you are his brothers. And today he is nowhere to be seen.
ZB: Our relationship with him is purely political. Now, the whole world knows that Zardari is heading the PPP today and Zulfikar Mirza is one of the people closest to the president. Zulfikar Mirza was not only the senior vice-president of the PPP but also the home minister.
He believed by owning us, he would make the party stronger and that it would give Zardari more manpower and street power. And that is because they all know that the real manpower lies with Uzair Baloch. It’s to gain that manpower that he came here. Now his role in the government is over and he’s on the sidelines. Only he can tell you why he’s silent right now. We respected him when he was on our side. But our survival does not depend on him. We are not Zulfikar Mirza’s personal thugs or slaves. Today, he has his political path and we have ours.
You have been accused of harbouring people from the Balochistan Liberation Army and Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan. It is said you get weapons from them and three BLA members were picked up from Lyari shortly after the raid.
UB: The three men Chaudhry Aslam claims to have found have been missing since January 18. They were students and Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is currently handling their cases. The CID claims the men were found here but what will actually be discovered is how long and where Chaudhry Aslam’s been holding them captive. And Chaudhry Aslam is doing all this on Tappi’s orders.
ZB: As far as BLA and TTP go, they have different ideologies. One is pro American, the other is anti-American. How could we be in cahoots with both? That alone should absolve us. Also, in regard to these BLA members, I request you to ask any of those alleged BLA members to give you the directions to any street or landmark in Lyari. If they can give you the correct direction, we’ll rescind our claims. I’m sure those boys have never set foot in Lyari.
In regard to the TTP, Chaudhry Aslam is an expert on catching them. He’s probably caught more TTP men than anybody else in the country, including the ISI and ISPR, and that too from places like Sohrab Ghot and Korangi. Chaudhry Aslam is known to bring forward bogus cases when it comes time to justify his actions. And because of him the credibility of the entire Sindh police is also now under question. He used every kind of weapon, every source of manpower he could find, to capture just 4-6 men. Electricity, water, gas were all shut down. Sometimes he said he was waging a war against us. Other times he said this was simply a targeted raid. Also the CID is nowhere in the chain of command from the SHO to the home secretary. So under what jurisdiction did they launch this operation?
But the police could not move beyond Cheel Chowk. Their APCs were destroyed and they incurred damages and casualties as well. How armed is the PAC and from where do you get your guns and rocket launchers?
UB: Who in this country does not have arms? The Baloch are known for having arms and we have licensed weapons that the party itself gave to us. During Musharraf’s time, when the MQM was in power, many people got killed in Lyari but we didn’t let the MQM enter the area. We Lyariites do not bow down to force. We Lyariites sacrificed our lives for the party just as Shaheed Mohtarma and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto did. And when under the PPP’s own government we were subjected to such cruelty, the public decided to take to the streets. The people of Lyari, who had licensed guns, protected themselves.
As for the rocket launchers and grenades, that was fabricated by the CID and police for the media. Whenever they saw a camera crew, they would throw a grenade from the graveyard nearby and then say it was a rocket fire. If it were a rocket fire it would have completely destroyed the buildings. And why haven’t they shown shrapnel from the rocket launchers? This proves these are all lies.
Not only that, why is it that nobody from the IG to the Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah knew about the operation? Tappi is the man behind this whole operation and the CID had MQM’s target killers and Arshad Pappu’s thugs abetting them.
The government has put a bounty on your heads and wants you to surrender.
UB: Who speaks up for Lyari? Only me. And for that they have put a 30-lakh bounty on my head. They have filed several cases against me. These 30 lakhs are too little. They should have put 300 crores on my head. On Owais Tappi’s orders, Chaudhry Aslam went to a friend of mine and offered 5 crores to arrange a meeting with me. But my friend refused. Then he went to another friend of mine, asking him to kill me, promising him protection. That’s why I’m not coming forward. They’ll fake an encounter and say I got killed.
Half an hour after I was asked to surrender, hundreds from Lyari, including women and children, showed up at my doorstep with kerosene. They threatened to self-immolate if I surrendered. This truly brought tears to my eyes. That’s when I decided not to surrender and I resolved to fight for Lyari’s rights.
It is said that the renowned gangster Baba Ladla oversees the PAC’s criminal activities.
UB: Baba Ladla is a citizen of Lyari like anybody else. Every six months or so I see him around but we have nothing to do with his criminal cases. And the government has the right to arrest anyone who is a criminal, including Baba Ladla. We have no relationship with him and this is all an MQM conspiracy.
You assert that the MQM is out to get you. But in an interview with Newsline, back in 2010 when he still denied any association with you, Zulfikar Mirza claimed that MQM members were present at the launch of PAC.
UB: We are political people and we have ties with everyone. We were having our boxing tournaments and we invited MQM’s leader Nadia Gabol to the event. Nadia Gabol has no problem living in Lyari even though she is from the MQM. She had invited the then sports minister Mohammed Ali Shah as well who was surprised to find that Lyari was nothing like he had imagined. He immediately took off his bulletproof jacket and walked around Lyari, meeting people, and even promised us 1.5 crores for boxing camps. We have no problem with the MQM as long as they don’t have their guns pointed towards us.
But I will add that the MQM is extremely unfortunate because during Musharraf’s tenure they had the opportunity to offer us a hand but they did not. Had they done something for us then, today there would be MQM flags all over Lyari.
What about the accusations of drug smuggling and bhatta collection? Are these education and health programmes simply a cover for your criminal activities?
ZB: Drugs and bhatta are problems that have existed since MQM’s time. If people think our source of income is drugs or bhatta then I strongly disagree. You should speak to the former DIG Iqbal Mahmood with whom we started the anti-bhatta campaign. If bhatta and drugs were our source of income we would not have approached USAID for help with our educational programmes. In terms of our personal wealth, Uzair Baloch has inherited land and business from his family. I have my own businesses. We have an extremely strong community base and also give money to charity that we do not publicise.
You have been very vocal in your criticisms. Do you fear for your life?
UB: I’ve seen death up close many times. I’m a Muslim and proud to have been born a Baloch. Be it Zardari or the MQM, I fear nobody.
This interview was originally published in the June issue of Newsline.
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