Preying for Power in Lyari
On May 2, 10-year-old Hammad was struck by a stray bullet and then crushed to death under the monstrous wheels of an armed personnel carrier.
It was the 6th day of the now infamous Lyari operation and Hammad was on his way home from the madrassah where he was studying to be a Hafiz-e-Quran. According to bystanders, he saw people protesting against the operation on the streets and walked closer to get a better look at them. The police allegedly began firing at the crowd blindly, which is when Hammad was shot.
“Was Hammad a gangster?” asked his mother. “Is the police blind that they did not see children standing before them?” Hammad’s family lives in a small, decrepit house in the narrow, meandering alleyways of Lyari. His family showed Newsline a graphic photograph of Hammad from an Urdu daily, in which you could see how his head was disfigured by the weight of the carrier. Only two years ago, a stray bullet killed his older brother, Junaid.
“First I used to cry for Junaid and it was Hammad who helped lessen my grief. But today I cry for both of them” she said, holding back tears.
Hammad’s aunt described how the neighbourhood children live in constant fear of future operations: “They keep asking ‘Will what happened to Hammad happen to us next?’” She added, “The Rangers had their operations in Lyari in the past and they would go door-to-door interrogating people. But we’ve never experienced this kind of terror before.”
While the family members silently wiped away tears, Hammad’s mother held herself together. “Just let Chaudhry Aslam come in front of me once and see what I do to him. If he can have children killed, then he can go ahead and kill us mothers too.”
The family hopes Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry will take some action against the culprits behind Hammad’s death but they are aware that nothing will be done in the end. They say that they can only pray for CID SSP Chaudhry Aslam and Interior Minister Rehman Malik, who they dub ‘Zaalim Malik,’ to suffer as terribly as the people of Lyari are suffering right now.
Immediately after the operation, Sindh Chief Minister Qaim Ali Shah had stated that Rs 500,000 would be provided to the families of those who died. Hammad’s family hasn’t even been offered condolences by the government, let alone monetary compensation.
Ghulam Dastagir’s family hasn’t yet received anything from the government either. Dastagir was an FIA officer who got caught in the middle of crossfire near his home in Kalakot on the first day of the operation. He was shot in the head and it was with great difficulty in the midst of firing that his son dragged his father’s body out of the street and eventually found an ambulance. But by the time they reached the hospital it was too late and Dastagir had already passed away. He is survived by six children, of whom the youngest, 12-year-old Saba, fainted upon seeing her father’s corpse. His son Aqil compared the eight days of the operation to living in a warzone since the government had shut down electricity, gas and water.
“We had nothing. We couldn’t step out of the house. We had to make the food lying in the house last 10 days,” Aqil said, “and we have no hope that justice will ever be served. People here will just go on chanting ‘Jeay Bhutto.’”
Although Dastagir’s family is Sindhi, his son believes that the only person who may be able to bring some change to Lyari is Uzair Baloch, leader of the banned People’s Amn Committee (PAC), against whom the operation was launched in the first place.
Originally intended to clip the wings of the Amn Committee and the various criminal elements operating in Lyari, the operation was hastily suspended by Rehman Malik after eight long days of violence. SSP CID Mohammed Aslam Khan, commonly known as Chaudhry Aslam, headed the operation, which proved to be a source of embarrassment for the government since the forces were unable to move beyond Cheel Chowk, a landmark in Lyari.
Chaudhry Aslam deployed more than 1,400 men from the police and the Frontier Constabulatory (FC), who reportedly used Rs 5 million worth of bullets during the operation. However, the police was left battered by the combatants in what turned out to be eight days of urban guerrilla warfare. While the residents of Lyari are fuming at the CID and the government for launching the operation, bullets certainly flew from both sides. Nearly all of the police’s armoured personnel carriers (APC), which cost approximately Rs 10 million each, were destroyed. According to some accounts the police was blindly firing at everyone. According to others, they were only shooting in the air while militants fired rocket launchers at them. Six days into the operation, reinforcements in the form of four APCS, 100 sharpshooters and 25 snipers were called in. The police also had its share of casualties during the operation, with Constable Fayyaz Ahmed and SHO Fawad Khan among the slain.
On the one hand it is nearly impossible to justify the operation, which subjected more than a million people to eight days of tyranny. On the other, the outlawed People’s Amn Committee (PAC) is said to be running a vast bhatta mafia and working closely with gangsters such as Noor Muhammad, alias Baba Ladla. Uzair Baloch vehemently denies any relationship with the notorious criminal (see interview) even though he has previously said on television that Baba Ladla is like a brother to him. Such contradictory statements are not unusual when it comes to the controversial Amn Committee. After all, Zulfikar Mirza too once denied links with the Committee and it wasn’t until 2011 that he began calling them the PPP’s soldiers in public.
PPP MNA Nabeel Gabol believes that the PAC is behind the murder of his right-hand man Malik Mohammad Khan, who along with a police officer was shot dead on April 26. On the surface it does appear that the operation was launched to avenge such acts of violence that have become commonplace in the city. Uzair Baloch, however, asserts that Owais Muzaffar Tappi, Zardari’s half-brother and allegedly the de facto chief minister of Sindh, instigated the operation on a personal vendetta against Baloch for turning against the PPP. And then there are some who believe that that the government ordered this operation to appease coalition partner MQM, who accuse the PAC of target killings and extortion – a rather hypocritical, but still valid, accusation.
But for whatever reason it was launched, the operation was a failure. Why did the police bring in massive APCs that were difficult to navigate through the narrow lanes? Were the policemen briefed on how to protect civilians caught in the crossfire? What was the government thinking when it cracked down on the entire town just to capture a handful of men?
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