By Zia Ur Rehman
July 4, 2018
Lyari’s Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai Road was the centre of media attention on Sunday when the electoral caravan of the Pakistan Peoples Party Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto Zardari came under attack by stone pelters, and was welcomed by women holding pots shouting ‘Pani do, Pani do’ (give water, give water) and protesters chanting slogans against the party leadership for awarding ticket to a leader who was formerly associated with Lyari’s notorious gang.
The PPP leaders, however, claimed miscreants were behind the incident and that thousands of party supporters in Lyari greeted Bilawal and showered him with rose petals. Advising the media not to report the incident as an act of public agitation, PPP Karachi President Saeed Ghani on Monday said the masses possess the most powerful weapon in the form of their vote and they had every right to show their resentment against any political party by not casting votes in its favour.
However, local analysts and community leaders believe that the Sunday incident was an eye-opener for the PPP not only to resolve the party’s inner fissures but also to address the local grievances of the residents of the neighbourhood, from where the party has won every election since its inception. Bilawal’s mother, Benazir Bhutto, and father, Asif Ali Zardari, have also won from the constituency in the past.
Lyari residents who have always voted for the PPP are now criticising its performance because of its failure to address their urgent civic problems such as water shortage and unemployment, which have remained unresolved for the past several years. Lyari’s broken down roads, overflowing gutters, unauthorised apartments, unemployed youths and sprawling rubbish bins are some of the problems which the PPP leadership has been unable to address.
“Stop calling us conspirators, pro-gangs or pro-Muttahida Qaumi Movement. We are traditional supporters and protested just to show our anger over the failure to resolve our civic issues, especially the non-provision of water,” Dawood Kutchi, a 53-year-old resident of Bhittai Road and a leader of the disgruntled Kutchi community, said in response to party leaders’ statements regarding the incident.
According to Nida Kirmani, a researcher working on Lyari for the past several years, there are genuine grievances among a large section of residents. “Lyari’s residents believe that the protest has created the sense in the PPP that the people of Lyari are not happy with how it handled the area, especially the case of the creations of gang war and supporting the Peoples Amn Committee, in the past several years,” Kirmani told The News. “Let’s see what happens in the election. People often go back to their habit of voting for the PPP.”
Although Lyari residents are suspicious of other parties, at the same time, they have genuine grievances that were behind the attack on the convoy on Sunday, she said.
Although the PPP is in a position to get its chairperson Bilawal elected from NA-246, which comprises Lyari and some parts of old city area – mainly because of the absence of a strong opposition group, the party has been facing a great challenge in the two provincial assembly seats – PS-107 and PS-108 falling in the constituency.
In PS-107, the PPP traditionally nominates a Kutchi leader from the constituency which is home to various communities, such as Hingoros, Sonaras and Soomro. In the past, Ali Ahmed Hingoro and Saleem Hingoro have been elected from the constituency. However, after the rise of gangs in Lyari in 2009, gangsters extorted money from Kutchi businessmen and harassed the overall community in the region.
Kutchi community leaders blamed the PPP leadership, especially the then home minister Zulfiqar Mirza, who helped the gangs morph into the Peoples Amn Committee, an alliance of most of the gangs, and used them for their own political benefits, especially countering the MQM in the old city areas.
To protect the community from the gangsters, various Kutchi jammats formed the Kutchi Rabita Committee in 2009. This worsened the situation and the PAC’s gangsters started harassing ordinary Kutchis. In July 2011, the conflict forced over 1,000 Kutchi families to flee their homes in Lyari and shift to other Kutchi-populated neighbourhoods of the city as well as Badin and Thatta districts.
The residents of Lyari still shudder when they recall the days when gangsters were attacking the homes and shops of Kutchis in the area with rocket launchers, automatic rifles and grenades. According to the community leaders, since 2009, over 400 Kutchis, including women and children, have been killed by the gangsters.
Satisfied with the Rangers-led operation, the Kutchi community diminished the importance of the KRC, which reflected in December 2015 local government polls.
This year, the community has reacted strongly to the party’s decision to award a ticket for PS-107 to party leader Javed Nagori. In the 2008 general polls, the PAC chief Uzair Baloch had picked up Nagori, Sania Naz and Shah Jahan for the Lyari’s national and two provincial assembly seats and they were ultimately given a PPP ticket. “We did not forget the killings of our loved ones,” said Musa Soomro, another Kutchi leader “We will not accept him [Nagori].”
He said that his community has been waiting for the PPP’s response and if it is not satisfactory, the community will either support the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf or the Tehreek-e-Labbaik Pakistan in the upcoming polls.
There are also concerns over the registering of cases under terrorism law against 400 protesters for attacking Bilawal’s motorcade. Although the PPP leaders distanced itself from the case, the community believes that the party will use the cases against its political opponents.
A number of Baloch leaders and the party’s elected representativeness in PS-108, another Lyari provincial constituency, have also shown their concerns about the awarding of a ticket to Abdul Majeed, who does not belong to the constituency, and have formed an independent ‘Lyari Panel’.
They have fielded former MNA Shah Jahan and UC vice-chairman Habib Hasan from both provincial constituencies against the PPP’s nominated candidates. “The PPP only used Lyari’s Baloch merely for dancing on its song “Dilla Teera Baja” and exploited them as muscle in its proxy war with the MQM in the past,” said Amjad Hout, a PPP activist in Chakiwara. “We will resist and vote for our own candidates.”