'You are in Islamabad because of our votes': Interviews with the Lyari PAC

'You are in Islamabad because of our votes': Interviews with the Lyari PAC

We’re now into Day 7 of the police operation in Karachi’s Lyari slum neighbourhood against “criminal elements”, i.e. the People’s Aman Committee. Maybe the craziest thing about it all is that this mini-war, involving RPGs and night-vision goggles, is taking place just a few minutes drive away from Karachi’s central business district.

If you want to know about the different characters involved in the Lyari gang wars, this is a good overview (though it doesn’t say who is claiming what). If you’re intersted in knowing more about how it’s about more than just crime, and the Aman Committee’s involvement in social work, listen to my radio report from 2010.

But I’ve always had a soft spot for the Aman Committee. Let’s be clear. The PAC has been accused of some pretty horrendous crimes, so I don’t want it to sound as though I’m romanticizing about these gangsters. But I do admire their political awareness and the fact that they refuse to be mindless pawns of the PPP bigwigs. These are people who resent the feudal mindset of those within the PPP and are willing to stand up against them when push comes to shove.

It is similar to what I admire about the MQM as it was in its very early days. Middle and working class people who organized themselves and insisted on representing themselves, rather than be represented by those who don’t share the same class interests. And indeed this common trait is more than just a coincidence.

In my discussions with PAC leaders and workers in 2010, the MQM’s model of working and middle class leadership was repeatedly mentioned as the model that they wanted to emulate. So despite their bitter enmity, the MQM can in fact claim some credit/blame for the creation of the PAC.

My interviews in Lyari, excerpts of which I have shared below, were recorded in 2010 when relations between the PPP and the PAC were still relatively good. But even then, you can hear the bitterness that the PAC workers feel towards their elected MNAs and MPAs, and their willingness to challenge their own party on this. It is this, if I were to speculate, that is the reason for this police crackdown at this particular time and not earlier. The PAC wants more power and the PPP feudal bigwigs are not willing to surrender it. But as I said, that’s just my speculation.

And again, don’t interpret this admiration for one of the traits of the PAC or MQM as an excuse for their other crimes.

Anyways, listen to the exceprts of my interviews of PAC leaders and workers below. Some are in English while most are in Urdu. I’ve also added quick transcription/translations of each below, but they probably aren’t 100% accurate.

“We don’t need you to oblige us”

Shakeeb Baloch, senior leader of the PAC at the time – not now

“Sometimes we get help. It’s not that no one is looking at us. There are some people supporting us. But we need real support. We don’t need you to oblige us. We need our rights, simple. So you can give it to us simply. And we will take it simply. Nothing else. We saw you in politics. We are your people. We just give votes to these MNAs, MPAs. What we expect? Nothing. Whatever you do, we don’t care. Just give us our rights. Everyone says that there is a power in votes. Where it goes? I don’t know. Everything disappears at the time.”

“If you can’t make Lyari like Paris then at least make it like Nazimabad”

Shoaib Baloch, PAC worker

“It’s upsetting. If the PPP has a presence in Karachi, it is in Lyari. So why are you treating Lyari the way a stepmother would? You should provide services to the people of Lyari. If you can’t make Lyari into Paris, then at least make it like DHA or Nazimabad. You have seen – it’s a reality – that MQM has done so much work in its areas that are its votebanks. I know that MQM hasn’t done work in all of Karachi, only where its votebanks are. But [Lyari] has been a votebank [for PPP] since 1971. What have they done? If you can’t make Lyari like Paris then at least make it like Nazimabad.

“Since 1971 until 2010, the people of Lyari have been with the PPP. People from interior Sindh, from Nawabshah, even members of the Bhutto family have joined the Jamaat e Islami and Muslim League. But we Lyari people have stayed with the PPP. So we don’t want anything else. Just give the people of Lyari jobs. Give us the basic facilities for living. Here you are making us fools.”

“We send you to the assemblies”

Shakeeb Baloch, senior leader of the PAC at the time – not now

“Now we have to think, the party that we have given sacrifices to – our elders also. We have seen since since the time of our grandparents – all PPP. It would be foolish to suggest that we join a different party. Should I waste the work of all my elders and start a new party? Why? I should reform it from within. If anyone says that we are not of the PPP, they are telling lies, watching dreams. Uzair Baloch’s entire team have given sacrifices, end their elders have also sacrificed for the PPP. The PPP is our own party, it’s everyone’s. You can’t restrict it and say just one group owns it. No that can’t be. Every person knows.

“We should be the stakeholders. We give you votes, we get you recognized, we send you the assemblies and make you ministers. We should be the stakeholders and we should benefit fromt this. But if this isn’t so then what will happen? You will create rebels yourself. You will give others the opportunity to raise their voice against you. We just want to reform from within while staying in discipline. We just say that now is the time to look and see who is wrong and who is right.”

“You are in Islamabad because of our votes”

Shoaib Baloch, PAC worker

“If today you [PPP legislators and ministers] are travelling around with the Pakistani flag and VIP protocol, who is it because of? Think about that with a cool head. It’s because of the people of Lyari. You are sitting in Islamabad because of our votes. If we didn’t vote for you, you wouldn’t be sitting in Islamabad. You would still be in Dogar Basti. You’re living in Islamabad. Your tickets are being confirmed. You’re visiting foreign countries. All of our MPAs and MNAs are shifting their money abroad.

“You tell me, in this country, has anything ever happened to an army person or a politician, since Bhutto? The courts ordered Nawaz Sharif to be hung, but he had already flown to Saudi Arabia the next morning. All of Pakistan’s politicians and army officers are related to each other. They are all in-laws of each other. One has a son married into another’s house, the other has a daughter married into another. None of them want to be affected. But I’ll just say, if there aren’t fools in this world, how would the cunning get rich?”

“This is another slogan of the rebels”

Shakeeb Baloch, senior leader of the PAC at the time – not now

“We are the real stakeholders. Now elections will come. Who is working with the people? No MNA, no MPA. We, local people are here. So we are supposed to lead them, not them. This is another slogan of the rebels.”

“Our representatives have a feudal mindset”

Zafar Baloch, PAC second-in-command

“The role of our representatives here has been negative. That’s because our representatives are a people of feudal mentality. They consider their constituency to be their feudal property. They want to control people’s thoughts. They think that they are doing right. They expect people to go to their private homes in DHA. So we have reminded them that the world has advanced. Now you must come in to the field. The people want their representatives to stand with them. They want their representatives to be visible for each of their problems or work. But the representatives expect the people to travel all the way to his private house to resolve any problem.

“Now, in a city like Karachi, where the MQM has provided a middle class leadership, obviously it will have effects on those around them. In the way that they [MQM] go around at the grassroots level. They have a system that others have seen and gained awareness. Before the people were held hostage in the hands of the politicians. So then we said “change this mentality”. People became aware and expressed that they will only support and vote for those who stand by them and raise their voices for them. And we have raised our voices for the people. Sometimes we have even protested about this within our party. Because we are a part of the PPP.

“So we have made the leadership of the PPP aware. So now even they have realized that the representatives that they have sent for us are not good and are not working properly. They are not representing the people properly. They [PPP leadership] have realized this and told us to keep working for the people and don’t worry about these things. Let me remind you, that we have offered our representatives before that if they come into the masses, then they will have a name. But if they continue doing politics with this feudal mindset, things can not go on.”