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From a drug den to a thriving neighbourhood: Seven reasons that transformed Lyari in recent years

It is 2019, and Lyari is still standing tall. One of the 18 constituent towns in Karachi, Lyari was plagued with drugs and gang wars for the better part of a decade. It was a place many dreaded to go to.

Lyari has remained stigmatised with being a hub of violence, drugs and gangs, ridiculed with everything bad and the people paid heavily for it. The worst sufferers were the people who had the ‘misfortune’ of being the residents of Lyari but they held it together and they survived.

The people of Lyari are survivors and they came out of turmoil with their bats swinging. They combated gangs, drugs and violence and completely transformed the image of Lyari by showcasing their talent in sports, art, and music. The people of Lyari were the greatest contributors in transforming the area and shedding the stigma that came with it. Today, the situation is not as dire as it once was and the transformation has taken place gradually.

1. The arrest of Uzair Baloch
Lyari is infamously known as the home of Uzair Baloch, the notorious gang leader and the former head of the militant group, Peoples Aman Committee (PAC). Baloch is accused of being involved in many cases including terrorism and extortion. He was a fugitive wanted by Pakistani law enforcement agencies for many years. He was also allegedly linked to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and that was why he evaded arrest for many years. It was also alleged that due to his connections with the PPP, Baloch enjoyed their protection and was able to carry out heinous crimes without any fear from the law.

Joining the gang war to avenge his father’s death, Baloch quickly rose to prominence with the help of his cousin, Rehman Dakait (another infamous gang war leader of Lyari). Baloch’s rivalry with Arshad Pappu and the thirst for the avenge made him commit many heinous crimes. He was first booked in a murder case in 2004 and was arrested in 2005. Baloch was released on bail due to his ‘political connections’.

Many other charges were brought against him, and he was wanted in over 55 cases. When the Lyari operation commenced in 2012, Baloch’s house was raided, but he had already fled the country. He was arrested in Dubai in 2015 and was handed to Pakistan by the Interpol. Sindh Rangers took him into custody in 2016. It is claimed that Baloch confessed to 197 murders, including the murder of Arshad Pappu and his accomplices.

Baloch and his gang had turned Lyari into a war zone, and for many years, they wreaked havoc in the area. Many teenagers and young children joined his group, and drugs were prevalent in the area.

Due to the constant gang wars between rivals, the people lived in constant fear. Many lives were lost, and many were ruined because of PAC.

Operation Lyari conducted by the Rangers also took many years to control the prevailing situation of the area and managed to restore some peace. Today, normalcy has returned to Lyari and people can live normal lives. Tough, the stigma of Uzair Baloch and his gang is still there, the lives of the people are considerably better.

Muhammad Tahir, a resident of Lyari for more than two decades, said that he was afraid to step out of his house when he was a kid. His parents would make sure that he would remain indoors, and he saw many of his classmates and friends falling victims to drugs.

“Life is much easier and safer after the Rangers’ operations, and I believe that my kids can enjoy a much safer life compared to what I had to go through,” he added.

Another resident of Lyari, who wished to remain anonymous, claimed that she was rejected for a marriage proposal just because she lived in Lyari. “Even though Lyari is much safer now, and there are no gang-related incidents anymore, it is hard to shrug off the stigma that comes with the place and difficult to change the people’s perceptions,” she said.

2. The discontinuation of the Peoples Aman Committee
Rehman Dakait founded the PAC in 2008, and after his death a year later, the leadership went to his cousin Uzair Baloch. With the help of funding by Dakait and other contributors, the PAC established educational institutions and medical centres to portray a positive side of their organisation. On the forefront, they also carried charity work to raise funds for the PAC. However, the social practice of PAC was merely a front for extortion, smuggling, kidnappings and gambling.

The PAC was a constant rival of the Arshad Pappu and later went on to rival the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and the two were involved in many gang-related incidents and target killings. Even though PAC operates de facto on the ground, the organisation was disbanded in 2011 and was also banned under Clause (11/B) of Anti-terrorism Act 1997. The disbandment of the PAC put a stop to many of the gang-related incidents in Lyari and was a transformational moment in the history of the area.

 3. The fight against drugs
The people of Lyari are now actively participating in anti-drug campaigns in a hope to secure their future and the future of generations to come.

After being a hub of drugs for many years, the people have had enough. Save the Life Organisation (STLO); a Lyari based non-governmental organisation is at the helm of the campaign to make Lyari a drug free society. They organise marches and protests to rally the people for their noble cause.

STLO President Saeed Bahmri and STLO Secretary Rasheed Baloch are working towards rehabilitation of the drug-addicted residents of the area in an attempt to make them productive members of society. They have also taken help from the local Sindh government to make this campaign a success.

The people of Lyari are also working alongside the NGO to rehabilitate themselves and to restore honour to their area. Syed Abdul Rasheed, a Sindh Assembly member, is also fighting against drugs in his constituency ie Lyari. He also moved a private resolution in the assembly to rehabilitate drug-dependent individuals on a priority basis. He encouraged the provincial government to adopt a proactive approach against the rampant and increased use of drug use in the assembly.

Several notorious gangs that operated in the area were the major suppliers of drugs to Lyari. Uzair Baloch and his gang were known for flooding the market with drugs. On the other hand, Ghaffar Zikri and his gang were rivalling the Baloch gang by providing their brand of drugs. After purging Lyari of gangs, drugs in the area have significantly reduced and the people are trying to rehabilitate themselves and their society.

4. The people of Lyari
After an end to violence in Lyari, the people have started taking over and they are the most important contributors to the transformation. The residents have taken the task of restoring Lyari’s name and they are battling the stigmas with their talent and hard work.

Hip hop has taken Lyari by storm and there are many talented individuals from Lyari that have made a name for themselves. ‘Lyari Underground,’ formerly known as ‘Boyz in da hood’ features a group of boys who started a hip hop rap group in 2010. They received critical acclaim and became very successful when their song, ‘Lyari Underground’ hit it big. In an interview, DJ Khalifa, a member of the group, revealed that they hid their identity till 2015 as they feared gangsters of their area. After the Rangers’ operation, they felt safer to show their identities and are now working to instill peace in their community. They use rap as a medium to represent Lyari and to condemn the violence in the area.

Recently, a female rapper by the pseudonym of Eva B has taken social media by storm. Her song, ‘Gully Girl,’ inspired by the movie ‘Gully Boy’ earned her high praise. She keeps her identity hidden by wearing a veil and is considered Pakistan’s secret superstar. Hip hop is a powerful medium that the youth of Lyari are using at their disposal to highlight their talents and to show their area in a new light.

A Lyari Girls Café was also established in 2017, which aims to rehabilitate women and young girls. The café building is full of bullet holes that highlight the daunting past of the area and the journey towards a brighter future. They offer a chance to female residents to become productive members of society by providing a variety of courses like makeup and hairstyling, and English language classes.

5. The death of Ghaffar Zikri
The death of one of the most notorious gangsters in the history of Karachi, Ghaffar Zikri was the final nail in the coffin and a huge turning point for Lyari. Zikri was a criminal with a rich history and was involved in kidnapping and extortion with another hundred cases of murder and attempted murder filed against him. The government of Pakistan had also announced a reward of Rs2.5 million for his capture. After his death, Lyari was freed of a hardened criminal and the gang wars also came to an end.

6. Sports and social change
Lyari has always been famous for sports and in recent years, the area is now being known as the hub of sports in Karachi. To promote football in Lyari, it was announced that a proper football pitch will be made in the area.

Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah also announced a cash price of Rs100,000 for the Lyari football team who won in a football tournament in Qatar. Badshah Khan, a professional wrestler from Lyari, has also gained fame in recent years and is now representing the country and his area globally. He is also one of the reasons why many wrestling events are being held in the country and Badshah Khan is a regular entertainer there.

7. Arts in Lyari
Lyari is enriched with talented individuals and many of those have showcased their talents in art. Many artists have come forward with beautiful murals and pictures, making a name for their area and themselves. Art exhibitions have also been held in Lyari which provided the locals, especially kids with an opportunity to highlight their artistic side. Last year in November, many private and public school students of Lyari showcased their artistic talents in an art exhibition held at Shah Latif Bhittai Hall Nayabad. Events like these show a positive side of Lyari and highlight that they are so much more than drugs, murder, gangs and killings.

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