Letter from Pakistan — From the September 2015 issue

Gangs of Karachi

Meet the mobsters who run the show in one of the world’s deadliest cities

Download Pdf
Read Online

This spring, the Rangers, Pakistan’s paramilitary security force, launched a series of raids into Karachi’s slums for what was described by the government as a crime-prevention campaign. Members of the force blocked off the streets surrounding the city’s poorest neighborhoods and exchanged fire with the locals. Over several days, the Rangers seized several caches of weapons and captured or killed dozens of alleged gang members.

As the raids continued, news reports emerged that Uzair Baloch, the former leader of one of the gangs targeted by the military, had accused a number of high-ranking politicians of extortion and conspiracy to commit murder. Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city, with an estimated population of 20 million, and stories of corruption and violence are commonplace there. But Uzair, who is a member of Pakistan’s Baloch ethnic group, was more powerful than your average gang leader, and his accusations were unusually damning.

An armored police vehicle patrols the Agra Taj section of Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood, near the border that separates the territories of the Kutchi Rabta Committee and the Amn Committee. All photographs © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images

An armored police vehicle patrols the Agra Taj section of Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood, near the border that separates the territories of the Kutchi Rabta Committee and the Amn Committee. All photographs © Asim Rafiqui/NOOR Images

Uzair had fled the country in 2013. In December, he was arrested in Dubai, and he was held by the authorities in the Emirates while the Pakistani government sought his extradition. Now, according to a report that aired on March 19 on Express News, he had admitted to carrying out assassinations at the behest of powerful figures within the Pakistan Peoples Party, including the country’s former president, Asif Ali Zardari.

The P.P.P. responded that Uzair was a member of a conspiracy against it. On March 18, Saulat Mirza, an assassin who had been on death row for almost seventeen years, had given a sensational televised confession hours before he was due at the gallows. In his speech, Mirza blamed the leadership of the Muttahida Quami Movement, or M.Q.M., Karachi’s most powerful political party, for his crimes. (The execution was delayed, but Mirza was hanged a few weeks later.) There was speculation that Uzair’s confession — which, unlike Mirza’s, had only been reported secondhand — was part of a plot by the military to weaken the P.P.P. and the M.Q.M., Karachi’s two main civilian parties.

That didn’t necessarily mean that Uzair’s claims were untrue, of course. I have been following his career for several years, and the arrest in Dubai was a dramatic reversal of fortune for a man who, during the 2013 general election, had been a key ally of the P.P.P. He had hosted many party leaders, including the chief minister of Sindh province, at his lavish mansion in the slum of Lyari, on the west side of Karachi.

Uzair had been trying to transform himself from a gangster into a legitimate politician. His downfall showed just how provisional legitimacy can be in Karachi, and how deeply embedded gangs are in the city’s politics. His alleged confession suggested he didn’t want to be brought down alone.

Previous PageNext Page
1 of 9

You are currently viewing this article as a guest. If you are a subscriber, please sign in. If you aren't, please subscribe below and get access to the entire Harper's archive for only $45.99/year. Or purchase this issue on your iOS or Android devices for $6.99.

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Download Pdf
Share
is the Schell Fellow at The Nation Institute and the recipient of a grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. His article “Kabubble” appeared in the February 2013 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

More from Matthieu Aikins:

Get access to 167 years of
Harper’s for only $45.99

United States Canada

THE CURRENT ISSUE

February 2018

The Bodies in The Forest

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

The Minds of Others

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Modern Despots

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Before the Deluge

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Notes to Self

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

Within Reach

= Subscribers only.
Sign in here.
Subscribe here.

view Table Content
Close

Sign up to receive The Weekly Review, Harper’s Magazine’s singular take on the past seven days of madness. It’s free!*

*Click “Unsubscribe” in the Weekly Review to stop receiving emails from Harper’s Magazine.