Karachi’s Ethnocentric Mob

Karachi, like its peers New York, Palermo, and Mumbai, has all the markings of a city that nurtures organized crime. It is large, bubbling with life and activity; it is home to people from different backgrounds, anchors the country’s commerce, and is located by the sea. It is, then, no surprise that the city has managed to foster and absorb many organized crime syndicates ranging from the armed wings of political parties to jihadi terrorists such as the Taliban. The specialization of these outfits varies from protection racketeering (allegedly under the MQM’s notorious system of bhatta-khori) to kidnapping for ransom (a trade in which the Taliban reportedly excel) to drug trafficking (believed to be the forte of the People’s Aman Committee). Karachi’s underworld is thriving – this, after many “successful” armed operations.
Karachi’s underworld is still thriving – this, after many “successful” armed operations
A Melting Pot of Nationalities
Celebrating diversity is a novel thought – practically speaking, however, diversity is rarely a cause for celebration. More often, it gives rise to a conflict of interest. The dynamics are simple: each community fights the other for the throne, whether it is political or criminal, for each of them come with their share of power. People who identify with one particular community will rarely trust another to protect their interests, and thus the various communities become even more polarized. This is precisely what happened in post-Partition Karachi, once a bright spectacle of diversity. The Karachi of the 1950s was a melting pot of nationalities – with the exception that this heterogeneous society never attained, or sought to attain, homogeneity.
With a majority of Urdu-speaking migrants or Mohajirs from regions other than East Punjab opting to settle in Karachi, the city quickly became a hub for the Mohajir community. As it thrived and became a national industrial centre, Karachi attracted people from other backgrounds, seeking work opportunities. The Pashtun were among the first to move to the then capital of Pakistan and one of the first to challenge the supremacy of the Mohajirs. Considering the proximity of Karachi to Balochistan, it is not surprising that the city soon attracted Balochis who quickly formed settlements of their own. The Punjabis, too, followed in due course, and soon, Karachi boasted each of Pakistan’s major ethnic communities.
Laurent Gayer, in his book Karachi (2014), constructs a useful bar chart that illustrates the changes in Karachi’s ethnic composition in recent times. The chart shows that, although their domination has decreased over time, the Mohajirs still form the lion’s share of the city’s population. So, should they also bear responsibility for the lion’s share of the city’s crime? With the MQM’s deteriorating image, it would be easy to jump to this conclusion. However, the reality is much more complex.
The Indian Connection
The alleged founder of the global crime syndicate, D-Company – Dawood Ibrahim. Ibrahim is believed to be shielding his criminal activities behind various legal businesses

With its diversity and the state’s failure to do justice to its citizens, Karachi has always been a prime candidate for violence: from the post-1965 election clashes between the Mohajirs and Pashtun to the 1972 Sindhi-Urdu language riots, Pakistan’s “City of Lights” has seen it all. But things took a turn for the worse only in the 1980s. Under General Zia-ul-Haq’s regime, the period saw the mass militarization of Karachi’s citizens and the formation of the MQM, but there was more to it than petty national politics.
In the Subcontinent, this was the period in which Mumbai saw the rise of its most feared gangster, Dawood Ibrahim, who allegedly sought shelter in Karachi after fleeing from India. Dawood Ibrahim and his D-Company overthrew Karim Lala, the man who initiated the “Mafia Raj” in Mumbai, and established something much bigger: a global crime syndicate. D-Company spread its tentacles all over the world, with neighbouring UAE and Pakistan the most affected by its activities. Conspiracy theorists even believe that Ibrahim has links to the ISI and friends in the Pakistani government (see Gilbert King, The Most Dangerous Man in the World). Karachi’s underworld, then, should not be a hard task for the “most dangerous man in the world.” However, with the lack of documentary evidence, the connection is rarely ever proven.
Most people see Lyari as the hub of organized crime in Karachi
Uzair Baloch allegedly has years of criminal activities on his CV, but is not being handed over to Sindh Police due to a “lack of evidence”

Noor Muhammad, also known as Baba Ladla, was believed to be Uzair Baloch’s right-hand man. He was killed by the Iranian guard in May, 2014 while trying to escape to Iranian Baluchistan

Lyari Town
Most people see Lyari as the hub of organized crime in Karachi. With a plethora of gangs to boast of – the Lyari Aman Committee, the Jhengu Group, the Faisal Pathan Group – Lyari has been the target of many Rangers operations. Operation Lyari, the latest of these, has been active since April 2012, but the most feared of the constituency’s gangsters, Uzair Baloch, the leader of the People’s Aman Committee, has not been run to ground. It is important to note here that Lyari has a majority Baloch population and the People’s Aman Committee – allegedly the militant wing of the Pakistan People’s Party, officially formed in 2008 – is their most feared criminal syndicate. The bar chart above depicts Gayer’s data on the escalation in murders in Karachi after the formation of the Aman Committee.
Changes in Karachi’s ethnic composition over time. Source: Laurent Gayer, Karachi

Incidence of murder in Karachi between 1994 and 2012. Source: Laurent Gayer, Karachi

Clusters of violence by ethnicity in Karachi. Source: Laurent Gayer, Karachi

Mapping the Violence
For all its bad reputation, Lyari might not be the bloodiest of Karachi’s constituencies. The map below shows how many murders were committed in each of Karachi’s most violent constituencies between January and August 2011.
If Gayer’s statistical evidence is accurate and the sample a true generalization, then the majority of murders in Karachi take place in Mohajir-dominated areas. Kati Pahari, where the Mohajirs and Pashtun lead the pack, tops the table with 197 reported deaths. North Karachi, where the Mohajirs are the only dominant majority, comes in second with 117, while infamous Lyari comes in at third place with 101 reported deaths.
This should mean that the gangs of Lyari are, in fact, not as violent as they seem. Or, does it mean the contrary – that the people of Lyari, the Baloch, are not targeted as much as the Mohajirs? It is hard to tell. Mere numbers lack one element: they do not tell us the ethnicity of the dead. Were this included, it would be easier to identify the perpetrators of the violence – and this shows just how hard and fast the rules of Karachi’s ethnocentric mob violence are.


The Friday Times, Inc.