Sunday, June 24, 2012

KARACHI: Politics mix with violent crime in Pakistan's Karachi

Relaxing in his luxurious four-storey home, Uzair Baloch has high hopes of breaking into Pakistani politics despite the 63 warrants out for his arrest. "People will give me votes, God willing," said Baloch, as his muscular bodyguards eyed the surrounding slum streets. Murder, torture and extortion allegations would bar most people around the world from seeking public office. Not in Pakistan's commercial capital, Karachi, where men like Baloch thrive amid gang wars and ethnic, sectarian and political violence. He's confident of winning a legislative seat in a general election due early next year. In some ways, instability in the city of 18 million poses a graver security threat to U.S. ally Pakistan than the headline-grabbing Taliban insurgency in the north. Karachi is home to Pakistan's main stock market. It handles all of the cash-strapped country's shipping. The city also generates most of Pakistan's tax revenue - and some of the country's most wanted men. Police say Baloch, whose father was kidnapped and killed by gangsters, has spent years building a business empire through extortion, kidnapping and drugs. He also made powerful friends in political parties in a city long split along sectarian and ethnic lines. Karachi is dominated by the Muttahida Quami Movement, originally set up by mohajirs, Muslims who fled to Pakistan from India at the time of partition. The Awami National Party seeks to challenge them, claiming to represent an influx of millions of ethnic Pashtuns from the strife-plagued northwestern region along the Afghan border. "HUMAN SHIELDS" The country's ruling Pakistan People's Party (PPP) is the smallest player in Karachi. Despite arrest warrants for Baloch dating back to 2009, he's held news conferences and repeatedly appeared at PPP rallies. That all changed in recent months after Baloch publicly criticized the PPP. He believes that prompted police to go after him. But the operation proved disastrous. Last month, thousands of officers attempted to seize control of his stronghold in the Lyari slum but were ambushed by gunmen with rocket-propelled grenades and armor-piercing bullets. Five policemen and about 20 civilians were killed, police say. A legislator's house was set on fire. But no fugitives were arrested. Chaudhry Aslam, a chain-smoking, pistol-packing bearded policeman journalists have dubbed "Pakistan's toughest cop," is charged with going after figures like Baloch. He denies the arrest attempt was politically motivated, and says Baloch's tactics made it impossible to nab him. "He used human shields. That is why we could not arrest him before," said Aslam at a police barracks, where armored vehicles sit in the parking lot and rocket-propelled grenades are stacked in a bathroom. Baloch denies any link to violence. Residents disagree. In one notorious incident, his supporters showed up at the giant Sher Shah scrap yard, witnesses said. Picking their way past the disemboweled car engines littering the oily alleys, traders point to areas where the killers gunned down a dozen men who refused to pay protection money. This week, two brothers were shot in broad daylight less than 50 meters from a police post in the yard. Now, police are stationed just outside the office of market association president Malik Dehelvi. He is still too scared to name the killers. "I am afraid," Dehelvi said, his meaty hand touching the loaded pistol kept on his desk. Colleagues show scraps of paper and phone messages demanding protection money. "The groups who ask for extortion, they can't run it on their own. Obviously there's a party behind it," said Dehelvi. While the Taliban are attacking the state, violence in Karachi was caused by groups inside the state itself, said Kamran Bokhari, vice-president of Middle Eastern & South Asian Affairs with global intelligence company Stratfor. NO-GO ZONES "Democratic forces are unable to deal with the violence because they are involved in it," he said. "It's the political mainstream that is engaged in this kind of violence." Political parties mark their turf with ragged flags strung from lamp posts in crumbling neighborhoods where children too poor to afford a football kick around an empty plastic bottle. Shopkeepers slam down their metal shutters whenever trouble looms. Some areas, like much of Baloch's stronghold of Lyari, are a no-go zone even for police. Baloch blames his former PPP allies for failing to tackle Lyari's hardships, and portrays himself as a Robin Hood figure. "There's no teachers in the schools, no doctors in the clinics," Baloch told Reuters in an interview. "I pay hospital bills when people don't have money ... I tell people, 'as long as I am alive, I will be here for you'." Muhammad Rafique, who represents Lyari in the provincial assembly on behalf of the PPP, has appeared with Baloch at several rallies. He is careful not to criticize his former supporter but insists Baloch had no formal position in the party. "If criminals have taken over politics, how can gentlemen survive?," he said. His own family home lies behind a heavily guarded roadblock. It's easy to see why Rafique is so concerned about Karachi's violence. At police headquarters, officers drag out a sweating, manacled prisoner with a black bag over his head. Kaleem Siddiqui is a confessed killer - $750 a hit, he said. "We charged more if they wanted us to mutilate the bodies in a certain way," he said. "I killed for the money ... (but) I know a lot of people who kill others for politics." Sometimes politicians hired gunmen like himself, he said. Other times they used their own. The police, underfunded, out gunned and widely seen as corrupt, can do little. Karachi only has 30,000 officers. They're not properly trained to gather evidence or prepare cases, said regional prosecutor general Shahadat Arwan. The lack of a witness protection program means few will testify. Baloch, who says all cases against him are politically motivated, is confident he will never end up behind bars. "They made cases against me so they can stop me. They know in the coming election people are with me. People say whatever Uzair Baloch says, we will do this," Baloch said, as a visiting government official looked on. "Even if they kill me," he said, "there are thousands more Uzairs out there."

“Bangladesh Envoy in India slams Pakistan”

Bangladesh envoy to India has attacked Pakistani army, saying its “selfish corporate mindset” may lead to a nuclear confrontation with India, a view endorsed by BJP leader LK Advani- reports the PTI. In his latest blog posting, Advani quotes a pamphlet written by high commissioner Ahmad Tariq Karim to say that in “its obsession with matching India tit-for-tat in missiles and nuclear race”, Pakistan has “failed to address more fundamental problems related to societal development within its own orders, and has gone pretty nigh bankrupt in the process”. Advani mentions a recent meeting with Bangladesh envoy Ahmad Tariq Karim who later sent him a 19-page pamphlet written by him on Pakistan. In the pamphlet, Karim cites seven “deadly sins” of Pakistan which were responsible for the political problems and weak democracy in the neighbouring country. These, according to Karim, are doctrines of Islamic invincibility over Hindus, West Pakistani superiority over inferior Bengalis (Bangladeshis), its indispensability as a strategic ally of the US, too much emphasis on relations with China and Iran, a belief that majority of Kashmiris want to join Pakistan, and that defence of East Pakistan lay in the plains of Punjab (Pakistan). Agreeing with the views, Advani said, “In totality this pamphlet adds up to a very perceptive summing up of all that has gone wrong with Pakistan in the three score years since its foundation.” He further adds, “In the preamble to this pamphlet Karim warns that the selfish corporate mindset of the Pakistan military establishment ultimately may lead to a nuclear confrontation with India.” Karim’s paper also makes a plea to the international community in general and to Saarc in particular to deploy measures that would encourage the return of democracy to Pakistan as soon as possible.

Pakistan: ‘Yes Prime Minister’

Editorial:Daily Times
Like an unexpected ‘jolt’ to the nation, Pakistan’s former minister for energy and power, Raja Pervez Ashraf, is now its 25th prime minister (PM). He has been sworn in and has brought a new cabinet with him: 27 ministers and 11 ministers of state have taken their oaths. It may be a new cabinet and it may have a new head but most of these ministers are the same old faces carrying forward the same old agendas and tasks. The first thing that really strikes one about this transition of power from one PM and his cabinet to the other is how smoothly the whole process went. We in Pakistan are not used to such a rare occurrence whereby all major political players set their differences and petty squabbles aside to allow progress and democratic norms to prevail. While the new PM is not without his detractors — opposition leader Nawaz Sharif thinks Raja Pervez is a “tragedy” for the country and extra-parliamentary force Imran Khan rallied his supporters in Hyderabad by calling the new PM’s election a “shame” for the country — the fact of the matter remains that the unprecedented disqualification of Yousaf Raza Gilani did not become cause for our political and military forces to set the democratic course adrift nor did it make way for violence one feared might erupt due to the PPP’s angry supporters. For democracy to continue half embattled and half bruised in Pakistan, it is of the utmost importance that the exalted institution of the judiciary be a major player in seeing the political process through. For this it must be seen as practicing some restraint. If democracy is not allowed to go through its initial highs and lows everyone suffers, including the judiciary. Under the military rule of General Musharraf it was the courts that saw upheaval and turmoil, with its restoration being unthinkable under the general’s dictatorship. For the judiciary to assume the mantle of activism, as is being viewed by many quarters, it risks turning itself into an autocrat of sorts. The precedent set by the highest court of the land in the dismissal of PM Gilani was a first in this country and probably a first anywhere else in the world, with the courts taking on the role of the legislature. The courts have set June 27 as the next date for the resumption of the NRO case, a mere five days after Ashraf’s appointment, showing that Gilani’s dismissal has not satiated the courts just yet. The PPP is not one to go down without a fight. It is a party that has seen two of its leaders killed in the game of politics. If the Supreme Court keeps summoning and disqualifying PMs, the only institution to lose its credibility will be the courts. There is only so much intervention a public that is so far divided on the issue will stomach before it changes its opinion about the objectives of the court. This will lend the PPP a sympathetic light in time for the upcoming elections, which many predict may come before March 2013. There are too many flip sides to this coin so every player must tread carefully. The PM’s first public announcement has been to assure the people that the energy crisis is at the top of his list of priorities along with rectifying the law and order situation and fixing the economy. This is rhetoric and the Pakistani people are not going to believe it so willingly this time considering that it is coming from the man who promised that load shedding would end once and for all in December 2009, the same man who has been smeared by the courts as receiving kickbacks in the rental power project. Only if this PM delivers, no matter how long he remains in office, will the government be able to gain the favour of the people in any perceived confrontation of the judiciary and executive.