Days before death, Pakistani ganglord vowed to protect Karachi turf

KARACHI, Pakistan Thu Sep 19, 2013 7:54am EDT

1 of 3. Zafar Baloch (C), 46, talks to men after an interview with Reuters at a soccer club in Lyari, Karachi September 5, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Athar Hussain

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KARACHI, Pakistan (Reuters) - Days before he was killed in a drive-by shooting in Karachi, one of Pakistan's most feared men said he would rather see the city in ruin than give up control over his turf in the country's volatile commercial capital.

Zafar Baloch, a notorious figure wielding enormous power in Karachi, was killed by a group of gunmen on motorbikes overnight in an attack that sent shock waves through the sprawling port city generating a quarter of Pakistan's economy.

In a rare interview on September 5, Baloch, 46, spoke extensively about the psychology of gangland violence, offering a rare glimpse into the dark world of turf wars and extortion in Pakistan's troubled and ethnically diverse second city.

Speaking to Reuters in Lyari, one of Karachi's most dangerous neighborhoods, he said he would not leave his turf despite continuous raids by police and attacks by rival gangs.

"I once had 13 police raids in one day. I have bullet and grenade wounds in my leg," he said. "Thieves run away. I'll never run away from Lyari."

A city of 18 million people, Karachi is home to Pakistan's main port, stock exchange and central bank. And yet it is one of the most violent places in the South Asian nation, torn apart by ethnic, political and sectarian tensions and gangland rivalries.

Explosions and killings occur daily as political and militant groups battle for control with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the city's dominant political party.

Karachi generates 25 percent of Pakistan's economy and presents a major challenge to Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif as he tries to bring law and order to the chaotic financial hub.

PIECE OF CAKE

In Lyari, a dense network of slums housing over a million people, criminal gangs operate freely, exerting total control over businesses and residents. Police almost never enter the neighborhood without permission from Baloch's men.

Streets are busy, teeming with people and cars. Buildings and lampposts are adorned with posters of Baloch and his allies.

Speaking to Reuters at a local football club, Baloch compared Karachi to a cake which attracted too many takers.

"Right now we are sitting across the table watching the MQM eat the whole cake," Baloch said. "If this goes on, we will either ruin the cake for everyone or get our slice."

A large and burly man, Baloch narrowly survived a grenade attack in 2011 and still had a cast on one leg when Reuters saw him. He walked with a walking cane until the day he was killed.

Lyari's economically strategic location - enclosed on one side by the port and on the other by the city's biggest industrial area - has made it the hub of extortion, violent crime and drug barons.

As many as 1,726 people were killed in Karachi in the first six months of this year, according to the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Mainstream political parties are accused of running armed groups that have carved up the city along ethnic lines into spheres of influence - a charge politicians deny.

Baloch saw the MQM, backed by Karachi's Urdu-speaking community that returned after partition from India, as his main rival.

"The problem is that the MQM thinks it has the biggest stake in Karachi," Baloch told Reuters. "Until the MQM learns to share, there will always be chaos."

And yet he spoke passionately about Karachi, a city where had earned both fear and respect.

"Karachi was born out of Lyari. It comes from right here. The people of Lyari gave birth to this city. How can we let it die?" he said. "Lyari is just a good town with a bad reputation. But its people will never let Karachi die."

(Editing by Maria Golovnina)

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Comments (6)
Minglish wrote:
Do the editors at Reuters even proof-read the copies of their reporters to check the basic facts at least? Can anybody please explain who does the phrase “one of Pakistan’s most feared men” really refer to? Since when did Pakistan start fearing a local gangster-turned-politician who operated in the peripheral locality of Lyari that hardly makes even a fraction of Karachi’s even one of the five districts?
And he gave a ‘rare interview to Reuters? Really? What about over a dozen of those interviews Zafar Baloch gave to Pakistani TV channels, especially Express and Geo???!!!!!!
What a skewed and misleading report. A poor bid to strike absurdly unimpressive sensationalism!!! Grow up Reuters!!!!

Sep 20, 2013 2:22pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Neurochuck wrote:
It is notable that the Chinese are spending untold billions of dollars building a new port at Gwadar and railway and pipelines through the Balochistan mountains so they can have as little to do with Karachi as possible, and never have to go there.
A traveller friend reckons it is the scariest, ugliest city on Earth.

Sep 21, 2013 6:16pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Doc62 wrote:
Lyari sounds like Chicago southside. Gangster or politician, it’s the same thing. Check Juarez, Mexico for details.

Sep 21, 2013 7:12pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
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