Karachi’s Godfathers

The new katchi abadis that are being developed today differ greatly from the old. Land is occupied without any visible involvement or protection from state officials, and no plots are put aside for them for speculative purposes. It is rumoured that officials are now paid in advance to keep their eyes closed to the developments that are taking place. If this is true, then the administration is no longer a senior partner in illegal land colonisation, but an employee of the dallal.

Again, before the sale of plots commences, armed gangs are settled on the fringes of the new abadi so as to control its exit and entry points. Recently a new and disturbing phenomenon has emerged in katchi abadi development. Instead of selling plots, the operators have started renting them out to the people. During the first week of every month, armed retainers of the dallal collect the rent. If there are any defaulters they are turned out and their homes are taken away.

Whereas in the earlier abadis loans for house building or for business purposes were difficult to negotiate, in the new abadis they are readily available and at comparatively low rates of interest. Muscle and gun power as opposed to social pressure is exerted to recover the loans, and defaulters are either punished with the confiscation of their property or business, or forced to do begaar for the operators.

In the old abadis also things are changing, and a struggle for their control has begun. The fringes of these settlements are being purchased by outsiders. Three or four times the market value of the property is being paid to the owners to leave, and if they resist, strong-arm tactics are also used. The area between Benaras Chowk and Metro Cinema in Orangi has changed hands recently, and outsiders have purchased a strategically important mohalla in the heart of Alighar Colony. The people in katchi abadis which have been marked for regularisation believe that these outsiders along with their dallals, are responsible for forcing the administration to suspend the regularisation process, so as to keep the people insecure and vulnerable.

It is estimated that at least 15,000plots are developed illegally every year in Karachi. Even if a minimum of Rs. 1000 per plot is spent on paying off the establishment, settling the muscle-men, and providing loans for some of the house building, it adds up to a figure of Rs. 150 million. This sum has to be spent before any returns from the rentals start coming in. It is estimated that it would take over seven years to recover this investment through rent. It must be noted here that the earlier abadis were developed without any investment whatsoever.

The relationship between the transport mafia and the state has also undergone a change. Since 1978, about 5,000 minibuses have been added to Karachi’s transport system, catering to the needs of the vast majority of Karachi commuters. It is estimated that Rs. 1.5 billion have been given as loans by a handful of transporters to the minibus operators since 1979.

Legally, the bus belongs to the transporter until the operator has paid off his loan along with interest. No formal agreement is entered into between the two. If the operator cannot pay an instalment the bus is simply taken away from him. If he has an accident, he pays for its repair. If he is arrested or challaned, the transporter comes to his aid, and for this service he pays the transporter in cash or kind. The transporter arranges for his driving licence, facilitates his movement by striking a deal with the police, and generally protects him against the law-enforcing agencies. Recently, bonded labour has also been imported from the tribal areas to operate transport. Since the operator is not an employee of the transporter but someone working to pay off a loan or free himself from bondage, he works long hours, and does everything, legal or illegal, in his power to pay the monthly instalment to the transporter. This situation makes it impossible for him to struggle for better working conditions or form an organisation or union to protect his interests. Rebelling against the system is not in his interest, but if he does, the muscle-men step in. So the entire transport system is one big monolith, with no internal contradictions.

The political and economic power that this mode of financing and operation of the transport system gives to the transporter is obvious, and it is this power that determines his relationship with the state. As in the case of the land mafia, the administration has become his employee.

The manner in which the land mafia and its associates now operate and the manner in which the transport industry has expanded in recent years, point to the fact that large sums of money are being poured into these operations. The sources of finance for’ both these mafias comes from drug traffic. Not only are the financiers of these operations largely Pathans, but unlike in the past, most of the actors in the land colonisation drama are also from the NWFP.

The primary aim of all drug mafias is to be strong enough politically to withstand government action against them. The best way to achieve this is to take over the low-income areas where the hold of the city administration is weak, and in the process become indispensable to the administration and to a strong group within these areas. The creation of instability through arms traffic has also been an essential part of mafia strategy everywhere in the world, as this again gives them the opportunity to negotiate with the establishment from a position of strength. The new squatter colonies in the city belong to the mafia as they are being settled by them and a struggle for the control of the old ones is under way. Meanwhile, each successive riot brings more guns into the city.

That the city administration is neither willing nor able to stand up to the mafias is borne out not only by its attitude to their daily activities but also by a number of specific incidents In November 1985, the transporters forced the government to agree that minibus drivers killing people will only be charged under Section 304-A (accidental death) and not under Section 304 (causing death not amounting to murder) or Section 302 (murder), irrespective of the circumstances of their case. In the anti-drug campaign in Lyari earlier in the year, over 200 peaceful demonstrators were injured by police firing and tear-gassing, and an anti-drug campaigner, Abdul Wahid, was shot dead. The tribunal of enquiry which was appointed to look into this matter concluded its investigations but its findings were not made public. Meanwhile, the people’s anti-drug movement lost its momentum as its campaigners were harassed by the police, and some of them are still in prison. Similarly, the recommendations and findings of the Commission of Enquiry into Karachi Affairs have been put in cold storage.

Social workers and welfare associations working in squatter colonies complain of police interference and bullying in their work if issues related to drugs or arms are raised. Their activists are often threatened and many have been sent to thana lockups to be “taught a lesson.”

Since poppy is grown in the NWFP, and guns are supplied by the Afghan connection, it is hardly surprising that the mafia should be controlled and manned for the most part by Pathans. Hence certain Pathan settlements in Karachi have become centres of mafia operation. Most of these settlements grew out of the transport trade, and as such are strategically placed on the entry points to various areas of the city. In recent years the mafia has further protected them by buying out the peripheral areas of old abadis. It has created Sohrab Goth on the superhighway, at the entrance to Karachi, and become a major slum landlord in Quaidabad, thus controlling the national highway as well. However, there is evidence to show that the link between the drug mafia in Pakistan and the international market is controlled entirely by non-Pathans. The names being floated in this connection include a number of mohajirs.

Billions of dollars worth of heroin is exported through Karachi every year – hence the mafia’s struggle to control the city and its administration. Since this heroin is exported to the west, the international mafia must certainly be involved. It is common knowledge that the mafia based in America has been used to economically and politically destabilise certain countries in Latin America to promote US interests. Its involvement in the affairs of this country cannot be ruled out.

The worst victims of the mafia’s operations are the Pathans of Karachi. Their links with the city administration have always been through middlemen. Earthwork labour in Karachi has almost all been Pathan, and the majority of them are bonded and then brought from the NWFP. Building’ site labour pays its thekedars (those who get them employment as opposed to those who employ them) a regular bhatta to protect them from the police or aid them in other ways. Even bootpolish-walas have their thekedars who collect money in return for protecting them from police excesses. Similarly, the Pathan beggars and seasonal labour also have their managers, and the Pathan transport operator is protected by his mafia. There is every reason to believe that all these middle-men of the underworld, Pathan and non-Pathan alike, are being seduced or coerced into the service of the mafia.

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