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BB and the Makranis of Lyari

Makranis are known for dance and music, their love for football and their loyalty to Benazir Bhutto's PPP, reports Kamal Siddiqi.

world Updated: Oct 18, 2007 20:51 IST
Kamal Siddiqi
Kamal Siddiqi
Hindustan Times

"Waash-Mallay" they shout in unison. And then they jump. It's an impressive sight. Their black bodies glisten in the sun as they dance to a rhythm that is both South Asian and African. These are the Makranis, the people from the coastal Makran district of Balochistan, most of whom are of African origin. The Makranis are known for the dance and music, their love for football and their loyalty to one party — the PPP of Benazir Bhutto.

Most Makranis now live in Lyari, one of the oldest areas of Karachi, and one of its poorest as well. In the seventies, then prime minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto gave them ownership rights to their houses and properties in Lyari. Since then, they have known only one party. "She is considered our sister and our daughter," says Ishaq Baloch, of Makrani who lives in Kharadar, next to Lyari.

Ishaq says that Lyari has been abuzz with activity on news that Ms Bhutto will be coming back. "We have had dance practices, football matches and donkey cart racing competitions only to express our happiness. Now that she is here, most of us are wild with joy," says Baloch.

For its political loyalty to the PPP, Lyari has paid a heavy price. Leaders like General Zia-ul-Haq ignored development of the area and cast a blind eye as drugs and crime filtered through. Today, the area is the centre of gang wars. In many parts, residents go indoors by nightfall and only emerge when the day breaks. "Crime has progressed to gang warfare and the government has done little to help," says Amanullah Baloch, a local social worker.

Police officials say that Lyari is a hotbed for drugs and other vices. Two gang figures have emerged: Arshad "Pappu" and Rehman "Dakait". Between them, they control most parts of the area at night. Sometimes, the fighting spills over and people have to board up in daytime as well. There is kidnapping for ransom and all sorts of minor crimes taking place here.

For the residents of Lyari, hopes are pinned on the return of Ms Bhutto and her election as PM. It may be recalled that the public reception which Ms Bhutto held when she got married to Asif Zardari was held in Lyari. Today that ground has been taken over by a para-military unit.

First Published: Oct 18, 2007 20:44 IST