The battles for Karachi / The Express Tribune

Orangi, Karachi’s largest unofficial settlement and the epicenter of criminal and ethnic violence in the city since the mid-1980s. SOURCE: NORIA-RESEARCH.COM

With a population exceeding 20 million, Karachi is one of the largest cities in the world. It is also one of the most violent megacities. Since the mid-1980s, Karachi has endured endemic political conflict and violence, which revolves around the control of the city and its resources — licit and otherwise.

Karachi’s story of civil strife can be traced back to a road accident that cost the life of a Mohajir student in 1985 and led to ethnic riots in Banaras Chowk and its surroundings. SOURCE: NORIA-RESEARCH.COM

Karachi was founded by Hindu traders at the beginning of the 18th century and developed mainly around its port, which anchored the city’s economy and polity to the oceanic trade linking India, East Africa and the Persian Gulf. The route not only opened up Karachi to trade but also to the turbulences of its distant hinterland. During the early 19th century, Karachi became the gateway to Central Asia and weapons shipments and foreign combatants began disembarking on its shore as the clouds of war descended upon Afghanistan.

Lyari is famed for producing boxers such as Hussain Shah who made it to the Olympics and footballers Umar Baloch, Ghulam Abbas and Ustaad Qasim. The Trans-Lyari Boxing Club, in particular, is much anticipated by the under-13s in the neighbourhood. Shown here, one of the many gyms in the neighbourhood where the aspiring athletes practice from 8am and sometimes even skip school. PHOTO: LAURENT GAYER

Since the 1970s, Afghan conflicts have been spilling over into the city, which then became flooded with small arms, hard drugs and battle-hardened refugees. It is in this context that the city’s urban struggles started to revolve around ethnic lines, from the mid-1980s onwards.

Entrance to a colony contested by the Sindhi nationalists of Jiye Sindh Qaumi Mahaz (JSQM) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM). The banner above the gate proclaims that the neighbourhood is “Altaf [Hussain]’s Fort”. SOURCE: NORIA-RESEARCH.COM

In recent years, the battles for Karachi have grown increasingly complex. The emergence of new political actors seeking to fill in the vacuum left by the state has added a new dimension to an already complicated landscape.

Clashes between Lyari groups started to make headlines in 2002. The police, pictured here in an armoured personnel carrier, have found it difficult to penetrate and patrol the area. Some of the key figures in this story are Haji Lalu and his son Arshad Pappu and Rehman ‘Dakait’. Add the name of CID police official Chaudhry Aslam to the list as he made Lyari one of his prime targets. Aslam was killed in a bomb attack in January this year. PHOTO: LAURENT GAYER

From 2001 onwards, as I drove, rode and walked across the city, interviewing residents, activists or social workers from all ethnic and ideological backgrounds, I started visually chronicling this history of civil strife. For reasons of safety and comfort, I only carried a small compact camera, which fit well in the front pocket of my qamiz, allowing me to pull it out every now and then.

From political slogans to advertising, the walls of Karachi serve as a canvas. Here a boy cycles past the words “We are peace-loving” scribbled on a wall in Lyari . PHOTO: LAURENT GAYER


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