Towards an Urban Geopolitical Analysis of Violence in Lyari

A recent article I wrote for the Center for Research and Security Studies. See link: Towards an Urban Geopolitical Analysis of Violence in Lyari

The Lyari district of Karachi has been in the headlines for quite some time. Politically protected criminals reportedly operate out of this centrally located district. Considered one of the most volatile districts in violence-hit Karachi in southern Pakistan, Lyari has recently witnessed pitched battles between members of alleged criminal syndicates and paramilitary forces. CRSS visiting research fellow herewith provides a brief insight into the embattled Lyari.

If Lyari is nostalgically remembered as a microism of Pakistan (Bhutto, 2010) then perhaps the problem of recurring violence in Lyari is also a microism of Pakistan’s problems. Every now and again, Lyari becomes a hotbed of violence.  Images of residents battling with government security forces, using sophisticated weapons shock the nation. Countless TV shows, news articles, and analysts try to make sense of what is going on. They all come to the same conclusion: The criminal/ethno-political/mafia nexus has gained incredible strength in Lyari, and the situation is beyond ordinary law and order forces. How can these groups be disbanded if security forces can’t enter the ‘enclave’? How can these groups be overpowered if they are better armed than the police? And how can they be negotiated with if they are aware of their status as lucrative militant wings for political advantage? These questions beg to be answered through a geopolitical analysis of this conflict. Looking deeper towards the political geography of Lyari is necessary to understand that this ‘new’ form of military urbanism is a thing of our own making.

A multi-ethnic enclave, divided into distinct pockets, Lyari is an ordinary low income settlement situated strategically between the Lyari Expressway and Mauripur Road. Within Lyari, there are complex rules of accessibility- where you can go depends on who you are. The different neighbourhoods are infiltrated by ‘gangs’, and for many outsiders (including police and security forces), they remain ‘no-go areas’. Lyari’s no go areas are largely an outcome of socio-political reasons. A neighbourhood that lies on the margins of urban society finds itself resolving infrastructural and municipal problems through resident power brokers who promise a more local and accessible government (Kaker, forthcoming).  At the same time, urban disenfranchised youth get attracted to the pull of power and wealth associated with criminal and mafia activities (Verkaik, 2004). Despite local efforts at keeping youths off the street (see Lyari Resource Center), violence emits an allure that calls to an otherwise excluded group of people to heights of glory.

Adding complexity to this situation, the dirty politics played by police and political parties in the last two decades has only exacerbated the issue (Khan, 2012). In attempting to control criminal elements, the police has time and again made strategic alliances with different gangs, only to escalate violence within the area. Similarly, the PPP notoriously co-opted Rehman Dakait’s gang by stoking his political ambition against the promise of a constituency in a city dominated by MQM, and also with the idea of having a militant wing to counter that of the MQM’s. This patronage by police forces and political parties reflects the political culture of the country itself: It mirrors the Pakistan army and the civilian government’s strategy of co-opting political and military advantage through tactics such as plausible deniability in its military adventures beyond the borders. The consequences of these adventures are similar: the gangs of Lyari understand their strategic significance, and yet aspire towards more power. Remaining untamed, they keep their own interests at heart, and remain in the game as long as it favours them.

The gangs of Lyari now play to a different tune. Their alliances with Taliban elements prove to strengthen their political power. Known to expand their existing criminal activities towards kidnapping people to sell to the Taliban, and to buy heavy caches of weapons stolen from NATO supplies with the help of the Taliban (Hussain, 2013), the gangs of Lyari’s alliance with the Taliban have added to their clout.  Political parties such as the MQM and the PPP hoping to coopt them within their sphere of influence now have to do so on the terms set by the criminals. Similarly, police operations can only go so far in rooting them out, as these gangs are much stronger than they were in the last decade. Only a concentrated effort that combines political isolation and military action can weed them out. Yet, this is merely wishful thinking. Karachi’s vote politics is at the heart of the problem, and it will stoke it for longer still.


Budhani, A.A., Gazdar, H., Kaker, S.A. and Mallah, H.B. (2010) ‘The Open City: social networks and violence in Karachi’, Working Paper No:70 (series 2),  [Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 29 October 2010).

Hussain, T. (2013) ‘Karachi is part of Pakistani Taliban plan to bring war to urban centers’, McClatchy Newspapers [Online] (Accessed: July 10, 2013).

Kaker, S.A. (Forthcoming, 2013) ‘The Geopolitics of Enclaved Urbanism: a case study of Karachi’, South Asian History and Culture, p. 17.

Khan, F. (202) ‘Violence 101: A primer to the Lyari Gang War’,[Online] (Accessed: July 10, 2013).

Verkaaik, O. (2004) Migrants and militants: fun and urban violence in Pakistan. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.


Media engagement on the subject of No-go areas in Karachi

I recently appeared on Sairbeen, a BBC Urdu news show that took up the issue of no go areas in Karachi. This segment (link available below) is a part of the full show, which was aired live on Express News on 10th April 2013. I expressed my views (though not fully because of time constraints), which were to highilght that no go areas are not neatly divisible along ethnic/linguistic/political/sectarian basis. To the ‘outsider’ it may seem so, yet people living within are heterogenous. The area only consolidates through force and coercion (by those who control the space)  and fear and insecurity (on the part of residents). This is tied to vote politics, as the majority of people are forcibly made to vote in favor of whichever party patronizes the elements in control of such areas.

The interview is available at the following link, which is only a segment of the full show:

Supreme Court takes notice of No Go areas in Karachi

Im reblogging a news story printed in The News which covers a supreme court hearing on No go areas in Karachi. This is timely, yet the debate seems to touch upon a critical question that needs detailed answering. Watch out for a blog post where i address the issue of what exactly a no go area is, and why the ‘writ of the government’ is absent in these spaces

Jamal Khurshid, The News Saturday, March 23, 2013
From Print Edition

KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the Sindh government, IG Sindh and DG Rangers to remove the no-go areas and restore peace in the city within two weeks.

“The general elections are due in May and it is the duty of the caretaker government to ensure that lives and properties of citizens are protected and secured,” the SC’s five-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, observed while hearing the Karachi law and order suo moto implementation case.

Justice Amir Hani Muslim observed that the writ of the government was not established in several areas of the city and no police personnel or officer could dare enter the no-go areas to curb crime.

Taking serious notice of the irresponsible statement made by the DG Rangers counsel regarding the law and order situation, the chief justice asked what the Rangers had delivered to this city as the law and order situation was deteriorating day by day. He observed that no-go areas still existed in different parts of the city, including Shershah, Chakiwara, Orangi, Lines Area, Jamshed Quarter and even in Defence girls were being kidnapped despite the presence of police and Rangers.

The Chief Justice observed former IG Sindh Wajid Ali Khan had conceded before the court that the police force was politicised and he was nobody in the police force and he could not appoint even an SHO without political consideration. “Why culprits involved in the killing of two Rangers personnel in Lyari and other crimes have not been arrested yet?” Justice Jawwad S Khawaja observed.

The court observed that IG Sindh and DG Rangers were required to personally lead their forces and there should not be any no-go area in the city.

The Chief Justice observed that police and Rangers should have zero tolerance for establishing the writ of the government and no compromise could be allowed on the law and order situation.

The Chief Justice observed that the SC had already observed in the judgment that any further failure to protect lives and property of citizens was likely to cause an unprecedented disaster, therefore, all efforts be made to avoid the same in the interest of the nation and the country.

The court observed that the IG had filed a report regarding the arrest of 224 activists of different political parties and banned religious outfits, including Muttahida Qaumi Movement, Awami National Party and Pakistan People’s Party, who were involved in 351 cases of murder, attempt to murder and possession of illegal weapons and other criminal offences.

The court observed that the SC had already observed in the judgment the criminals had succeeded in making inroads in the political parties and such parties should denounce their affiliation with them and failure to do so may entail consequences of penal nature against the party or person responsible.

SSP Anti Violent Crime Cell Niaz Khoso disclosed that half of the city was no-go area and the police could not even raid in several areas of Karachi to recover kidnapped persons and instead advised relatives of abductees to negotiate with the captors on ransom amount for the release of their loved ones.

The court took notice over three separate statements made by the DG Rangers, IG Sindh and In-charge Chief Secretary with regard to the existence of no-go areas in the city despite the court direction that a joint statement was to be filed before the court. The court observed that the definition of no-go area had been defined in the Supreme Court’s judgment as well as direction to the law enforcement agencies to remove such areas.

The court directed In-charge Chief Secretary to submit a joint statement on behalf of the Sindh government, police and Rangers regarding the progress in maintaining law and order situation in the city. In-charge Chief Secretary Arif Khan filed a joint statement on the behalf of police, Rangers and Government of Sindh and submitted that a joint strategy be made to establish the writ of the state in some troubled areas of Karachi. He conceded that there were no-go areas in the city where police and law enforcement agencies were not effective in establishing the writ of the government and sought three weeks or one month’s time to restore peace in the city.

The court was informed that 13 retired officers, including Lt. Colonel Nadeemullah Kazi, DIG Special Branch, DIG CIA Manzoor Ahmed Mughal and others, who were deputed on contract basis, have been removed after termination of their contracts by the competent authority while Additional Chief Secretary Home Waseem Ahmed has tendered resignation from his post. The court observed that contract appointments could not be made against the sanctioned post. The court was informed that Secretary Establishment Division has appointed Shahid Nadeem Baloch as the new IG Sindh and issued a notification in this regard.

The court also issued a notice to IG Sindh on an application filed by legal heirs of Lyari gangster Arshad Puppoo, his brother and one of his associates seeking registration of a case against the Peoples Amn Committee Chairman Uzair Jan Baloch, Baba Ladla and others.

The applicants alleged that Uzair Jan, Baba Ladla and others were involved in the kidnapping, brutal killing, mutilation and disgracing of bodies of Arshad Puppoo, his brother Yasir Arafat and associate Sher Mohammad in Lyari area on March 17. They said that bodies of the deceased were disposed of in an un-Islamic manner and legal heirs were not allowed to carry out their burial as per the Islamic traditions.

DIG Shahid Hayat informed the court that the police were investigating the Arshad Pupoo case and provided details of investigation in a sealed envelope before the court.

The court issued notices to IG Sindh and Advocate General Sindh to file comments on the application filed by the Ahle-Sunnat Wal Jamaat who sought arrest of culprits involved in the killing of over 250 activists of ASWJ during the last year.

On the application regarding illegal conversion of 1,400 acres of reserved forest land in Deh Shah Bukhari, Qasimabad, the court directed district and sessions judge, Hyderabad, to appoint the senior civil judge to visit the site along with president of District Bar Association, Hyderabad, and submit a report about the status of such land.

Applicant Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi alleged that the forest land was illegally converted by the former chief minister Sindh to their favourites at throughaway prices.

The court also directed the Board of Revenue to submit details regarding burning of land record in December 2007.

The court also constituted a commission headed by Nazar Leghari, a consultant of the Board of Revenue, to probe as to whether the allotment of 17,924 acres of government land to 542 persons under the land grant policy from February 25, 2006 to November 28, 2012 was transparent or otherwise.

According to the revenue record, 17,924 acres of the government land was allocated to 542 persons in the last six years for Rs10 billion. The court took notice over the allocation of thousands of acres land for industrial purposes in the last couple of years and observed that the government land was being allotted to private persons without checking as to whether the land was utilised for the purpose or not and the amount of land was deposited in national exchequer or not. The hearing of the case has been adjourned till April 1.

Agencies add: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday ordered Rangers and police to launch an operation under Director General (DG) Rangers and IG Sindh Police from today (Saturday) to eliminate the no-go areas from Karachi.

A larger bench of the apex court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry and comprising Justice Jawad S Khawaja, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, resumed the hearing of Karachi law and order case here at the Karachi Registry.

During the hearing, the chief justice asked the counsel for Rangers Shahid Anwar that Rangers personnel were also slaughtered in Lyari and if their killers were apprehended. The counsel replied that the police conducted raids in Lyari at night and 18 culprits were arrested.

The chief justice remarked: “We know how much active you are. Eight persons were killed in the city yesterday. Heavy budget was allocated to the Rangers and powers were assigned to the police. But what results did you show?”

Earlier, the DG Rangers and Sindh IGP filed separate replies regarding the no-go areas in Karachi. The CJ rejected the replies, remarking that the court had directed for filing a joint reply after holding a joint meeting.

The court observed: “Any area where writ of someone else rather than government is in place is called no-go area. The chief secretary, DG Rangers and IG Sindh did not admit in clear terms about the presence of no-go areas in Karachi. The court wants immediate peace in Karachi. DG Rangers and IG Sindh should go now and bring a joint statement.”

The SC directed that the DG Rangers and Sindh IGP should monitor operation for elimination of no-go areas from today.

The chief justice remarked that the DG Rangers had not accepted responsibility for the worsening law and order situation. “If you go to the areas of Lyari, Shershah, Lines Area and Jamshed Quarters, you can find no-go areas therein … Girls are being lifted in the presence of police and Rangers in Defence. One says no-go areas are existing and second negates it. They are making mockery of the courts.”

The Sindh chief secretary requested the court to allow 15 to 20 days time to police and Rangers.

Justice Iftikhar remarked: “Elections are ahead. Both the chiefs of Rangers and police should go and maintain peace in the city.” However, the court granted 15 days time to the caretaker government in Sindh to establish peace in the port city.

SSP Niaz Khosa also appeared in the court. He said they had been telling lies before the court. Half of Karachi has been turned into no-go area. The SSP told the court: “We are forced to free the culprits on phone calls after taking bribe. Phone calls come from all the areas, including Lyari, when the culprits are arrested.”

Justice Jawad S Khawaja remarked: “Who can we trust, you or DG Rangers?” The chief justice expressed his displeasure over the absence of the DG Rangers from the court, remarking that the seriousness on the part of the DG Rangers could be gauged from this step.

Spaces of Encampment

Excellent blog on Spaces of Encampment! I hadn’t been familiar with Adam Ramadan’s work before this, and I thoroughly enjoyed it!


One of the tasks I promised to do during my job interview at Birmingham last June was run their human geography seminar series – Tabula Rasa. Now in post, the responsibility passes to me from January. I now have a great line up of speakers for next term, including Colin McFarlane, Paula Meth, Alex Vasudevan, Jessica Pykett, Stephen Taylor and Sara Fregonese.

In addition, I got to give the final seminar of the Autumn term this week. My paper was titled ‘Spaces of Encampment’, and it drew together various threads of work I have done, am doing and plan to do, on refugee camps, protest camps and prison camps. While these might all seem very different kinds of spaces, actually I think they are similar in at least three ways:
1. Camps are exceptional: outside the normal political order, spaces of exception, of…

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Representations of Talibanisation of Karachi

Following the publication of the Wall Street Journal Article on Taliban in Karachi (blog entry on April 2, 2013), there is an increasing interest in the issue. International Dailies such as the New York Times (, Dawn News (, Daily Mail UK (, and Zee News ( have all picked up the story. These articles have also sparked instant interest in policy circiles, as suggested by the update on Foreign Policy’s AfPak page (

These articles set a tone which implicate the Taliban for making Karachi’s informal settlements novel ‘no go areas’ and sites of criminality and crisis, increasingly out of government control. While this is true, the fact is that so many spaces in Karachi have operated on such terms progressively over time! Such media attention to ‘talibanisation’ renders slippage of governmental authority unique to areas where there is apparent support to talib groups. What about other areas such as Lyari, Lines Area, Qasba Colony, Gulbahar etc where various ethnic and political parties have marked their territories along similar lines: running protection rackets, dispensing justice, and restricting access of public security forces/ other citizens. And what of affluent spaces such as KDA, Naval Officers Colony, and various (uncountable) neighborhoods in the richer parts of town where elite do the same?

While there is no denying that there may be an increasing presence of Taliban in Karachi, in these articles may misrepresent Karachi and its wider politics to those unfamiliar (especially foreign media agents/policy circles). As my PhD research highlights, the fragmentation of urban space in Karachi and resulting ‘enclavisation’ is a manifestation of a crisis of governance. At the same time it exhibits a way of managing everyday life for citizens who live in an increasingly violent and uncertain urban environment. This territorialisation of space is no doubt inherently political, and political preferences underlie how it is represented!

Taliban Thrive in Pakistani Commercial Hub- WSJ Article


Read on for a recent article that appeared in the WSJ on Taliban in Karachi. As reported, the support base for the Taliban (entrenched in low income residential areas) rests on their ability to provide security and contract enforcement for the urban poor, who have little acess to either through formal means….

Image credit: European Pressphoto Agency: A funeral ceremony is held in Karachi on March 4 for victims of a car bombing that killed at least 48 people in a Shiite area. Police officials blamed the attack on the Pakistani Taliban.

Taliban Thrive in Pakistani Commercial Hub: Extremists in Karachi Dispense Justice, Extort Cash and Set Off Bombs, Locals Say, in Threat to Economy and Coalition Transit Route

By Saeed SHAH March 28, 2013 KARACHI, Pakistan—

Large neighborhoods in Pakistan’s biggest metropolis have fallen under the control of the Taliban over the past year, according to residents and officials here, a development that could disrupt the country’s economy and endanger the U.S. military pullout from Afghanistan.

The Pakistani Taliban, a movement that was spawned by the Afghan Taliban but now operates separately, are now the dominant force in entire districts of this sprawling city of 20 million people, residents said. The group has established tribal courts, operates extortion rackets and stages terrorist attacks in the city, the economic heart of Pakistan and its only major port.

If the Taliban reign spreads, coalition convoys withdrawing supplies through Karachi will have to contend with the militants, said Haider Abbas Rizvi, deputy parliamentary leader from Karachi’s dominant political party, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, or MQM. “This is a crucial moment for Karachi. The Taliban has the potential to grab any area of Karachi whenever they feel like.”

The Taliban movement, allied with al Qaeda and based in the Waziristan tribal area along the Afghan border, seeks to “capture not only Karachi but the whole country,” Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan said. “Karachi is a big stronghold for us. People come to us voluntarily to get their problems solved.”

Chaudhry Aslam, a senior counterterrorism police officer in Karachi, blamed the Taliban for attacks including a March 3 bombing at an apartment block targeting the minority Shiite population that killed at least 48 people and injured 180. Mr. Aslam, however, said the group didn’t control any part of the city. “There aren’t any no-go areas for the police. While we still have one drop of blood left, we won’t let these Taliban tarnish our religion or destabilize our country,” he said.

But the Taliban are so confident of their standing that they have put up posters in some districts with phone numbers to call for residents who need their help, especially to complain about criminal activity. Karachi has been racked for decades by political violence and organized crime, with many of the main political parties here operating their own extortion gangs. The Taliban are relatively more appealing, at least to fellow members of the Pashtun ethnic group.

“We know the culture of the Taliban and can reason with them, to some extent,” said a Pashtun truck driver who moves concrete bricks around Korangi, a neighborhood dominated by the MQM, which represents the Mohajir community of Muslim refugees hailing from India.

The Taliban also play a role in resolving business disputes for profit. “If the Taliban phone me, I’ll go within two minutes, or I’ll soon be dead,” said a businessman in a Taliban-controlled neighborhood. While Waziristan Taliban are known for long hair and beards, in Karachi they could be clean-shaven and even wear Western clothing, he said.

Decades of migration from the Pashtun heartland on the two sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border have turned Karachi into the largest Pashtun population center in the world, with some 5 million citizens of Pashtun origin. It is the city’s Pashtun areas that have come under Taliban influence.

The secular Awami National Party, which used to dominate Karachi’s Pashtun neighborhoods, has been forced out of these areas over the past year. In recent months, around 35 ANP workers were killed and the party abandoned some 30 offices in Karachi, said Shahi Syed, the ANP’s provincial chief and a member of the Pakistani Senate. “The Taliban have come to Karachi. The old criminals here have also joined them. They are running a whole system here,” he said. “Tomorrow the whole city will be paying them.”

With national elections due on May 11, the ANP—part of the departing central government coalition—faces potential extinction in Karachi. Its flags have been torn down in its constituencies. “If we can’t even hold a rally, how can you call this a free and fair election?” Mr. Syed said.

Security forces launch regular operations against Taliban strongholds in the city. A crackdown on Thursday in a Pashtun area known as Frontier Colony, in the west of the city, brought over 100 arrests, according to news reports. The chief of the Pakistani Taliban in Karachi, Khan Zaman Mehsud, recently fled to Waziristan, Mr. Aslam, the counterterrorism police officer, said.

But in many Pashtun areas, where locals say regular patrols by police are rare, residents said they take their problems to the Taliban to solve. The Pashtuns tend to live in poor, rundown neighborhoods on the fringes of Karachi, especially in its northern reaches, where roads lead out of the city. There, Taliban have recruited thugs and taken on foot soldiers from the many illiterate young men who would find it hard to get jobs, residents said.

The Taliban use young boys as their spies, and to deliver extortion demands, which often come as a written notes, residents said.

In one incident in early January, a milk seller was robbed at his house in Pakhtunabad, a ramshackle settlement in the city’s northern outskirts. Four robbers took away a pistol and 3,000 rupees ($30), equivalent to perhaps two weeks’ earnings, three witnesses said.

The victim, who recognized the men, reported the crime to police, and then called the Taliban on one of the phone numbers written on fliers and posters that had been distributed in the neighborhood a few days earlier.

That same day, two masked men appeared at the milk seller’s house on a motorbike and questioned him, the witnesses said. The next night, he was visited by the district Taliban chief, Ismail Mehsud, who then phoned the thieves. They appeared within minutes of his summons, outside the milk seller’s tiny house. The Taliban chief beat them in the street and instructed them to return the money and pistol, according to the witnesses. The following day, the stolen property was returned.

“The Taliban steal from us,” one of the milkman’s neighbors said, “and then they also get our money back.”

A version of this article appeared March 29, 2013, on page A11 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: Taliban Thrive in Pakistani Commercial Hub.

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved


Question and Answer Session with the Geopolitics and Security Group, Royal Holloway


I recently gave a presentation (March 5, 2013) to the Geopolitics and Security team at Royal Holloway. I was invited by Peter Adey, who was a very gracious host. I enjoyed seeing the campus, chatting with teachers and students and at the last minute also ended up hearing some student presentations taking the Geopolitics of Media and Communications course!

Presenting itself was a wonderful experience. For me, it was a novel format: I had circulated the paper in advance and was to share very short reflections on the key argument and methodology, after which followed a 40 minute question and answer session. I thoroughly enjoyed the session: the questions I received were very engaging, and helped draw out finer points which I hadn’t properly addressed in my paper. The positive response also got me more excited about my project (something i really needed at this stage, after working on it day in and day out for so long!).

All in all, it was a pleasure meeting the various students and academics at Royal Holloway. The experience was made better by the wonderful sunshine, which showed off the campus and its setting to full advantage and made the trip out of London a joy! A big thank you to Peter and his colleagues and students for making me welcome. To follow a link that details the presentation, just click the title of this post, or copy and paste the following to your browser:


A blog about geopolitics and everyday life

critical logistics

Reflections on Security, Governance, Crisis, Conflict, and Development in the Cities of the Global South

Chasing Dragons

Reflections on Security, Governance, Crisis, Conflict, and Development in the Cities of the Global South

Martin Coward, Senior Lecturer in International Politics, Newcastle University. Research and teaching on: war, violence and security; genocide and ethnic nationalism; urban security; urbicide; networks; critical international theory.