Lyari’s female boxers: Punching their way out of fear and taboos

KARACHI: Sardar Uzair Jan Baloch, a gang leader in Karachi’s infamous Lyari Town, and his comrade Noor Muhammad are playing football with the severed head of rival gang leader Arshad Pappu.
Pappu is taken from a posh neighborhood while partying with friends. He is tortured, tied to a car and dragged through Lyari’s narrow streets.
His corpse is thrown on a donkey cart and paraded around before it is burnt and flung into a gutter.
Just 1 km away from where this savagery is perpetrated, Nawab Ali Baloch, a former international boxer, is training nearly a dozen of his female family members.
“There was no concept of women boxing in Pakistan before 2013, when I started training female members of my family,” he told Arab News.
He joined the Pak National Boxing Club in 1952, but left after 20 years to pursue other employment prospects.
Yet he never stopped training boxers, and when no one was around to attend his camp due to fierce gang warfare in the town, he started training his female relatives.
When the number of his students grew, he took them to the Young Boxing Club, where he now trains 48 females aged between 7 and 30.
His club secured eight gold and silver medals in the first boxing championship for women on Nov. 5.
“These girls have never given up. Even when the gangs were fighting, they always attended the classes on time,” he said, adding that there are four boxing clubs in Lyari.
In April 2015, a local female member of Sindh’s provincial assembly, Sania Baloch, suggested that there should be a proper focus on women’s boxing.
Asghar Baloch, general secretary of the Pakistan Boxing Association (PBA), told Arab News: “In May 2015, we announced the Women Boxing Camp in collaboration with the provincial sports department. The response was overwhelming.”
Maria Baloch, 12, has only been participating in the sport for two and a half years, but has already won seven gold medals.
“I used to watch Mohammed Ali on YouTube,” she said. “He inspired me to become a boxer.”
Recalling the challenges she faced, she added: “Although my family supported me from day one, many of my relatives talked about my passion negatively. They thought it wasn’t right for a girl.”
She said her father also opposed the idea since he thought she might get hurt. “I was taught to give equal importance to education, and I try to focus on both,” she added.
Aseefa Bhutto Zardari, daughter of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto and the UN ambassador for polio eradication, recently visited the Young Lyari Boxing Club.
“I can’t tell you how happy she was to meet with these girls,” Naz Baloch, leader of the Pakistan People’s Party, told Arab News. “Her presence also increased the motivation of the boxers.” Zardari said she was going to provide the girls with equipment and other resources.
Maria said it was an unforgettable moment for the girls, adding: “We had attracted an important political figure to our town.”
Rauf Baloch, former president of the Karachi Boxing Association, said terrorism had caused a lot of damage to the town.
“It ended our education and destroyed our social values,” he said. “Our sports activities also came to a standstill. Fortunately, peace has now been restored to this place and good things are happening to its people.”
He added: “In the good old days, this town was known for football, boxing and other sports. It produced international players, and our clubs provided sports and ethical training to our children.
“In boxing, you get punched and you hit others. It’s not an easy game, but the way our girls are playing is simply awesome. I’m confident we’re gradually reclaiming our old Lyari.”

Defying the Taliban with love


Naimat Khan  TFT Issue: 06 Jan 2017


A few hundred metres from where the Taliban maintained their courts, communal harmony prevails. Naimat Khan reports from Manghopir.


By the end of 2013, Manghopir was the incontrovertible Ground Zero of the Taliban in Karachi. Its major neighbourhood, Sultanabad, built on qabza land (i.e. under the occupation of the land mafia), was home to both the leadership and the rank-and-file of the Wali-ur-Rehman Mehsud faction of the Taliban. In the foot of the mountainous ridge forming the border between Sultanabad and Ittehad town, the Taliban had a multipurpose office, built along the lines of their office in Miramshah bazaar in North Waziristan Agency. There, the ‘Ameer sahib’ would summon people to the Taliban’s ‘Shariah’ court. Southward in Sultanabad is the ANP Chowk, and also known as Madina Bakery. In the Taliban era, the Chowk was a symbol of terror in the vicinity. Bodies of around 87 people, including 17 policemen and 10 local Awami National Party (ANP) leaders and activists, were recovered from there. As the Taliban’s hold grew, locals say, the Manghopir Police Station, by the Manghopir River, was also closed down. From Sultanabad and nearby areas, violence and crime in the city was directed: ranging from bank heists to bomb blasts; and from targeted killings to attacks on political workers and minority sects.

But all was not bleak in this Taliban-infested part of Karachi. Less than a mile away from the center of violence, a tightly knit community with a sizeable proportion of four different religious and sectarian affiliations lived in a small colony, resilient in the face of waves of violence and political turbulence in the area. The colony is situated in the city government leprosy hospital and extended to Yaqoob Shah Basti. In the center of the colony are four places of worship of different religious affiliations: a mosque, a temple, a church, and an imambargah, all of which face each other.

Unlike the rest of the city where ethnic and religious identities reign supreme, the residents of this colony play down their differences. Many do not like to being identified by their religion, sect, ethnicity or language. Others speak of their respect for the others’ faith and ethnicity as their strength. That respect, they say, has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi.

Residents believe respect for others’ faith and ethnicity has helped them survive the turbulence common to Manghopir and Karachi

“I was admitted to the Leprosy hospital in late 60s. At that time almost all doctors were British. They treated us with immense compassion and would advise us to live in peace and love. I think their frequent emphasis on peaceful coexistence resonated with the community,” said 85-year-old Sohna Faqir hailing from Lasbela, Balochistan. Faqir recovered to full health at the hospital and yet did not leave the area. He was drawn to the care and camaraderie in the community and decided to settle here.

In the 1890s, a group of British doctors, visiting the area, came across patients of leprosy at the Mangophir Mazar bathing in the hot sulphur springs – also called ‘Mangi’ or Garm-aab. Back then it was famous that the springs had healing powers. When the visiting doctors saw the patients in pain, they were moved to do something. “They [the British] went back, collected funds and came back to setup the hospital in 1896,” according to Faqir.

“The Mandir existed before the hospital was established in 1896 but later during the British rule a Masjid and a church was setup for the patients, their attendees and other dwellers of the town,” said the 85 year old. As the population increased, Faqir said, an Imambargah – called the Imambargah Ali Raza – was built.

“Until 1986, the Sunni and Shia Muslims would offer prayers at the KMC Jamia Masjid. Later Imambargah Ali Raza was established,” said Noor Islam, a local journalist and resident of the same neighborhood, and added, “Despite separate places for offering their prayers, there has never been sectarian discord in the colony.”

For many years, Manghopir, a town founded by the 13th century saint Pir Haji Syed Sakhi Sultan, was home to Muhajirs, Sindhis, Punjabis, Kashmiris, Seraikis, Pakhtuns, Balochis, Memons, Bohras, and Ismailis. In 2008, thousands of displaced civilians from Waziristan started moving into the area. Following the Operation Rah-e-Nijat in South Waziristan, the demography of the area changed rapidly.

“After the operation, the Taliban militants came here in droves, started taking shelter in the neighbourhood, and by 2012-13 they achieved a complete hold over the locality, making it no-go area for political workers and law enforcement agencies,” said Islam.

“We have been living here for so many decades together. We are one people practicing different faiths, which made us strong when Taliban would freely roam around on the main road,” said Babu Lal, caretaker of the of the centuries’ old Mardeshwar Mahadev Mandir, the oldest of the four worship places in the locality. Facing the hospital, a few steps to the east, is the Imambargah and few steps to the west are the Church and the mosque.

According to Lal, the community regularly observes ritual of shab-e-barat, Diwali, and Holi, in which Muslims and Christians also participate. “From 2012 to 2014, we – as a precaution – would celebrate the events inside our houses. After the Karachi operation in 2015, we resumed our celebrations out in the open.” Even when we moved indoors, our Muslim brothers continued to be a part of our celebrations, Lal added. “Our Muslim friends make it a point to wish us on Christmas and Easter,” said William Gill, 45-year-old councilor of the Pakistan Peoples Party, and added, “Muslims join us at the Baptist Church in our prayers on Christmas.”

Asfandyar Mir, doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago, researching politically motivated violence and the dynamics of Taliban control in Karachi, recently visited the community. Commenting on the uniqueness of the ethnic and religious tolerance in the area, he added: “from a social science perspective, the fact that such islands of harmony exist amidst extreme turmoil is always remarkable. Most analyses on Karachi’s communal relationships start with the observation that in times of violence identities are hardened, and even apolitical religious and ethnic groups are compelled to seek security with their co-ethnics or religious groups. But this diverse community contradicts that trend, having withstood pressures in a very challenging part of the city.”

“Thanks God she hasn’t gone to any Arab country”

03.jpg“Thanks God she hasn’t gone to any Arab country”, commented a Facebook friend when I posted a story about Afghan refugee-turn Canadian minister – Mariam Monsef – on my timeline.

The comment reminded me of Muhammad Naqeeb, a Palestinian American, whose eatery, the Milano Pizza & Greek Deli in Manteca, California, was my favorite place to dine in.

Before narrating Naqeeb’s story, it would be equally interesting to know about the woman whose success story made me recalled the tall bearded Pizza boy, Muhammad Naqeeb.

According to news reports, Maryam Monsef, the new Canadian MP, was elevated by the newly sworn-in Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to his 31-member cabinet on 4th of November.

But who is Ms. Monsef?

She was born in the war-torn Afghanistan and raised in the western city of Herat, near the Iranian border. “I lost my father when I was a toddler and both my sisters were under the age of two. My mother was in her 20s. No one knows for certain what happened to my father”, Monsef told The Huffington Post, adding the most they knew was he was caught in crossfire between the border of Iran and Afghanistan.


According to reports years before she was born her uncle had been abducted from his dorm room at Kabul University. “A third-year pharmaceutical student, he was politically vocal and had been heard making anti-communist remarks on a bus”, she told the newspaper.

Monsef, whose childhood was spent moving between Afghanistan and Iran, said that even after the Soviet invasion ended the family was still in nightmare due to the Afghan Mujahedeen, forcing her mother to go to Iran. In Iran her family wasn’t welcome either and Monsef and her two sisters would be teased by local kids. “As illegal refugees we were also living under the constant threat of deportation” she said.

“In 1996, my mother chose to leave her support system and her culture behind to come to Canada”, Monsef told the newspaper, informing the family claimed refugee status when they arrived in Canada, ending up in Peterborough, where Monsef’s uncle lived. She was 11 then. Today, she is one of the 33 ministers of the Canada.

Though hasn’t become an American congressmen, Naqeeb has certainly got in the US what he couldn’t achieve in the country of his birth – not even nationality.

Naqeeb, who was born in Saudi Arabia on September 18, 1983 and lived there for over fourteen years before his family opted to move to United States in 1998 for better fortune.  Before tying the knot, his father and mother – though Palestinians – were living in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, respectively.

However, the fourteen years stay, his birth and Arab descent couldn’t earn Naqeeb Saudi nationality especially when he was displaced of his homeland due to the sprawling illegal Israeli settlements.

“Almost within four years we moved to the US, we got the American nationality” Naqeeb told me as his mother Mona Muhammad was cooking delicious meal for the clients. The restaurant is being run by Muhammad Nizar, his son Naqeeb and wife Mona. Two elder siblings of Muhammad Nizar, namely Hasan and Rania are married.

Though Mrs. Moona is still emotionally attached with the holly lands of Saudi Arabia, her kids are happy having moved to America, which has provided them better life as compared to that which they had lived in Saudi Arabia.

“We may encounter with both positive and negative attitudes in every society and so in the US but generally it’s more welcoming than others” Naqeeb said. “We didn’t have to struggle too much here”.

“But you must be legal to have the good of the American society” the Palestinian American youth opines. For a short while after the 9/11 we had to face harassment but that period lasted shortly when the local realized that the deeds of a certain people can’t be attributed to the entire Muslim community”, “We have to follow the rules of society we are living in. You just can’t force the society to follow you, the things which is often done by the immigrants, earning them negative reaction”, optimistic Naqeeb says.

After doing job in a corporate company as project manager Naqeeb setup his own restaurant and since then his business is flourishing day by day. “It happens when you work hard in a highly receptive society, no matter if you’re born there or having come as immigrant”, Naqeeb said.

The U.S. presidential candidate Donald trump should know that it’s not only Naqeeb and Monsef who have good feelings for the American continent but there are hundreds of thousands like his own grandfather Frederick Trump, who after coming to the US and Canada from different parts of the globe, mingled in the society and are contributing to their new countries.

 The writer is a freelance journalist and ICFJ fellow 2015.


Twitter: @NKMalazai

Rangers’ luncheon for police offers ‘trust building’ in menu 


KARACHI: Saturday was a good day for the dwellers of seaside metropolis when chiefs of two law enforcement agencies – The Rangers and Police – met at luncheon along with their officials.

The Rangers’ luncheon for police – concluded with permit for police to investigate suspects in Rangers’ custody – would be an ordinary event had the past relationship of both law enforcement agencies not publically known.

From Rangers raid of Mominabad police station and both offices Counter Terrorism Departments in garden and civil lines to their complaints against each others in apex committee meetings and the open expression of mistrust in courts, the Rangers, police relationship could never be termed good.

However, both police officials and independent analysts now believe that granting of permission to police to interrogate suspects in rangers’ custody will produce good results as police have good experience in translating proofs into better prosecution.

“That’s step towards very close coordination,” Feroz Shah, Deputy Inspector General of Police, West Zone, who was one of the invitees, said in his short comment.

However, Kashif Farooqi, a Karachi based crime reporter and analyst, says that SOPs of such investigations, which are still to be decided, will show the productivity of such facility for police.

Farooqi informs that Police are already part of the JITs, formed for almost all suspects who have been given into the 90-days preventative detention of Rangers.

“The luncheon and then accepting police’s request are itself good gestures from the Rangers head, which will certainly evade the mistrust we have witnessed in the last few years”, Farooqi opines.

The luncheon from Director General of Sindh Rangers, Major General Bilal Akber, was attended by Karachi Police Chief, Additional IG Mushtaq Mehar, Deputy Inspector General’s of Karachi police and other senior officials of both law enforcement agencies.

Addressing the officers here at Rangers’ headquarters, DG Rangers said that the sacrifices of police force in operation against terrorists can never be forgotten.

During the meeting Karachi police Chief, Mushtaq Meher, requested Rangers’ DG to give police the permission to interrogate the suspects who are given into the 90-days detention of Rangers by courts. DG Rangers accepted the request by granting permission.

According to reports, chiefs of both law enforcement agencies also agreed on speeding up operation against the criminals. They also agreed to monitors the activities of raw agents more rigorously.

It is pertinent to recall that Amir Khan, an MQM leader arrested in the Nine Zero raid last year, was granted bail because of what a judge called “weak prosecution”. The Rangers had detained him for 90 days, but could find solid evidence against him.

According to reports submitted in the Apex Committee meeting, 80 percent of those challaned in the court by the Rangers had either been freed by the courts or were out on bails.

According to security analysts, the 90-day detentions of suspects by Rangers do not always translate to strong interrogation, investigation or prosecution. “The new development will certainly overcome the lacunas of both the forces,” they believe.

While Rangers are important in dealing with all sort of criminals free of political and other pressures, the police’s expertise of prosecution in combine with Rangers’ efforts will produced good results.

Published in The Frontier Post

The flower of cricket blooms in war-torn Afghanistan

 Samiullah Shenwari, Mohammad Shahzad

Youths turn away from suicide bombing as Afghan cricket advances unparalleled


Naimat Khan

JALALABAD: The game of cricket had captivated the attention of the Afghan nation much before the world witnessed it national side’s heroics at the 2016 World T20 tournament.

The associate Afghanistan, the side which beat the World Champions West Indies in the T20 event, received a hero’s reception at the Alokozay Kabul International Cricket Stadium upon arrival. They were honored by Afghan President Ashraf Ghani with civil awards.

“You do not only give honor to the Afghan nation, but hope,” the president said, while decorating the heroes with Ghazi Mir Masjidi Khan Excellence Award in a reception held at the presidential palace.

Though Afghanistan only managed to win against Windies, they won the nation’s hearts.

On a chilly winter evening much before the World T20 began, hundreds of youths gathered in Pashunistan Chowk, Jalalabad on December 29, 2015 to watch the second One Day International between Afghanistan and Zimbabwe on big screen.

Jalalabad, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, is considered as one of the most dangerous provinces of Afghanistan, where six districts are under influence of the militant Islamic States (IS) group.

The same province is now emerging as the hotbed for cricket in Afghanistan.

Karim Sadiq is one of the pioneers of cricket in the provincial capital, and was also the part of the squad featured in World T20.

When this scribe contacted Sadiq in late January this year, he seemed confident of his teammates.

“The historic win against Zimbabwe has boosted our morale and we are confident we will compete the full members of ICC,” he told this scribe before leaving for India to participate in the 2016 Asia Cup.

Although it couldn’t record any win in the Asia Cup, the young Afghan team left no stone unturned in World T20 – won all three matches of the qualifying round and beat the Windies – the champions.

“In recent years, Afghanistan have defeated some powerful teams,” said team captain Asghar Stanikzai in post-match presentation, adding, the team will witness more wins in the years to come.

From nothing to heroic

Ibrahim Momand, a Kabul-based sports expert recalls how in the 90s Pashto language daily Wehdat had stories on the Afghan cricket team visiting different districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in Pakistan.

However, the soccer enthusiast Afghans didn’t even know a national cricket team existed till they won six of seven matches they played with different counties of the United Kingdom.

Afghans became attracted to the game when the national side beat Ireland in the qualifying rounds for the 2009 World T20 tournament.

However, the success wasn’t at all possible without support of the Afghan government, and the cricket board.

Sadiq says government ministers facilitate the Afghanistan Cricket Board.

“The board has funds and provides facilities to the players, attracting new talent,” he says. “Former president Hamid Karzai separated cricket from other games and established the board. Dr Ghani has also supported the team.”

Sadiq adds, “We have two grounds, each in Kabul and Jalalabad. A stadium will also be constructed in Khost. It may take long to host international sides but the grounds will improve domestic cricket.”

Learning from legends

Afghanistan is also thankful to Pakistan for its role in uplifting the game for them.

“We are thankful to Peshawar Cricket Association, which would allow two Afghans each in their club teams,” says Sadiq.

Sadiq says the training given by former Pakistani players such as Kabir Khan and Rashid Latif greatly impacted their game.

“Inzimamul Haq’s coaching helped us defeat Zimbabwe, Sadiq says. “We are appreciative of our Pakistani coach, who has worked hard on improving our batting technique.”

Once soccer, cricket has now become Afghanistan’s popular sport; attracting young, elderly and the women alike.  “Victory in a war-torn country brings happiness and pride,” a cricket enthusiast Sayed Kamal Sadat said.

Peace for cricket and cricket for peace

JalalabadCricket Fans from different districts of Nangarhar Province gathers to watch second ODI between Zimbabwe and Afghanistan on Big screen in Pakhtunistan Chowk of provicial capital Jalalabad: Photo Credit/Bashir Ahmed Gwakh

 Experts say Afghans do not spare revenge, and cricket is an alternative, positive exploit for the Afghan nation.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

Cricket spoils brainwashing efforts of the militants, he says.

“A caller once told me he was ready to become a suicide bomber but it was cricket, which changed his mind.”

“If cricket is vital for peace, peace is also vital for cricket in Afghanistan,” says Sadiq. “A better security situation will help us host different teams in Afghanistan, where local crowd would support us”.

Ground ahead

Inzamam, Afghanistan’s batting coach, in a post-match briefing praised his team’s self-belief, and reiterated the call for more opportunities to play against the Full Members.

“All our previous matches have been neck-to-neck,” he said. “There haven’t been one-sided matches, it’s not like a team makes 200 against us and we are all out for 100 or 150. The team has been fighting, and the belief is always there”.

Afghan skipper Asghar Stanikzai adds,”In the next one or two years we will be a serious team and beat these Full Members. We have potential.”

After overpowering the Associates, it seems Afghans will soon achieve the target of joining the Full Members club of the ICC.

Published in The Frontier Post

Pashtun Man-date

Like in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many Pashtun women of Karachi do not vote
Like in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, many Pashtun women of Karachi do not vote

Gul Meena, a 63-year-old Pashtun woman from the hilly Dir Colony in the North Nazimabad area of Karachi, has not been to a polling station her entire life. She was surprised to hear on TV that some women from her hometown in Lower Dir went to Peshawar High Court when they were not allowed to vote in a recent by-election.

On May 18, women from the PK-95 constituency of the provincial assembly went to the PHC against the May 7 by-election in Lower Dir in which the contesting candidates had made a verbal agreement that women would not be allowed to go to the polling stations. A Jamaat-e-Islami candidate won the polls.

On June 2, the Election Commission of Pakistan canceled the result. “The by-election of Constituency No PK-95 Lower Dir-II is hereby declared void for the reasons of disenfranchisement of female voters,” said a notice released on Tuesday.

But in Karachi, Gul Meena and many other Pashtun women continue to be denied their right to vote. As many as 47,282 women had voted in the general elections in the same Lower Dir constituency in 2013. That amounts to about 37 percent of the total votes – almost the same ratio as that in PS-93, a Pashtun-dominated constituency in Karachi’s west district, if not better (an election tribunal found 6,000 bogus votes polled at only six of the 88 polling stations in the ultra-conservative Banaras locality). The percentage of women voters in Pashtun-dominated areas of Karachi (such as PS-89 Keamari, PS-94 Baldia, and PS-128 Landhi industrial area) is very low compared with other constituencies in the city.

10 percent of Pashtun women in Karachi do not even have a CNIC

Back in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, neither the religious Jamaat-e-Islami nor the liberal Awami National Party made an effort to resist the disenfranchisement of women. JI emir Sirajul Haq blamed the practice on culture.

The same ‘cultural legacy’ is the reason behind low percentage of women voters in Pashtun areas of Karachi, analysts say.

“It happens in localities and communities inhabited by people who belong to the areas where they do not let women vote. It is reflective of those cultures and traditions. In other areas, women turn out in full force,” says Afia Salam, a Karachi-based journalist who covers gender issues.

Hamidullah Khattak, the information secretary of ANP in Sindh, blames lack of education, especially among women, that keeps them unaware of their of their rights. Karachi’s Pashtuns will hardly see any progress without active participation of women in electoral politics, he says.

Most Pashtuns in Karachi are poor laborers, says Nazir Jan, a central leader of Pakhtunkhwa Mili Awami Party (PMAP). “They need proper guidance, but the religious and nationalist parties who claim to represent them have never bothered to address this issue.”

Abdul Razaq – the head of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Pashtun Jirga and its emir in west district – believes Pashtun women would be encouraged to exercise their right to vote if they were given an electoral environment that was in accordance with their culture. “In the last general elections, we asked the Election Commission to convert more than five percent of the combined polling stations to women-only polling stations, for a better female turnout,” he said. “But our request was ignored.”

But low female turnout is not the issue, according to Nazir Jan. “The number of women registered as voters is equally low.” According to Abdul Razaq, a two-time Union Council Nazim from the Pashtun-dominated SITE area, more than 10 percent of women don’t even have Computerized National Identity Cards because of reasons deep rooted in their culture. “They cannot establish a family tree,” he said. “When a woman does not have an identity card, her daughter cannot have one either.”

In Dir and the rest of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, women often vote for the candidate their families vote for, and therefore their disenfranchisement with the mutual consensus of all contenders doesn’t turn into a political disadvantage for either, says Mudassar Rizvi, chief of the Free and Fair Election Network (FAFEN).

The case is exactly the opposite in Karachi, experts say. To bar women from voting or not encouraging them to come out on the polling day deprives the concerned community of sizable votes.

“In an urban setup like Karachi, where women’s participation or absence from the electoral process directly impacts the overall results for the ethnic community, women become very important,” says Dr Fouzia Khan, a Pashtun social right activist. “In Karachi, all political parties claiming to represent Pashtuns, should realize the power of women voters.”

Hamidullah Khattak says his party, the ANP, discusses the issue in the regular meetings of its Sindh Council, which also has a woman member – Kamila Arif Khan, the party’s central vice-president on Sindh quota. “But it takes time for people’s ways to change.”

The less popular PMAP is seems to have done more work in this regard. “For the next voter registration, we have planned to run a drive to convince Pashtuns to get their wives, daughters and sisters registered, so that their voice can be heard in Sindh’s provincial legislature,” said Nazir Jan. “Without bringing women into the mainstream, the Pashtuns of Karachi – on its way to becoming the largest ethnic community in the city in two decades – cannot progress.”

The story was published in 5th June issue of TFT

The Rohingyas of Karachi

Pakistan’s Burmese immigrants have fled persecution, but they still have no nationality
Pakistan’s Burmese immigrants have fled persecution, but they still have no nationality

By: Naimat Khan

Hundreds of people gathered outside Karachi Press Club on June 5 to protest against what they called a genocide of Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s Buddhist regime. But only three of them were from the Ronhingya community of Karachi. There are nearly 0.8 million Rohingyas – generally known as the Burmese – living in various neighborhoods of Karachi.

One of them was Mufti Noorul Bashar, a scholar at Darul Uloom Karachi – a prime religious seminary of the country situated in Korangi industrial area. He even addressed a JUI-F demonstration against the violence against Rohingyas in Myanmar.

But other Burmese Muslims living in Karachi did not join in. When I spoke to them on the eve of the June 5 protest, most of the dwellers of Arakan vicinity in Karachi’s Korangi area told The Friday Times that they won’t participate. The reason, they said, was that they did not have national identity cards, and could therefore not move freely in the city.

There haven’t been any new Burmese refugees in Pakistan since the early 1990s, according to Noor Hussain Arakani, organizer of the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO) in Pakistan. “But despite having lived here for decades, the Rohingyas are denied a Pakistani identity,” he says.

Mufti Noorul Bashar says the history of discrimination against Rohingyas goes back to 1942, six years before the independence of Burma, but life became difficult for Burma’s Muslim minority after their government decided to take back their nationality in 1988.

“We want nothing – no gas, no electricity and no food. We just want Pakistani nationality”

The Rohingya exodus to Pakistan began soon after President Ayub Khan – who had served in Burma in 1944 and 1945 – offered during his visit to the country in 1965 to settle them on Pakistani soil, local Burmese elders say. A large number of Rohingyas migrated to what was then West Pakistan, and many others settled in what is now Bangladesh.

There were two more mass emigrations after clashes in 1978 and 1992, but the Bangladeshi government turned their boats back from its side of the river Naaf.

Those who reached Karachi praise Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and Gen Ziaul Haq, who allowed them to leave their refugee camps and live in the city like its other residents. “But the successive governments did not allow us to obtain Pakistani nationality,” says Tajul Islam, a Rohingya fisherman from Machchar colony. “Those who fled to Turkey, Norway, Denmark and Canada, among other countries, have acquired the nationality of their host countries,” he says. “Gen Zia had announced to grant Pakistani nationality to Rohingyas, but he died before the promise could materialize.”

“By allowing Rohingyas to live outside of refugee camps, the government has deprived them of assistance from UNHCR, which grants proof of registration cards and relevant facilities to Afghans only,” says Rana Asif Habib, president of Initiator Human Development Foundation (IHDF), who has worked closely with the Burmese community for many years.

Although a small number of them live in Lahore, most of the Burmese reside in Karachi, Thatha and Badin – cities that connect them to their traditional fishing livelihoods. “The fishery industry of Pakistan depends on Burmese and Bangladeshis,” according to Shahid, who trades with local fishermen.

“Unlike other refugees, we are not a burden on Pakistan,” says Noor Hussain Arakani. “Three key industries – garments, carpet manufacturing and fisheries – depend heavily on cheap Burmese labor.”

Najma, who weaves carpets at her home in Arakanabad, gets Rs 2,000 (roughly $20) for a job that lasts more than a month. The carpets are sold at up to $1,000. Her husband Ramadan works at a textile mill.

The Burmese community of Karachi lives in more than 60 slums all over the city, key among which are the Burmi Colony in Korangi, Arakanabad, Machchar colony, Bilal colony, Ziaul Haq Colony and Godhra Camp. About five percent of them have Pakistani nationality. Since most of them do not have identity cards, they enter the sea illegally, compromising on their wages and their safety.

“We demand nothing – no gas, no electricity and no food. We just need Pakistani nationality, without which we can’t enter the sea legally, we can’t enroll our children in schools, and we are harassed,” say Noor Hussain Arakani.

Rohingyas are questioned by the FIA and police on a regular basis, says Rana Asif Habib, and some complain of harassment. FIA and police spokesmen dismiss the harassment allegations.

About 20 percent of Karachi’s street children are Rohingyas, according to Rana. Some are victims of child labor at fish harbors, while others become informers for the police or criminal gangs.

According to the sixth edition of the Sindh Counter Terrorism Department Redbook, among the province’s most dangerous terrorists is Qari Jameel Burmi, a Rohingya. Associated with Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Burmi recruited for the outfit before he fled to Dubai, according to the Redbook. He has a Rs 500,000 bounty on his head.

Allama Hasan Turabi, a Shia scholar associated with religious political alliance Muttahida Majlis-e-Amal, was killed at the gate of his house by a Burmese suicide attacker, Abdul Karim, on 14th July 2006. The teenaged Karim, whose confession video emerged later, was a resident of Musa Colony – a lower class locality mostly housing Bengali and Burmese immigrants.

Local elders say many Rohingya children are denied admissions to schools because they do not have B-Forms. Many have no option but to send their children to religious seminaries. The community is largely religiously conservative.

According to a news report published on June 8, a meeting chaired by Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in Islamabad discussed settling the Rohingyas of Myanmar in Karachi. Leaders in the past made the same offers, the Burmese of Karachi say, and they are grateful. “But the government should also pay heed to problems of those Rohingyas who already live in Karachi,” said Kareem, a Burmese fisherman.

The writer is a freelance journalist
Twitter: @NKMalazai

 This story appeared in the June 12, 2015 issue of The Friday Times Lahore