The Great Land Grab: Bhatta And The Route of War

by Maniza Naqvi

Lyariexpresswayij9Nearly 80 percent of the war supplies, non lethal war supplies, as they are called, for the US led coalition troops fighting in Afghanistan, snake through the city of Karachi. Much of the containers and oil tankers to the north from the Port either go through the Northern Bypass or through the National Highway from the oil terminal in Keamari. The Lyari Expressway does not carry heavy traffic although it was meant to and by night its southbound track shifts to becoming a northbound route carrying lighter cargo from the port to the Super highway which leads all the way to the Khyber Pass in the North at the border with Afghanistan. If the war in Afghanistan stops then the violence in Karachi and in Pakistan will subside. Just think what this war machinery moving through Karachi means for the city and what impact it has on the security, society and on the economy when it moves through the country going from the south of the country to the north to the Khyber Pass. Safe passage of these precious goods is assured through the city by gangs of extortionists and enforcers who collect a fee—Bhatta from the war enterprise. These gangs have deep connections to the militaries, international mercenaries and political parties. Their leaders are the biggest Bhatta collectors in the chain and are given safe haven to live in Dubai and in London. International business interests and local armed mercenaries have made Karachi their base to protect their war supplies. There is big money to be made. Karachi has always been of interest to Empire and it has never let it go. Their bidding is done through petty gangs across the city who have also learned to collect Bhatta from ordinary citizens, households and shopkeepers. These extortionists know how to enforce their rules: Non compliance means death.

Hundreds of residents of Karachi have lost their lives to violence in July and August of 2011 alone. Since the beginning of the US led war in Afghanistan in 2001 thousands of citizens of Pakistan and Karachi residents have been killed. The war in Afghanistan in the 1980s had a similarly gruesome impact.

The Lyari Expressway was meant to carry heavy loads and its northbound traffic from the port of Karachi was opened in December 2009. The Expressway was meant to be able to shift goods to and from the port on a high speed route bypassing the congested streets of the city center. But the Northbound route has not become fully functional yet. Nor can the Expressway carry heavy loads such as oil tankers. The Lyari Expressway was highly controversial when it was under design and it was opposed by citizens and community action groups, urban planners and activists because it displaced thousands of people, their homes and livelihoods, and it threatened to change the social fabric of the city. But it was built anyway under the Military regime of General Musharraf. Some who opposed the expressway were killed including one who belonged to a well known family and was also a political and social leader and activist who opposed the construction of the Expressway. He was found dead in 2002 inexplicably and improbably by having committed suicide by hanging himself in the guest room of his family home. Another person among many an FM station talk show host who was spoke up against the Expressway on his show was beaten up and threatened that he would be pushed off the roof of the building where the radio station was housed. Construction of the Expressway began in 2002. The bomb blast and the fire in Bolton Market which occurred during a Moharram procession in 2009, many believe, simply cleared out the shopkeepers and traders who had earlier refused to move out of the way of the Lyari Expressway’s planned support route.

The Lyari Expressway’s primary purpose was and is to provide a swift route for goods moving from the port to the rest of the country up north and bringing supplies down to the port. It carries to and fro from the port precious and high value imports and exports: the supplies going to the war and as most Karachi residents are convinced heroine from Afghanistan trucked back to the same waiting ships that bring in war supplies. Hardly any civilian city traffic can be seen on this Expressway.

The forces that rule Karachi thrive on the enterprise of war in Afghanistan. They dream of making Karachi a Dubai or a Singapore or a Hongkong. They in turn are linked to the petty street and neighborhood thugs linked to organized gangs and gang bosses who owe allegiance to these bigger bosses. They all owe each other. They are in the business of land grabbing, logistics, finance, drugs and weapons trade.

Whoever can ensure the war supply routes is king. Whoever can do that extorts Bhatta. This is the artery that feeds the heart of the golden goose. The Lyari Expressway in parts of the city is elevated above rooftops and in others runs alongside densely packed neighborhoods and passes through and over all the areas of Karachi currently in flames. The war supplies are swiftly moved on cargo trucks by night over this flyover that passes on a raised structure through the heart of the city passing alongside the large slum of Lyari, then through all of the city’s neighborhoods—while the war supplies move unobstructed from the Karachi port towards Afghanistan a war rages in Karachi including turf battles and land grabbing and strong arming to ensure territorial rights for guaranteeing the safe passage of the war machinery. The war supplies for Afghanistan bring death and destruction as their daily traffic to Karachi.

A drive on the Expressway feels eerily like on an exclusive and unobstructed rollercoaster ride dipping and rising alongside and above the city from the port on either side are the sprawling, densely packed and heavily congested neighborhoods and traffic congested streets of Lyari, Ranchore Lines, Soldier Bazaar, Liaqatabad, Nazimabad, Orangi, Sohrab Goth, Gulberg all the way till it reaches the Superhighway on the city’s outskirts.

Karachi a city of nearly 20 million people spreads out on either side of the expressway and convulses with its toxic impact. The graffiti on the massive structure’s concrete walls—and pillions hint of the rage that seethes around it. Each night while millions of Karachi residents try to sleeps or lie awake unable to sleep because of the heat and power cuts or anxiety over the raging violence in the streets—the war supplies slip by –slithering quietly and silently from the Port through and around the city swiftly, smoothly, safely.

Karachi was a tiny fishing village more than 150 years ago. It became a lucrative piece of real estate for Empire as its trading outpost and a cantonment town when the war began in Afghanistan between Britain and Russian in 1850s for territorial control of Central Asia. Then Great Game of Empires was on as it is now. The Empire owned Karachi then as it does now. Traders flocked to Karachi from other parts of India to position themselves as suppliers and servicers of the war around the newly built port which was built for the purpose of war supplies to be able to supply the war. Mercenaries and the army of the British Empire was housed in barrack in the city—in places named Abyssinia Line and Ranchore Lines. War had always benefited the city. In 1838, the British afraid of the Russian Empire’s expansion to the Arabian Sea, occupied Karachi and the city served as the landing port for their troops for the First Afghan War. In 1843, they annexed Sindh and shifted the capital of the province from Hyderabad to Karachi. Then the British made Sindh a district of the Bombay Presidency and Karachi was made the district headquarters. Troops were stationed in Karachi and businessmen from all over the country arrived to cater to the needs of the army, an opportunity not to be missed. Karachi started to become a vibrant town, particularly the part where the military barracks and commercial activities merged particularly at the confluence of the military barracks and commercial sector. This area became known as Saddar, the Presidency. Karachi is built on and continues to expand on the land grabbing effort called Empire and War—and within it, the forces that rule it—have grabbed land from small villages called Goths to expand its boundaries the biggest land mafia is probably the military with its Defense Housing Societies where the elite of the city live. Land is grabbed from the poor and it is grabbed from the sea. Reclamation of land from the sea continues unchecked and unregulated with no regard to the environment or to city planning. It is handled improperly, senselessly and dangerously with construction beginning even before the land has dried.

Karachi has always been the conduit for the supplies of war. In the powerful, muliti layered and international mercenary war machinery these local guarantors of safe passage of war goods are just petty thieves and gangs, extortionists who murder and collect Bhatta—extortion fees. But in the lives of Karachi and Pakistan’s citizens they are the biggest bosses, the most powerful forces of rulers and administrators, the police, the army, the politicians.

Whoever can ensure safe passage for war supplies extracts Bhutta from the war enterprise and controls Karachi . And this system extends all the way North along the supply route on the Super highway which cuts through the entire country from Karachi to Khyber Pass. All the way to Khyber Pass from the Karachi port extortionists, enforcers and service providers for the war machinery. Extortion cascades from the top down—from the Generals to the political leaders to their minions of militias and gangs. Extortion. Bhatta.

The routes of war supplies and their traffic must be part of the story of why there is such murder, mayhem and criminal violence in Karachi. The violence must be seen through the prism of war and land grabbing. The war is profitable for all those involved in making it happen. As long as the war goes on the gangs in Karachi and Pakistan will be encouraged to keep fighting and killing each other for the profitable business of collecting Bhatta for ensuring safe passage for these goods and to keep the conveyor belt for war supplies running smoothly. An analysis of what is happening in Karachi which looks for its root causes in poverty, ethnicity, population and a lack of services tells only a very small part of the story. This suits the enterprise of war because it ensures that the route for war continues uninterrupted.

Also by Maniza Naqvi (here):

Rahima’s War

By Maniza NaqviGreenSilk1x1

‘This is the new Bosnia,’ Rahima says bitterly, looking around her with apprehension at the people crowded in the restaurant. Her fingers push back hair the color of a passing storm, all silver and mercury, just before the sun breaks through over the Adriatic. Rahima has emerged from the labyrinth of casualties at the hospital. She has come out of the constant dull green-blue light of the casualties ward for head injuries to which she is devoted and from where she seldom surfaces. The hospital preserves for her the atmosphere of war that she has lived through. The world that she confronts in its emergency room approximates the one that she frantically returned to during the war when most were desperate to leave it. That world wracked by war, she had returned to it. Hitchhiked with supply convoys; crawled back to it on her belly through mud and snow through the Igman tunnel; dodging bullets in the city’s alleyways. It was a world played out in the ER which she returned to every day during the war to keep it going, keep it alive and surviving every day. It is the world which she still years later keeps returning to and keeps alive as though the war had never ended. She has never stopped for it and it has never stopped for her.

Now Rahima, on my insistence, against her better judgment, emerges into this new world of wine glasses chinking and dinnerware clattering. In its deafening din, of loud boasting voices and short bursts of abrasive laughter that roar of power and money, we find ourselves seated self-consciously amongst the town’s self-appointed beautiful people, glancing over menus and wine lists that scream ‘let the good times roll.’ This outcome of war bewilders and buries her. How the rich have emerged with their banners of religiosity and how people like her have been ruined. Here, she is a lost being, a walking missing, lost completely after the war. In these merry-prospering surroundings, they don’t know her, these new people in her town, they were not here, then. And amongst them she thinks she is invisible. The aftermath is always an opportunity and belongs to someone else.

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What Remains

By Jenny White

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My grandmother’s kitchen had a single window that flung open in one great wing of glass. It looked out over the tiled roof of the apartment building in which she lived, down onto the slices of soil allotted to each resident, then into the valley beyond where a church steeple rose from the heart of the district. Over by the river, vineyards clambered up steep hillsides, their flinty soil the source of Franconia’s famously dry wines. Unlike her neighbor who let his allotment run to grass, my grandmother’s garden was neatly divided into beds that alternated flowers and vegetables. A rabbit hutch, much used during the war, now housed tools. A metal drum acted as a well, filled by a tap rising up mysteriously from the soil. When I submerged the tin watering can, it gulped the water, becoming heavier and heavier as it filled. Hauling the full can at last from beneath the surface of the water was both difficult and satisfying. Above the garden fence, you could see the back of the grade school I attended and through the big mullioned windows watch the children on the climbing bars in the gymnasium. The view in spring was partially blocked by a radiantly blooming cherry tree that my grandmother had planted when her youngest daughter was born fifty years earlier — after the war, when joy might have seemed appropriate again. Pigeons gathered on the tiles before my grandmother’s window to eat the crumbs of stale bread she spread for them. They murmured and cooed, their toes skittering on the clay.

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Losing the Plot: Habits of the Heart (Complete Novel)

by Maniza Naqvi Poppy

Chapter One: The Little Coffee Shop

Chapter Two: The Hotel

Chapter Three: Dreaming Dulles

Chapter Four: Civil War

Chapter Five: Stanley’s Girl

Chapter Six: Hope

“We are just props for validating and furthering their policy! We say no to them and they punch us hard and prove their point with another explosion! Can't you see that?”

“No, jan–I cannot–You have made this a habit–of blaming America for everything!”

“No I have not made it a habit! Isn’t it curious that every time they make a policy statement—quoting D’Touqueville to us—-every time they want to force Pakistan to take a position in their war and Pakistan resists—some sort of a violent event takes place in Pakistan to prove their point? Isn’t that just a little suspect? They are going to increase their troops here—they are going to expand the war into Pakistan—they are going to occupy us—just wait and see!” Zarmeenay had argued, in an urgent tone, her eyes wide and serious as she had packed to leave for Baluchistan. “ We have to stop them Mama.—we have to push back! Amir, Amreekah, Mama! Amir Amreekah!”

“I don’t know Zarmeenay.” Rukhsana had argued with her daughter, “Maybe it’s time we stopped blaming everybody else for all the criminals that have been created right here in Pakistan in the name of religion.’

“Mama! Please—there no such thing as Al Qaeda! There’s no such thing as the Taliban! This is all the same old, same old, overt-covert good old CIA—now breaking up Pakistan—we will have Pushunistan, Baluchistan—Serakiistan—Kashmir, Baluchistan, Karachistan, Sindhistan—just wait. They will do worse to us than what they did to Yugoslavia and the breaking apart of the Soviet Union—just wait—……They will murder all of us!”

“Zarmeenay…”

“Don’t you agree with me Mama, that they killed Benazir Bhutto? They already knew who was her murderer the moment she died? They had decided who to accuse of her murder the day she was murdered? So Benazir is dead, and Baitullah Mesud is dead—But they can’t find Osama Bin Laden in all these ten years of looking for him with all the sophisticated technology that they have?”

“Really! I’m so worried about you darling! Zarmeenay, you are beginning to go too far! I’m scared for you! You talk like this everywhere in public and I’m afraid for you! ” Rukhsana had said to Zarmeenay just before she had left the house.

“Don’t be afraid, Mama. Don’t be afraid! That’s been our main problem we’ve been afraid for too long. It’s too late to be afraid now, we have to take action. We have to save ourselves, our country! You’ll see Mama! I’m right! It’s time to listen to your heart Mama, I’m listening to mine. We have to fight for Pakistan!”

And Zarmeenay had disappeared. Just like that vanished. Now she was dead.

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X-Epsilon

By Maniza Naqvi

Brain_scansJust as the frigid February evening air is stirred by the imams calling out the azan from all over the valley on Monday evening —Hiya al salah—hiya al falah— “come towards worship—come towards salvation”— Rahima pulls a cigarette out from her pack of Drinas; sticks it between her lips; lights it; dials 5555 and calls a Zuti taxi to her apartment—one of the many cab companies in Sarajevo which arrive at the door a minute after being called. She puts on her coat, an oversized olive color, man’s raincoat with a corduroy collar. She double checks the pockets for her pack of Drinas and the 3 convertible marks in loose change for the fare. All set, she leaves her one room apartment. The cab arrives and she gets in to its smoke filled interior. A sevdah’s ululating blues plays on FM 89.9 Radio Zid for the short ride just down the hill to the hospital.

Her 48 hour duty has begun. She has entered her world. All morning long she has cleared her head for this—all Monday morning, after a weekend plunged in a seamless nightmare-filled fitful sleep. The same nightmares always, every off-duty. The same method of recovery. This is her routine.

Outside the emergency room she can see the usual sight: police guards with automatic weapons dressed in tight black uniforms and bullet proof vests barring the way to the ER. Police cars parked in the driveway. She sweeps past them waving them aside, saying she’s the doctor and can’t they see that?

'He’s a bank robber from Olovo! He’s shot himself trying to run away!' A cop shouts after her.

“Thank you doctor” she growls back at him and shrugs her shoulder with a jolt as though repulsed.

As she enters the ER and surveys the newest arrival it’s as though a switch had been turned on inside of her lighting up a thousand bulbs of a thousand watt each. She is on! This is an interesting one. The one last week, the victim of a burglary—the plastic surgery—the reconstruction—was successful. It seems to have worked but it’s still too early to tell, the bandages haven’t come off yet.

This one, they tell her, he has shot himself in the head. Outside, the hospital the walls are still pock marked with bullet holes. Inside for Rahima it has never ended, it goes on.

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Under the sealed sky: Drones

By Maniza Naqvi

Warrior_01sThe first time I saw an unmanned drone aircraft was in Karachi when I sat directly under one trying to compose myself into a pose of cool collectedness despite the heat. That day in June 1998 I had gone to get my photograph taken professionally for the promotion of my first novel Mass Transit. As I seem to recall—there were several of them hanging from the ceiling all over the photographer’s house. These oversized toy gliders–above my head—rocked gently in the artificial breeze created by the air conditioning unit. I asked if assembling toy gliders were his hobby—. I was told they were neither. In fact they were remote control flying cameras. “They take pictures for the military” My picture taker told me. “Pictures over the Arabian sea—Pictures in Tharparkar near the border with Rajasthan—he grinned and continued peering at me through the lens of his camera. “Those pictures are taken with a very special type of a lens. Taking photographs of people like you, now that’s the hobby”. “Say no more” said I.

The sun seared the air to sweltering outside—but air conditioning inside, kept the photographer’s studio mildly cool. He was a civil aviation engineer. He did photo essays and fashion layouts for news magazines in the country as he had said as a hobby. While I arranged myself on the chair, brushed my hair and applied some lipstick, he adjusted the lighting and the backdrop. The power went out just as we were getting started. No matter—it would only be gone for half hour at the most. The room was getting hot. The pure cotton shift that I had on was beginning to cling—beads of sweat were beginning to trickle down my arms. So while we waited he pulled up the blinds on the windows and opened the shutters to let in air and the hot light from outside and asked me if I’d like something cool to drink or tea. I opted for a coke with ice. Ice would be so good. He left the room. The sea breeze caused the drones above my head to sway, various parts, probably the wings made a creaking sound. I looked up nervously—hoping that the strings holding them up were strong enough. When he returned with the drinks I fished out one of the ice cubes from my glass and rubbed it up and down my arm.

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