KARACHI: Lyari is a neighborhood that everyone knows about in Karachi and elsewhere in Pakistan.
Until recently it was considered a dangerous part of the city because of its gang wars, extortion and the presence of armed groups, but the situation has now improved after a security crackdown.
There is now the kind of peaceful activity in the markets that local residents could not have imagined in the past.
Ali Muhammad, 37, a shopkeeper, recalled: “After the departure of one gangster, the second one used to come to claim extortion as there was no option of denying them.
Residents of one area were not allowed to enter another part controlled by a rival gangster because of fear.”
Ali’s shop is in the Mosa Lane neighborhood of Lyari. He told Arab News that it had been a stronghold of gangsters where extortion of small and large businesses, trade in narcotics, and torture and kidnap were routine.
Bloody gang warfare had made the area inaccessible not only for law enforcers but for residents of other parts of the city.
Nauman Ahmed, 40, owner of a grocery store, told Arab News that “they (armed groups) use to give us orders to keep shops open or close, depending on their mood. Many residents and businessmen in the area were forced to migrate from Lyari.”
Nauman is now satisfied that “my shop remains open till 2am, it was not possible earlier.”
As shopkeepers shared their stories, people were busy buying and selling goods without fear. “What you are seeing now seems like a dream when you compare it with the days of gang war; there was hardly any movement in the local markets, only member of gangs who were mostly drunk and armed with Kalashnikovs and other sophisticated weapons,” Ali Muhammad said.
Violence in Lyari had spilled over into other parts of Karachi. The businessmen of the main trading hub in Jodia Bazar and Kharadar were especially targeted.
Violence, kidnapping and extortion continued until 2013, when the PML-N party-led central government decided to launch operations against criminals across Karachi.
Rangers and police conducted operations against small and large armed groups, killed or arrested many gangsters and targeted killers.
Visible change come when the notorious gangster Noor Muhammad, known as Baba Ladla, was killed during a clash with security forces, and with the arrest of Uzair Jan Baloch, son of a transporter who had joined gangs to avenge the death of his father.
As peace has returned to Layri, not only are businesses are thriving but the price of properties has gone up.
“I am living with my uncle and looking for a suitable house to rent but am still unable to find anything as rents and prices of houses have gone up,” Faisal, 35, a resident of Mosa Lane told Arab News.
Realizing the importance of peace, the residents have set up vigilance teams to keep criminals away from Lyari. “As long as these boys are present in the area we can keep our shops open,” Abdul Karim, a local resident, said, pointing toward a boy sitting on a motorcycle. “They are volunteers and we know them well,” he said.
Some of the locals have doubts and say that it is a fragile peace. “We feel fear while traveling to areas such as (the Layri neighborhoods of) Chakiwara, Aath Chowk, Rangi Wara, etc,” Abdul Sattar, one resident, said in a low voice.