It is politics by other means. In one of the most violent neighbourhoods in Karachi, political and religious parties play a deadly game that relies on local gangs to enforce order, and political allegiance.

 

Every year, hundreds of thousands of rural migrants come to Karachi from the villages of Sindh and from Pakistan’s mountainous tribal areas. In search of work, they struggle to find a foothold in the slums of the city – housing, jobs, and protection. Ethnic and clan alliances become a form of protection and economic security in the harsh realities of life in these teeming neighbourhoods, forcing them to align themselves with one of the many ethnic and religious parties in the city. These parties in turn are a core part of Karachi’s lucrative bhatta economy, the system of extortion, racketeering, protection payments, and “voluntary” donations that has become inseparable from the city’s political life. (Bhatta is Urdu for “portion.”)

 

It is this connection between politics and the criminal economy that distinguishes Karachi’s gangs from their no less violent but far more clandestine counterparts elsewhere. In Karachi, sometimes only the thinnest of polite fictions separates the politicians from the men who kill and extort on their behalf.

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Posters of Ozair Baloch on the streets of Lyari
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Portrait of Habib Hasan at a local girls school run by Lyari Resource Center
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The birdmen of Lyari as seen from the rooftops a