By Tarek Fatah
Last Sunday, 50 men, women and children protested on Front Street about an issue that has escaped the attention of most of the world. If there isn’t a massive outcry soon, it could result in a massacre that would remind us of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1944. I’m talking about the town of Lyari in Pakistan’s largest city, Karachi, Sindh.
Imagine an area smaller than Ajax, yet inhabited by 1.5 million people, most of them working-class poor, cramped in homes separated by alleys little more than three metres wide.
Surrounding this dense cluster of humanity is a force of 5,000 para-military police in tank-track APCs, armed to the teeth, firing automatic rifles indiscriminately into residential areas.
For over a week, Lyari — inhabited mostly by Karachi’s Sindhi-Baloch and Black African population, the indigenous residents of the city — was cut off from the outside world with no electricity, water, telephones or Internet links.
The government of Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari justifies this medieval siege by insisting the area is a hotbed of drug gangs and a crime mafia that has resisted the “writ of the state.”
This from a government that refuses to send its troops into North Waziristan, where a fully-equipped renegade army of the Taliban wages war on next-door Afghanistan.
In a week of armed clashes, the residents of Lyari have blunted all attempts by security forces to enter their ghetto.
Forty people have died, including children as young as seven, while scores were injured or left to die on the streets. But no one is listening to their cries for help. Remember the April, 2002 siege of Jenin by the Israel Defense Forces in which 52 Palestinians and 23 Israeli soldiers died? The Muslim and Arab world erupted in outrage. But there has been nothing from them about the April, 2012 siege of Lyari.
Zaffar Jawaid of the Baloch Human Rights Commission, who organized last Sunday’s Toronto demonstration, asked me, “Are we Baloch Muslims children of a lesser God? Are we not as Muslim, as Palestinians or Arabs, to deserve an outcry by the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC), to tell the Pakistan government to stop the massacre of its Baloch population?”
Speaking to me on Newstalk 1010, Jawaid said there are deeper reasons for the government’s security apparatus to lay siege to Lyari.
He claimed the Baloch are a thorn in the side of Pakistan’s Islamist movements that take billions of dollars from the West and then fund the Taliban, who kill Canadian and NATO troops in next-door Afghanistan.
According to Jawaid, the Sindhi & Baloch people of Lyari and the next-door province of Balochistan are probably the only segment of the population that has stood up to the Islamofascist agenda of Pakistan’s establishment, including its often corrupt military.
“We are secular, liberal Muslims who have rejected the path of the Taliban and Al-Qaida, so we (are) being punished by the Pakistani security apparatus, both in Lyari and Balochistan. They want to wipe us off the map, but we have been here for a 1,000 years, long before Pakistan came into existence or its puppets in al-Qaida and the Taliban. Pakistanis can fool the naive governments of Canada and the USA, but not us. We are Baloch; we are not for sale.