The Tony Soprano Of Karachi: Gangster Or Politician? Gangsters in Karachi are a little different from the American variety. They often control armed groups linked to political parties. Uzair Baloch is known as the don of Karachi's Lyari slum. But ask him if he's a gangster, and he'll laugh. He says he's a politician and a social worker.
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The Tony Soprano Of Karachi: Gangster Or Politician?

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The Tony Soprano Of Karachi: Gangster Or Politician?

The Tony Soprano Of Karachi: Gangster Or Politician?

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Gangsters are running huge sections of Pakistan's biggest city, Karachi. As violence has escalated, mob bosses have declared some neighborhoods no-go zones for police. NPR's Dina Temple-Raston met one of those mob leaders and she reports that gangsters in Karachi are a little different from the American variety.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON, BYLINE: These days when we think about the mob, we think about one family.


A3: (Singing) Woke up this morning, got myself a gun...

TEMPLE-RASTON: "The Sopranos," and the gangster in charge was Tony Soprano.


JAMES GANDOLFINI: (as Tony Soprano) We want to stay Italian and preserve the things that meant something to us: honor and family and loyalty. And some of us wanted a piece of the action.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The man getting a piece of the action in Karachi is a 32-two-year-old named Uzair Baloch. He essentially runs a slum in south central Karachi called Lyari. Lyari is a warren of concrete tenements and narrow alleys that have been home to mobsters for 40 years. And it's been Uzair Baloch's base of operation for three of them.

UZAIR BALOCH: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: The people here in Lyari support us, Uzair Baloch says. It's the people outside who are giving me a bad reputation, he adds. They call me a gangster.

BALOCH: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: I'm a politician. I'm a social worker, he says, grinning.

ZORAH YUSUF: When he says that he's a social worker, to an extent, he's right.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Zorah Yusuf is the head of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

YUSUF: Because, you know, they do provide for the community. So if, you know, the electric supply is bothering them, they'll go to Uzair Baloch rather than anyone else.

TEMPLE-RASTON: The government hasn't provided services for people in Lyari for years, she says. So in response, Baloch helped found an organization called the Peoples' Peace Committee. It's basically a paramilitary group tied to the current ruling party, the PPP, or Pakistan People's Party. All political parties in Pakistan have armed wings with various gentle sounding names, and they're all run by people like Baloch. To the PPP, he provides votes. And to the people of Lyari, he provides schools, hospital services and food stamps. And in return, he gets unquestioned loyalty.

Baloch controls Lyari Town so completely, the police no longer go into it. The last time they tried in April, they were met with a hail of bullets. The Lyari operation went on for days before the police returned to their posts. Again, Zorah Yusuf.

YUSUF: They were outgunned. You know, they even managed to destroy an armored personnel carrier and, you know, kill the soldier who was there.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Baloch emerged even stronger. Uzair Baloch lives near one of the dusty main drags in Lyari. You know you've arrived because there are literally two dozen guards with AK47s out front. Some of them are so young they don't look like they've learned to shave yet. Enter the house and the mood changes from noisy slum to tranquility. The doors open into an enormous room with an indoor lap pool and a six-foot flat-screen television.

There are murals of beach scenes on the walls. And a fish tank is embedded in the floor, filled with Japanese koi. Baloch is engaging and handsome. He has a Rolex on his wrist and a scar on his hand that looks like someone tried to chop it off with an axe and nearly succeeded. He said he got it running from the police. I asked him why people call him a gangster.

BALOCH: (Foreign language spoken)

TEMPLE-RASTON: People have only been calling me a gangster and a terrorist for the last three years, he says, ever since we started asking the government for services for the people of Lyari. So they're trying to ruin my reputation. The police say it's more than that. A court in Karachi issued a warrant for his arrest this week. This is the second one issued this year. But so far, no one has gone into Lyari to arrest him.

As we prepared to leave, Uzair Baloch was joined by another visitor. He was the government's top man in Lyari Town, the local administrator. He said he was there to discuss development projects with Baloch. Dina Temple-Raston, NPR News, Islamabad.

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