June 22 - Karachi is Pakistan's commercial capital but may also pose a bigger security risk than the Taliban insurgency in the north. Paul Chapman reports.
These were the scenes in Karachi in May when police tried to seize the slum stronghold of Uzair Baloch. Officers were ambushed by gunmen armed with rocket-propelled grenades and armour-piercing bullets. Five policemen and about 20 civilians were killed. Yet Baloch, with 63 arrest warrants to his name, is confident he'll win a legislative seat in next year's general election. SOUNDBITE: UZAIR BALOCH SAYING (Urdu): "People will give me votes, God willing. I will appear and present all matters before the court. I will contest the election. I will not spend even one rupee on this election and I will still win." In Pakistan's commercial capital men, like Baloch thrive in an atmosphere of gang wars and ethnic, sectarian and political violence. Police say he's spent years building up a business empire through extortion, kidnapping and drugs. He denies any involvement in violence but others disagree. His supporters are accused of gunning down a dozen men at a scrapyard who'd refused to pay protection money. Recently two brothers were shot dead in the same area. Market Association chief Malik Dehelvi also has notes demanding money. SOUNDBITE: MARKET ASSOCIATION PRESIDENT, MALIK DEHELVI, SAYING (Urdu): "We're paying billions in tax. In return the government pays us back with the bodies of our brothers and sons." Kaleem Siddiqui is a self-confessed hitman with a highly clinical view of his work SOUNDBITE: KALEEM SIDDIQUI, SELF-CONFESSED HITMAN, SAYING (Urdu): "If they ask us to kill a person and offer money, I kill him. We call other people if we are unable to dispose of the body." There are 30, 000 police officers in Karachi, but outgunned, underfunded, insufficiently trained and widely seen as corrupt, they say there's little they can do. The lack of a witness protection programme ensures few are brave enough to give evidence against the bad guys. Uzair Baloch, meanwhile, is trying to portray himself as a Robin Hood figure in a city where he's viewed by many as part of its problems. Paul Chapman, Reuters