reportage

Karachi Crusader

A personal history of a crime-fighter

By HM NAQVI | 1 January 2014

JAMEEL YUSUF IS SMALL AND STURDY and wears his trousers slightly above his waist. Quick on his feet, he has a firm handshake and the general disposition of an economics professor—he wears a trim salt-and-pepper beard and rectangular-rimmed spectacles and peers at you with inquisitive eyes. His gaze, manner and mien do not betray that Yusuf was once one of the toughest characters in a city with a tough reputation. He was Karachi’s Dark Knight.

Yusuf, however, will say, “I’m just a Khoja businessman.” The Khojas are a tight-knit, mostly mercantile community who populate cities from South Asia to East Africa and Canada. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the urbane founder of Pakistan, was one. Yusuf’s trajectory was rather more traditional: he got into the textile business after graduating from university, manufacturing cones used in spinning units, before venturing into construction. He built one of the first malls in Karachi in the mid 1980s. By the late 1980s, he had become a successful self-made businessman—“Whenever I take up something, I like to do a thorough job,” he said—and middle-aged.

And in the late 1980s, Karachi had become unsettled. The American-funded insurgency in Afghanistan against the USSR had drawn to a close. More than 3.5 million Afghan refugees—the largest population of refugees in the world—had crossed the border into Pakistan. They settled in camps in and around the northern Khyber province, and in and around Karachi. It was a city where Pathans and mostly Urdu-speaking Mohajirs were already at daggers drawn. A fiery Mohajir student leader named Altaf Hussain had used an incident in which a bus driver ran over a student as his launching pad into national politics. With the death of Zia ul-Haq in 1988, democracy had also returned to Pakistan after a decade of military rule.

The general tumult allowed powerful crime syndicates to operate with impunity. According to a university study at the time, “State power has been eclipsed by a ‘parallel government’ composed of heavily armed, organised criminal elements, capable of holding legitimate authorities at bay.” Consequently, like in Mexico then (as in Mexico now, for that matter), kidnapping had become big business. Kidnappers targeted the business community and its families because they fetched substantial ransoms. When ransoms were not met, the victims were murdered. In 1990, there were about 80 reported cases of kidnapping for ransom.

I don’t recall the statistics and don’t need to read the reports. I knew the Karachi of the 1990s. It was a desperate place, a desperate time. I remember how dusk heralded a virtual curfew. If you were on the road, driving, you would slip your watch into your pocket, shed jewellery and skip traffic lights. Burglaries were routine. My grandmother’s house was broken into one night by five men wearing masks, brandishing pistols. Everybody knew not to argue, even the children. It was common knowledge.

It was not common knowledge that in 1989, the governor of Sindh, Fakhruddin Ebrahim, had called for citizens to get involved in the effort to combat the crime epidemic. The objective was to strengthen law enforcement and promote public confidence in the law enforcement agencies. It was a radical idea, a tall order. The police was underpaid, undermanned, and outgunned. There was no facility for fingerprinting, poor ballistic and forensic equipment, and criminal records were in profound disarray. Moreover, many believed the police were complicit in the breakdown of law and order. Several prominent businessmen, including Jameel Yusuf, responded to the governor’s initiative. That August, the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) was born.

I met Jameel Yusuf for the first time in 2008, years after he helped found the CPLC, and years since he had slipped quietly out of public consciousness with a quick, mysterious retirement. I wanted to get a sense of the man. It had to do with curiosity, with awe, the fact that he had informed my reality as a denizen of Karachi. I called him from out of the blue and told him so. I was given an appointment in the afternoon at the offices of his most recent business venture at the time, Pakistan’s first vehicle tracking company. Situated in a leafy central canton of the city featuring the Art Deco architecture that was fashionable in the 1960s, the office was a modest, double-storied house manned by private guards and a mobile police unit. Sitting across a broad desk in a windowless room with cabinets and framed pictures of Yusuf with dignitaries, I inquired, over tea and biscuits, So how do you start fighting crime?

Yusuf told me that he and his colleagues raised funds of about Rs 4 lakh (close to $20,000 then, not an insubstantial sum) for improving the conditions at Ferozabad police station in central Karachi. They discovered, for instance, that the station had no gas or water, so they installed gas and water lines. They painted the premises, put up a board for complaints, carved out a reception area, and even constructed a rockery. It was an unusual way of going about things. “Whenever committees are set up,” Yusuf explained in an empathic tenor, “people like to throw their weight around. We didn’t do that.”

 What, I asked, do you do after setting up a rockery? In the beginning, he told me, he volunteered for a few hours, usually in the evenings. But crime-fighting is not like gardening. “It’s like quicksand,” Yusuf said. When I asked him to elaborate, he added, “Look, in this line of work, when somebody wants help, they want it now. The work can’t be deferred.” Soon, he said, he was working 18 hours a day.

Yusuf, however, had no background in criminology, no experience in investigative work, and, from what I understand, no training in what he would become an expert at doing: eliminating kidnapping syndicates. He had to learn on the job. “We were hearing the police, how they’re doing it, listening to what they’re talking about, sharing the information from one abduction to another, trying to see any similarity …” Yusuf was putting two and two together. He learned, for instance, that “voice [recognition] plays a very important part. We made a grouping of the [kidnappers’] voices. We found out one other [crucial] thing. In kidnapping for ransom, the same guys in the gang always negotiated.” It was a steep learning curve—Kidnapping 101—but I got the sense that Yusuf is an instinctively astute observer of human behaviour.

Yusuf also had a fetish for technology. As a young man, for instance, he had travelled to Taiwan to buy state-of-the-art automation technology for his textile manufacturing business, which, he said, was the first of its kind. At the CPLC, he invested in computers, and cameras of the variety that can be installed in pens and lighters. Yusuf told me that he once summoned his son from London in the middle of his university semester to deliver high-tech homing-device technology that he then used to crack a notorious kidnapping ring. “The police used to go from the accused to the scene of crime,” Yusuf said. “Technology lets you go from the scene of the crime to the accused.”

By the mid 1990s, the CPLC had also started to collate data—phone numbers, addresses, number plates, profiles—and soon the organisation developed an extensive database, the first of its kind in Pakistan. In time, the organisation would create databases of vehicles registered in Karachi, FIRs registered in every police station dating back to 1987, and of all prisoners held in Central Jail, dating back to 1990. Having developed a unique capability to investigate crime, the CPLC then parsed the information for clues and connections. This may have been what some imagined when they first answered Fakhruddin Ebrahim’s call—except that Yusuf was not content to sit behind a desk and crunch numbers.

SOMETIME IN 1992, Yusuf recalled, the grandson of a senior official was kidnapped. When the kidnapper called to demand a ransom for the seven-year-old child, his father asked whether the boy had eaten. He was told that the child been offered pizza for dinner but this was little comfort to the family. Nobody in the house slept that night.

Strangely, several days later, the child was released. The kidnappers might have felt the proverbial heat. The official had some influence. The child was brought home, embraced by each family member. It was a scene. Yusuf was also present but he was only interested in one thing: the circumstances of the abduction. Where, he asked for instance, did they say they were taking you? Hyderabad, the boy answered, a city two hours by car from Karachi. Yusuf didn’t buy it. The kidnappers were ensconced in Karachi, he insisted. Why? Because there were no pizza parlours in Hyderabad then.

What did you see when you looked out of the car, Yusuf asked the boy. Houses, bazaars, bridges? In a city of about 12 million then, the largest in Pakistan, and one of the largest in the world, it may not really have mattered what the boy had noticed; there were many houses, hovels and bridges in Karachi. The problem, however, was that the boy had been blindfolded. By the time the child recalled such features of urban topography as he could, from the crunch of gravel to the muezzin’s voice, Yusuf had already decided what to do.

After requisitioning a pair of sniffer dogs from Military Intelligence—the CPLC had, by this time, started to forge relationships with other security agencies—he set off before midnight with the boy, his father and several police patrols. As the convoy approached the neighbourhood where the child was suspected to have been held, headlights and  engines were switched off. Then the dogs were released. Instead of leading the party to the den, however, they loitered. Scratching his head at the scene, Yusuf recalled one critical detail that the boy had mentioned: the call to prayer. When the dogs were taken around the corner, within the general vicinity of a mosque, the pair began to stiffen and bark. They led Yusuf to an empty house. Inside, the child  confirmed everything. This is where I slept. This is where I ate. This is where I played cricket. The kidnappers were apprehended the next day.

Yusuf’s uncanny ability to perceive connections that others couldn’t also helped crack the particularly egregious case of the Mehfil-e-Murtaza murders. Just past five on a cold February morning during Ramzan in 1995, a group of armed men burst into a Shia mosque in north Karachi. Although prayers were over, Yusuf said, they happened upon a funeral party of 16 men. The attackers lined the men up, ordered them to turn their backs, then gunned them down in cold blood. More than 100 rounds were fired. There was blood on the walls, on the floor, on the ceiling. Although there had been some tension between the majority Sunni and minority Shia communities, the Mehfil-e-Murtaza killings were unprecedented. The police had no leads.

Then, a few days later, gunmen entered a nearby house, murdering the men of a Sunni family while the women and children cowered in an adjacent room. The gunmen vociferously proclaimed retaliation for the earlier incident as they departed. The city braced for further retaliations, for civil war. Businesses shut. Traffic stopped. Rangers patrolled the streets. Karachi was on edge.

Enter Jameel Yusuf. He did some basic detective work, and interviewed each set of survivors separately. Two boys had survived the Mehfil-e-Murtaza killings because, Yusuf said, they had been buried beneath fallen bodies, and played dead. When Yusuf asked them to describe the assailants, he was told that one of them had a “round face, [was] well built, short”. The CPLC used this information to build composites, employing new facial recognition software they had recently acquired.

Yusuf proceeded to question the women and children who survived the second attack. Something in their descriptions of the terrorists struck him as vaguely familiar. On a hunch, Yusuf suspected that the killers were the same group, a suspicion that defied sense and the socio-cultural dynamics between any two communities in conflict: Hutu-Tutsi, Israeli-Palestinian, Irish Catholic-Irish Protestant. The historical Shia-Sunni divide had opened into a chasm in Pakistan in the late 1980s. In the event, Yusuf said, “You would never expect them to kill their own people.”

So Yusuf asked the state telephone company to furnish him with the phone records from five in the morning on the day of the Mehfil-e-Murtaza killings, as well as from the time of the later attack. Once he had them, Yusuf compared the two lists and, as expected, he found both shared several numbers, including a few mobile phones. “In those days you didn’t have prepaid phones. It was always ‘postpaid’.” Since mobile phones were not ubiquitous then as they are now, the numbers were not difficult to trace. Within a month, each number was traced, and each assailant apprehended. Yusuf was right. The killers in both attacks were the same: the notorious sectarian terrorist outfit Sipah-e-Sahaba, intent on igniting a civil war.

In retrospect, the case becomes straightforward, open and shut, like the denouement of a Sherlock Holmes mystery. At the time, however, it bewildered the police, the public. How did Yusuf crack the case? “It was just common sense, that’s all, it’s not that complicated. You need IQ, intelligence, and confidence.”

Putting two and two together is one thing. Entering criminal dens is another. Over the years, Yusuf began to lead teams into far-flung cantons in the dead of night to rescue victims, adrenaline coursing, Glock cocked. Once, he was shot at, point blank, but the gun jammed. Another time a bullet whizzed past his head, killing a major accompanying him. “I have had very close escapes, very close,” Yusuf told me, poker-faced.

THE CPLC SOON BECAME INDISPENSABLE to law enforcement, and Karachi rallied behind the organisation in a meaningful way. In a 2001 interview, Yusuf recalled how, when the CPLC office was being constructed, donors stepped up:  “Alcop gave us the doors and windows, Dadabhoy gave the cement, the steel companies gave us the steel, the architect was free, [The Association of Builders and Developers] gave us the labour cost, Karam [Ceramics] and [Shabbir Tiles and Ceramics] gave us the tiles … They all contributed and the whole building was ready in no time.”

In time, multinationals like IBM and multilateral organisations like the United Nations Development Fund began to provide funding as well. There was also much interest in replicating the model. Yusuf told one Pakistani website: “Now the United Nations wants to adopt CPLC as well. I have gone to India, they are also interested. They want to establish it in Sri Lanka. I will be invited by the President of Bangladesh soon as they also want to establish it … I receive internees from London who were sent to study and prepare a write-up that what is CPLC and how they can adopt it.”

In addition to busting kidnapping syndicates, the organisation developed police welfare schemes, traffic management schemes, neighbourhood watch programmes, and a police complaint authority. It initiated an arms control policy and an alien registration policy. It even campaigned to build a network of public toilets.

Yusuf’s work began to win him acclaim. He received a Presidential award, the Sitara-e-Shujaat, in 1992; he received something known as the United Nations Civil Society Award in 1999; and he was invited to serve as the director of the Asia Crime Prevention Foundation, a UN non-profit based in Japan.

But Yusuf’s critics were also legion. They included politicians and bureaucrats, police officers, army officers, members of the Khoja community and people within the CPLC itself. They maintained that he was imperious, impatient, self-centred, self-aggrandising. It was said that he was unable to effectively delegate responsibility, and that he failed to effectively institutionalise the CPLC—an accusation that continues to dog the organisation to this day. Some said the CPLC was a one-man show.

“There’s a whole team I developed,” Yusuf said, when I asked him this. “We did many things. One man couldn’t do everything.” That much is indisputable. “Years ago I left CPLC,” Yusuf said. “Why is it still working?”

When I persisted, Yusuf leaned forward and fixed me with bulging brown eyes. Up close, you could discern mirror-image creases etched into his brow, like a severed W. “Yes, I’m a very tough taskmaster,” he said. “I used to tell people we’re doing social work. We’re going to get paid for it. But later on.” He meant in the afterlife. He is a devout man. “If you don’t have the time, let somebody else do it. If I’m going to work 16 hours, 18 hours a day, I would expect my team to be working too. This is serious business you’re talking.”

Yusuf had other, grimmer allegations leveled at him: critics claimed that, like Bruce Wayne, he became like those he put away—that he was fundamentally a vigilante. Those he freed did not care. In a 2003 piece for the monthly magazine Newsline, Sairah Irshad Khan interviewed the brother of a victim who had been kidnapped for 46 days. “We called CPLC the day [my brother] was kidnapped,” this person recalled. “[Yusuf’s] team was with us night and day, counselling us, comforting us … It was amazing how much data they had and how Jameel Yusuf preempted every move the kidnappers made … When we discovered [the] captors’ whereabouts, it was Jameel who personally went to … deal with them and eventually got [my brother] back.”

In this way, I can vouch for Jameel Yusuf as well. The kidnapped seven-year-old who was treated to pizza by his captors is my cousin. At the time, it didn’t really matter to us how he was rescued. We didn’t have the luxury to mull over modalities, intangibles. The child was not a philosophical problem. He was flesh and blood, curly-haired and shy, and one day vanished.

Yusuf’s most dangerous critics were the criminals or the associates of the criminals who had been put away or got away. He routinely received death threats, and told me that his name figured on a hit-list recovered from a random bust. In an interrogation, some gang members admitted that they knew where he lived, when he left for work, when he returned. They had planned to assassinate him the next morning. These were not garden-variety criminals—they were the Sipah-e-Sahaba, the outfit involved in the Mehfil-e-Murtaza killings.

Yusuf told me this, and then said, “It was luck.”

I was astonished to learn that Yusuf’s entire family was on the frontlines. Crouched behind a stalled motorcycle across the street on one occasion, his daughter is known to have shot high-resolution photographs of a kidnapper conducting a ransom transfer. Once, his wife trailed a notorious kidnapper in the dead of night, but things didn’t quite proceed according to plan: after making a couple of superfluous U-turns to determine whether the car behind him was following him, the kidnapper stopped on a deserted stretch and brandished his Kalashnikov. Mercifully, Yusuf’s wife sensed something was awry and drove away at the last minute, escaping certain death.

In the letter conferring the Sitara-e-Shujaat on Yusuf, the  then-governor of Sindh, Mahmoud Haroon, remarked, “[Yusuf] has involved his wife, son and daughters for Surveillance and Photography [sic] to the extent of personally carrying the ransom to the culprits so as to identity them even to the peril of his entire families [sic] lives.”

What, I asked, is it like to live in the shadow of death?

“What can you do, you know … I’m taking it in [my] stride, you know? I’ve got security behind me and all. But I know that the day it’s going to happen, nothing’s going to work.”

Why don’t you leave the country, emigrate?

“What will I do [abroad]? I will die slowly … At least this will be fast.”

He laughed.

BUT IT WAS NOT A BULLET that did Yusuf in. In a way, his decline followed Daniel Pearl’s demise.

The murder and kidnapping of the Wall Street Journal’s South Asia bureau chief in 2002 has featured prominently in popular discourse—from the French playboy-philosopher Bernard-Henri Levy’s shoddy book Who Killed Daniel Pearl? to Michael Winterbottom’s film adaptation of Pearl’s wife Mariane’s memoir, A Mighty Heart, but Yusuf’s role in the investigation remains mostly unacknowledged. In the course of his work, Pearl had come to see Yusuf on several occasions. Not many know that Yusuf may have been the last person to meet Pearl before his abduction.

The two met for the last time on 23 January 2002. When Pearl arrived, they chatted about developments in the region over a cup of tea—in particular, the misconceived Operation Enduring Freedom in neighbouring Afghanistan, and its impact on Pakistan.

For a moment, listening to Yusuf tell me the story, I wondered whether Pearl had sat where I was sitting. Yusuf said that Pearl had been on the trail of a certain Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani, who may have been connected to Richard Reid, the infamous “shoe bomber” who had attempted and failed to detonate explosives on a flight between Paris and Miami late in 2001. According to Yusuf, however, Gilani was a red herring, “of no importance, no consequence … There was no bloody connection.” Consequently, Yusuf tried to discourage Pearl.

During their conversation, Yusuf recounted, Pearl received two calls. “I heard him say, ‘Yes I’m very close, I’ll be coming in another half an hour.’” Yusuf, however, did not pay attention to the interruption at the time, and Pearl did not talk to him about his immediate plans. Unbeknownst to Yusuf, Pearl’s local fixer helped him get in touch with an interlocutor for Gilani. This person  had sensed an opportunity. He realised Pearl was willing to bend, if not break, the rules for a meeting with Gilani. Matter-of-factly, Yusuf told me that Pearl had been getting scooped in Pakistan and was desperate for a story.

Randall Bennett, the regional security officer stationed at the US Consulate in Karachi, also cautioned Pearl. “I had never heard of [Gilani] and expressed that concern,” Bennett told the Washington Post in a 2007 interview. Yusuf, who knew Bennett as well, added, “[Bennett] cautioned him that you don’t meet people on the roadside, waysides. You want to meet somebody, you meet them in a hotel lobby. You do your chatting there. It should be done that way.”

The morning after Yusuf’s meeting with Pearl, he woke up to something like 25 missed calls. “I started returning the calls,” he said. “I spoke to Mariane. I had never spoken to her before. She asked if I knew her husband … She asked why had he come to meet me.” When he told her, she told him that her husband had gone missing.

The chief of police, Yusuf said, wanted to discuss the same thing. “I told him to take out his [phone record] … Whoever called [while he was sitting with me], he’s gone with him. When the bill came out, it was somebody who had just taken [a new] phone that day. And the identity card looked fake. The moment I saw this, I knew this guy’s in trouble.”

As I squirmed in my seat, Yusuf told me that after about 48 hours, he was invited to “Mariane’s place”. There were “all these people there, American people, police, all jabbering, jabbering, talking, nothing else. They wanted to pick up Gilani. They asked me my assessment … I said it’s no use. There’s no connection. Ask the fixer, but they didn’t listen to me … they kept after Gilani. They picked him up after four, five days. It came out to zero, waste of time. The FBI wouldn’t listen to me.”

Yusuf proceeded to do things his way. “We got the number of the fixer, other numbers … within a couple of hours, I came to know some numbers in Lahore which were very good to be tackled, okay?”

By this time, Pearl’s abduction had made the headlines and his people had started to receive “emails … extortions”. Some were obviously fake, demanding solutions to complicated political problems in return for Pearl. The FBI managed to track an email chain that led to three arrests. They “interrogated [one] guy for days and they came up with a completely wrong story and a completely wrong theory. In the ten minutes [that I interviewed him] the whole story changed.” The young man admitted that he met somebody who handed him a CD with images showing Pearl shackled, which were to be dispatched electronically to the media. The problem was that this was the end of the email chain.

“That was the time I got really annoyed,” Yusuf said. “That was 28 or 29 January. Fine, email tracking is one thing. Go ahead and do that. But why are you all concentrating on one thing? Why are you not concentrating on what I’m telling you?”

Yusuf had been telling the authorities to follow a straightforward strategy: track the web of mobile phone connections from the calls that Pearl’s mystery abductors had been making to the authorities. One such connection led to a house in the city of Lahore. The “feedback we got was … very nice, very noble family. They deal in TVs, Sony’s agent. This was the profile of the father”—the father, they would later learn, of a certain Omar Sheikh. Sheikh, was a young British citizen who had gone “rogue” from MI6, been convicted of the attempted 1994 kidnapping of four Western tourists in India, and had been released in 1999 in exchange for the safe conduct of passengers aboard the hijacked flight IC-814. (He was arrested and sentenced to death in 2002 for his complicity in Pearl’s murder, and remains imprisoned awaiting appeal.) At the time, however, nobody put two and two together.

“The image that the people give all over the world,” Yusuf said of Sheikh, “he’s intelligent, smart guy … he spoke English … but I call him a dud, because only two times he’s planned a kidnapping and both times he’s got caught. So you’re damn stupid, yaar.”

The mobile phone investigations led to another house in Karachi where police attempted to arrest a man named Amjad Farooqi, who it turned out was integral to the operation in a way that Omar Sheikh was not. In effect, Farooqi was Omar Sheikh’s boss. Tragically, the former escaped; a year later he would be accused of the December 2003 assassination attempt on then-president Pervez Musharraf. (The year after, Farooqi was gunned down by security forces.)

It might seem that Yusuf and the FBI were at cross purposes but, in fact, the FBI used the CPLC offices as its daytime headquarters during the Pearl case. In the evenings, everybody collected at Mariane’s place. Everybody, including the Pakistani army and the police, was working frantically to find Pearl.

The end of January was a critical juncture in the investigation. “At this point, had [Farooqi] been caught, maybe Pearl would have been alive … [Or] if Omar Sheikh’s identity [had been discovered] from day one. It was that, that simple.” They were close, but not close enough. As Yusuf related the episode, I kept hoping that the story would change, that Yusuf would say something like, and then we found him. It didn’t happen. By the first week of February, it was too late. Pearl was killed, and the video of his gruesome murder released later in the month.

“This was the first beheading that took place in Karachi,” Yusuf stated. “When the American Consul General came, I told him that it’s an Arab connection.” How so, I asked him? “It’s tribal practice … Arabs believe they are a superior race. There are no Pakistanis on the higher echelons [of these global terrorist organisations].”

At no other time might it have been clearer that the CPLC had become an integral part of Karachi’s security establishment. “When [US diplomat] Christina Rocca visited me at the CPLC, she came to thank [us] … The CIA, FBI [were] all with her … They came for half an hour but they stayed for three. They looked at the work we had done. They were fascinated.”

Towards the end of the discussion, he appealed to the team: “I told them that if you want to help us, give us help. We are your partners in [fighting] terrorism.”

But after the Americans left, Yusuf said, he began receiving unwanted attention. Rocca spent only an hour with President Musharraf and didn’t spend time with the governor or the chief of police or the serving corps commander. And, according to Yusuf, the corps commander had it in for him. Things had come to a head. The establishment ultimately sided against him. He was ousted from the CPLC in 2003.

“We were always called the blue-eyed boys of the army,” Yusuf recalled. “There were some very good army officers, I must say. There’s no doubt about it. But we didn’t leave the corps commanders alone … [This one corps commander] was corrupt. His nephew was [a police officer]. [Also] corrupt. It requires guts to tell the corps commander that he’s on the take … ”

During our meeting Yusuf had admitted, in passing, a proclivity for putting his foot in his mouth. In a meeting with the then-president Pervez Musharraf, for instance, he spoke bluntly about politically tricky reforms. His suggestions may not have gone down well with the general. The conversation, he said, had probably cost him a provincial cabinet position. Had Yusuf been appointed home minister of Sindh, he might have been able to fundamentally change how things work. “Give me six months to one year,” he told me. “I can make Karachi a zero-crime zone.”

It was seemingly the end of the road for a man who had commanded a certain respect even from the criminals he chased down.  A decade or so ago, Yusuf told me, he had caught a kidnapper, mother and girlfriend in tow. Later, the kidnapper learnt that while he was in police custody, Yusuf had offered his mother and girlfriend dinner and paid for their carriage home, making sure that they were not mistreated by the authorities at any point during the ordeal. Yusuf, the kidnapper said, came after me because I did wrong. I’ve nothing against him. He’s a man of honour.

The late Ardeshir Cowasjee—a bold, cantankerous, Karachi-based Parsi columnist—had a different take on Yusuf’s decline. The serving governor of Sindh, Cowasjee wrote in his column in Dawn, had learnt that his name figured in a CPLC database because an FIR had been registered against him more than a decade ago. The governor summoned members of the organisation to inquire about possible financial irregularities. That same evening, a member named Zubair Habib was “ordered,” Cowasjee wrote, “to go to the CPLC offices, and without informing Yusuf, to lock and seal his room. An order of dismissal was to be sent to Jameel, at his home, later [in the] night.”

I MET YUSUF AFTER HE HAD RETURNED to being “just a Khoja businessman”, toward the tail end of an extended period of amity in the city from about 2000 to 2008. At the turn of the century, Karachi’s per capita homicide rate, on average, was not only lower than that of other megapolises in the developing world—Lagos, Rio, Bombay—but also lower than that of Boston, San Francisco and Seattle. Befuddled foreign correspondents were compelled to preface their dispatches with phrases such as “this once violent city”. The infrastructure of Karachi was transformed by an able, energetic mayor, Syed Mustafa Kamal of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), and his team. Cheap credit had also fuelled a consumer boom: the middle class suddenly had access to car leases and housing loans for the first time in their lives. There were music concerts attended by thousands, a thriving electronic media industry. There was traffic on the streets at midnight, at one, people sauntering on the beach at two. The past, it seemed, was squarely behind us. Yusuf, it seemed, had become an anachronism.

But by the time democracy returned in 2008 after a decade’s hiatus, the city had grown unsettled again. There was the dramatic terrorist attack on Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming convoy, in which 139 died and more than 400 were injured. Terrorism, once largely sequestered to the north in the aftermath of the theatrical American misadventure in Afghanistan, had arrived in the south with a bang. It did not help that the two ruling coalition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and MQM, were often in conflict. It did not help that the home minister of Sindh at the time issued a reported 100,000 arms licenses during his tenure. The per capita homicide rate began creeping up: from a low of about 100 homicides in 2000, the number spiked to about 800 in 2008 and over 2,500 in 2012. By any yardstick, it was a dismal body count. Where, I often wondered, was Jameel Yusuf?

I went to see him at his office for the second time in the autumn of 2013. He had recently been recalled from early retirement by the administration of the newly elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has introduced initiatives to rid Karachi of violence. Yusuf remembered me immediately and offered tea, but no biscuits. He looked the same—trim beard, spectacles, pant-shirt—and looked busy. After years of being in the wilderness, he was back in action, in an advisory capacity to the government. Because he is the way he is, he has gone about the job with characteristic determination. As the police led raids into “no-go areas” such as Manghopir, Sohrab Goth and Lyari, arresting thousands—the Express Tribune reported last month that ongoing operations had led to 9,944 arrests since 5 September—Yusuf prepared a white paper on how to strengthen the institutional framework that informs law enforcement. Some of his proposals, including the expansion of laws of detention, have already been implemented. Suspects can now be held for up to 90 days.

When I remarked that the law seems draconian, he begged, in a reasonable tenor, to differ. “In many instances,” he said, “police bungle cases as evidence is not gathered, so there’s high acquittal rate, over 90 percent. You need time to build a case: there’s a money trail—what amounts, how many times cash is withdrawn and deposited—tracing car plates, identity cards, recording [witness] statements, and so on. Without this, don’t do it.” There is no doubt that the success of the operation is contingent on convictions as much as arrests—Yusuf, incidentally, has also proposed that courts run two shifts a day—but without transparency and accountability, the process could prove to be disastrous.

Yusuf says that he is championing the setting up of a Public Safety Board. “If somebody feels that if this person has been picked up who is innocent, he needs some place to go to. Where should he go? So, yes, the PM wants that to be done. That’s still in the works. The purpose of this board … is to make sure whatever the rangers and police want, they are getting, that also … are they getting proper intelligence sharing? Are they getting their works done? And what are the time frames? Talking to the businessmen, making sure [extortion] has gone down or not. You need to have some evaluation as well. [It’s] very, very doable.”

Sitting before him in the same place I had sat almost five years earlier, I took some comfort in his words even if gang wars continue to dog Lyari, “target killers” have assassinated a number of Shias in recent years, and the offices of the Express Media Group have been attacked by the Taliban. Yusuf’s plans and proposals are tangible, even if some of the problems the city—the country—face are ontological. I would have liked to chat at length about such matters, but Yusuf doesn’t have time. The first time we met, I spent three days with him. This time around, I spend perhaps half an hour. Before I leave, however, I manage to ask him what he thought could be done about the scourge of terrorism.

“You want to bring them on the negotiating table?” he said. “Believe me, the only way you can bring them on the negotiating table is by starting hanging them. The pressure has to come from their own to come on the table. No other way. No other way.”

When I mentioned that the Left had been up in arms about rescinding the moratorium on hangings imposed by the previous government, while the Taliban had declared hanging convicted terrorists would be tantamount to an act of war, Yusuf snapped, “What is it now? An act of friendship, now? Okay, [they’ve] killed 60,000 people in five years because it’s an act of friendship?” That was an exaggerated figure. “Otherwise would have killed 600,000? Hell with it! It’s war. It is war. See the Jamaat-e-Islami statement.” Jamaat president Munawar Hassan had just said, controversially, that even dogs killed in drone strikes were martyrs. “They’re trying to say a dog is more pious than your [army], you know? I mean it’s madness. Imran Khan is talking out of his hat … ‘Cargo band kar dain ge … (Khan was talking of stopping NATO’s land supply routes into Afghanistan). “These are non-issues. Each one is trying to befriend the Taliban. Nobody is trying to befriend the citizens of this country. The problem is that—the sufferers of this country.”

There was not much more to say. I got up and thanked Yusuf for his time. He briskly shook my hand, and got back to work.

But by the time democracy returned in 2008 after a decade’s hiatus, the city had grown unsettled again. There was the dramatic terrorist attack on Benazir Bhutto’s homecoming convoy, in which 139 died and more than 400 were injured. Terrorism, once largely sequestered to the north in the aftermath of the theatrical American misadventure in Afghanistan, had arrived in the south with a bang. It did not help that the two ruling coalition parties, the Pakistan People’s Party and MQM, were often in conflict. It did not help that the home minister of Sindh at the time issued a reported 100,000 arms licenses during his tenure. The per capita homicide rate began creeping up: from a low of about 100 homicides in 2000, the number spiked to about 800 in 2008 and over 2,500 in 2012. By any yardstick, it was a dismal body count. Where, I often wondered, was Jameel Yusuf?

I went to see him at his office for the second time in the autumn of 2013. He had recently been recalled from early retirement by the administration of the newly elected prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, who has introduced initiatives to rid Karachi of violence. Yusuf remembered me immediately and offered tea, but no biscuits. He looked the same—trim beard, spectacles, pant-shirt—and looked busy. After years of being in the wilderness, he was back in action, in an advisory capacity to the government. Because he is the way he is, he has gone about the job with characteristic determination. As the police led raids into “no-go areas” such as Manghopir, Sohrab Goth and Lyari, arresting thousands—the Express Tribune reported last month that ongoing operations had led to 9,944 arrests since 5 September—Yusuf prepared a white paper on how to strengthen the institutional framework that informs law enforcement. Some of his proposals, including the expansion of laws of detention, have already been implemented. Suspects can now be held for up to 90 days.

When I remarked that the law seems draconian, he begged, in a reasonable tenor, to differ. “In many instances,” he said, “police bungle cases as evidence is not gathered, so there’s high acquittal rate, over 90 percent. You need time to build a case: there’s a money trail—what amounts, how many times cash is withdrawn and deposited—tracing car plates, identity cards, recording [witness] statements, and so on. Without this, don’t do it.” There is no doubt that the success of the operation is contingent on convictions as much as arrests—Yusuf, incidentally, has also proposed that courts run two shifts a day—but without transparency and accountability, the process could prove to be disastrous.

Yusuf says that he is championing the setting up of a Public Safety Board. “If somebody feels that if this person has been picked up who is innocent, he needs some place to go to. Where should he go? So, yes, the PM wants that to be done. That’s still in the works. The purpose of this board … is to make sure whatever the rangers and police want, they are getting, that also … are they getting proper intelligence sharing? Are they getting their works done? And what are the time frames? Talking to the businessmen, making sure [extortion] has gone down or not. You need to have some evaluation as well. [It’s] very, very doable.”

Sitting before him in the same place I had sat almost five years earlier, I took some comfort in his words even if gang wars continue to dog Lyari, “target killers” have assassinated a number of Shias in recent years, and the offices of the Express Media Group have been attacked by the Taliban. Yusuf’s plans and proposals are tangible, even if some of the problems the city—the country—face are ontological. I would have liked to chat at length about such matters, but Yusuf doesn’t have time. The first time we met, I spent three days with him. This time around, I spend perhaps half an hour. Before I leave, however, I manage to ask him what he thought could be done about the scourge of terrorism.

“You want to bring them on the negotiating table?” he said. “Believe me, the only way you can bring them on the negotiating table is by starting hanging them. The pressure has to come from their own to come on the table. No other way. No other way.”

When I mentioned that the Left had been up in arms about rescinding the moratorium on hangings imposed by the previous government, while the Taliban had declared hanging convicted terrorists would be tantamount to an act of war, Yusuf snapped, “What is it now? An act of friendship, now? Okay, [they’ve] killed 60,000 people in five years because it’s an act of friendship?” That was an exaggerated figure. “Otherwise would have killed 600,000? Hell with it! It’s war. It is war. See the Jamaat-e-Islami statement.” Jamaat president Munawar Hassan had just said, controversially, that even dogs killed in drone strikes were martyrs. “They’re trying to say a dog is more pious than your [army], you know? I mean it’s madness. Imran Khan is talking out of his hat … ‘Cargo band kar dain ge … (Khan was talking of stopping NATO’s land supply routes into Afghanistan). “These are non-issues. Each one is trying to befriend the Taliban. Nobody is trying to befriend the citizens of this country. The problem is that—the sufferers of this country.”

There was not much more to say. I got up and thanked Yusuf for his time. He briskly shook my hand, and got back to work.

Page 5 of 512345
View as  
Single Page
Multiple Page

HM Naqvi is the award-winning author of Home Boy. He is based in Karachi and is working on his second novel.

READER'S COMMENTS

10 thoughts on “Karachi Crusader”

I’ve had the privilege to work with Mr. Jameel Yusuf and he is a legend and a genius. He can spot ambiguities in reports and analysis without the requirement of computers. He is a visionary and has the capability to provide insight to anyone who interacts with him. Under his guidance, I learned the meaning for perfectionism. If there is anyone who can resolve the violence issues in Karachi, it would have to be him.

I’ve always heard of this man in good will and great respect from my dad. He was our dark knight when he got my uncle back from the kidnappers…this was around 13 -14 years ago.
A brilliant piece by HM Naqvi about this Superhero of Karachi!
Jamil Sahb, we salute you for your relentless services. Karachi needs you.
Our prayers are always with you. God bless you!

Hussain, thank you for the grat write up and Jameel my gratitude to you fro helping the people of my beloved city. hope to shake your hand some day. take care of yourself
Tariq Khan

its good to know that people like him work in shadows to make this city a better place every day..lets not give up hope that there are still people who care for us without expecting any thing in return, those righteous people are our hope in these terrible times..sir jamil i salute you for your work which you have done for us and i appreciate the writer for such a thought provoking article ’cause it has bought a sense of pride nd hope in me that still “superheroes” exist in our society..hidden, but contributing their share to help keep us safe.

I used to live in PECHS when Jamil Yusuf was in charge and I remember how crime had virtually ended and even the police was polite and helpful in that locality. He is a good honest man and we need more selfless people like him if crime is to be crushed. I wish Nawaz Sharif would put him in a position where he can really make a difference once more.

What a brilliant story!
The fact that Karachi is one of the biggest cities inhabited by so many souls makes it one of the biggest challenge to handle, and for a person like Jameel Yusuf to exist and struggle against the evil in it would sound fictional, but this article has quite brought the fiction to reality for the readers.
Marvelous, Naqvi sahab.

Thank you for forwarding me the link to this report previously unread. I share admiration with many, many others for the extraordinary courage and the exceptional insights with which Jameel Yusuf led CPLC and directly helped save priceless lives, restored hostages to their families, caught culprits and set a shining example of citizens’ activism in the public interest. I am proud to have known Jameel as a friend for decades. May he and his equally brave family enjoy good health and well-being, and inspire others, now ,and in the future.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *