KARACHI - Paramilitary Rangers, who are leading a cleanup operation in crime-ridden commercial capital of the country, announced apprehending one of Pakistan’s most notorious gangsters.

“Lyari gang war leader Uzair Baloch has been arrested at outskirts of Karachi while entering the city,” Rangers said in a statement, with a photo showing him sitting handcuffed in a vehicle.

Baloch’s criminal network controls much of Karachi’s teeming Lyari slum and he allegedly masterminded a string of murders of local politicians and policemen in the port city.

Local media have linked him to more than 20 cases of murder, extortion and terrorism and members of his gang have reportedly played football with the severed heads of his rivals.

The early morning arrest of Baloch, believed to be about 40 years old, surprised many who had thought he was already in custody after Interpol detained him in Dubai in 2014.

Uzair had managed to escape to the Middle East after Karachi operation began, particularly when the law enforcement agencies geared up against the Lyari gangsters.

The gangster remained in media from abroad for some time but then suddenly vanished from the scene. Some sources privy to the matter revealed that Pakistan security agencies had brought him to country a couple of months ago but his arrest was not disclosed.

It is believed that the disclosure of his arrest is part of the move to bring pressure on Sindh government and senior leaders of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) who allegedly patronised Uzair’s gang in Lyari for political and personal objectives.

Uzair Baloch was head of the now defunct Peoples Amman Committee, which for quite some time enjoyed blessings of PPP leaders who used it as a bulwark against MQM’s alleged militant gangs in Lyari. He was declared one of the most-wanted criminals by the Sindh government only after he had killed large number of people.

Sources privy to the matter revealed that security agencies have recorded a video statement of the notorious gangster during his unannounced detention in which Baloch confessed to having close relations with senior PPP leaders in the past and his involvement in various criminal activities on their directions.

Uzair Baloch reportedly also confessed to killing scores of MQM workers, supporters and people belonging to the Urdu speaking community to create chaos in a city on the directives of the PPP leaders. The gang war leader further stated that several police officers also took orders from him primarily because of PPP support to him.

Apart from this, Baloch is said to have also admitted his involvement in money-laundering, land grabbing, racketeering and other crimes. He also revealed that he had been having good connections with the banned terror outfits - including Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, Taliban and Balochistan Liberation Army – which helped his gang in getting shelter, funds and weapons.

Karachi is Pakistan’s largest and richest city, home to the central bank and stock exchange, a major port and some of the most violent areas of the country. Many of its sprawling slums are split along ethnic lines, and political parties have been accused of backing armed groups that have carved the city into spheres of influence, a charge they deny.

A major military operation, launched in 2013, is credited with slashing Karachi’s murder and kidnapping rates. But the clampdown has drawn protests from opposition politicians who say their party members have been targeted, and activists who accuse security forces of widespread human rights abuses.

The rise and fall of Uzair: Uzair Baloch appeared as a PPP leader first time when he contested an election for the Town Nazim in 2001 from Lyari but he failed to secure the seat while Habib Jan Baloch won the elections.

He kept a low profile and a relatively clean record till his father - Faiz Muhammad alias Mama Faizu - was killed in 2003 by Arshad Pappu, a son of a gang leader Haji Lalu who controlled the drug operations in Lyari since the 1990s.

It is said that Pappu, who was young and just started working in his father’s gang, had kidnapped Mama Faizu for getting ransom and he had no intention to kill him. But police raided the hideout where Mama was detained and during exchange of fire Mama sustained bullet wounds and died on the spot.

Rehman Dakait, who was killed in a police encounter in October 2006, used to work as right hand man of Haji Lalu. But he disassociated himself from Lalu when Papu killed Mama because Rehman was a close friend as well as cousin of Uzair.

Rehman established his own gang and managed to send Haji Lalu to jail with the help of a police official, who too was latter killed, a couple of years ago. As Rehman managed to control Lyari, Papu had to leave the city. But latter he reformed his gang and returned to Karachi, igniting a furious and unrelenting gang war between the two groups.

In October 2006, Pappu was arrested by the police and remained imprisoned for years. His arrest could not halt the gang war as Papu’s front man Ghaffar Zikri replaced him as gang leader. The fights continued till PPP came into power in 2008. Senior PPP leaders managed to sort out the issues between the gangs and took all gangsters under the umbrella of Peoples Amman Committee. It was then that Uzair came to the surface as a white collar leader of the gangsters with their consensus.

But Rehman Dakait’s killing in August 2009 by the slain police officer SP Chaudhry Muhammad Aslam Khan again broke up the alliance of gangsters, restarting the gang war. Uzair became a successor of Rehman and as chief of the Peoples Amman Committee, managed to wipe out rival gangs from Lyari.

Uzair become a ‘symbol of terror’ not only in Lyari but in entire Karachi as besides the gang war with the rival Arshad Pappu group, which was being operated by the Ghaffar Zikri, the Uzair group has also been involved in ethnic violence with the Urdu speaking community, specifically the Muttahida Qaumi Movement.

In its previous tenure, PPP’s then home minister Zulfiqar Mirza openly supported Uzair Baloch, providing his supporters thousands of arm licences and promoting ethnic warfare.

Following the arrest of Uzair, panic and fear gripped the political figures and police and government officials who had been in touch with Uzair Baloch.

Interestingly, operational commander of Uzair gang who later parted ways and established his own gang, Noor Muhammad aka Baba Ladla is still at large. Uzair and Ladla divided after the general election of 2013, during a fight with the Kutchi community in Lyari. It is said that Ladla did not want to fight with the Kutchi community but Uzair insisted at it.

Over time Uzair Baloch had piled up a huge burden of heinous crimes, so much so that PPP government was forced to move against him. Several case against him were registered and he was declared a fugitive with a huge bounty on his head.

Feeling heat, he reportedly fled to UAE where he was latter detained by Abu Dhabi Police which kept him detained for nearly three months. He was then rearrested in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) on Interpol’s red-warrant on December 29 at the Dubai-Oman border while he was crossing over from Oman.

A joint team of the police and Rangers also visited UAE to bring him back to country but it had to return empty handed. As Pakistan had no repatriation agreement with the UAE, Uzair was set free and he went missing in April last year.

It remains unclear how and when he came back to Pakistan but some reports suggest that Uzair had been handed over to the Pakistani security agencies on April 2015 after the federal government again approached the UAE authorities and since then he has remained in custody.

The gang-war leader is wanted for involvement in over 50 cases of crime including murders, attempted murders, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, drug dealing, gambling, killings of the law enforcers and multiple other heinous crimes. Sindh government has kept and withdraw head money on him multiple times, and currently he has a head money of Rs2 million.