THIS IS NOT A GANG: Proxy Classes and Political Subjection in Lyari Restricted; Files Only

Suhail, Adeem (Spring 2019)

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21st century Karachi, Pakistan. In the course of a decade the peaceful, working-class township of Lyari transforms into an urban warzone ruled by armed gangs. Once a repository for the city’s cosmopolitan culture and history, gang violence in Lyari, at its height, is claimed to have resulted in more casualties than the Taliban insurgency. However, based on ethnographic research in Lyari, this dissertation demonstrates that the gangs of Lyari conserved social order rather than disrupt it. The gangs were crucial doorways of access to basic civic amenities in Lyari. I argue that the gangs stabilized and legitimized state rule in their unacknowledged yet extensive function as resource brokers for Lyari’s residents, as much as in their wildly infamous violent practices.  

The role of non-state violence in stabilizing social order remains subject to debate in anthropology. Scholars have highlighted how violent non-state operators challenge but also legitimize repressive state orders. Humanistic anthropology, conversely, chronicles the travails of lives exposed to precarity by the actions of these ‘violent operators. While state repression has been widely studied; the problem of suturing the objective and subjective dimensions of non-state violence into a coherent model persists. By attending to the violent and the redistributive practices of the gangs in Lyari, my work sutures state and non-state practices into a processual model for state-formation.

In the process of state-formation, I argue, the gang acts as a proxy class. Proxy classes extend state order in spaces where the groups that claim to be the state face popular challenge. In these contexts, proxy classes work on either side of the law, to legitimize and stabilize the dominant order. Lyari, has historically challenged the legitimacy of non-democratic Pakistani state formations. The gang was an instrument by which state institutions could implement their projects of rule in Lyari. In time, also emerge as a force of order by eradicating the gangs in the name of the restoration of law and order.

This study has larger implications for state theory, urbanology and the anthropology of violence. Firstly, it shows how the locus of political subjection lies outside the institutional matrix of the state, unfolding as a process that envelops proxy classes into itself. Secondly, it repositions the category of the gang as an emergent social form that conserves order. Finally, it sutures the objective and productive dimensions of violence to its subjective and destructive dimensions. 

Table of Contents



Preface: The edge of things. 1

The Argument: gang as proxy class. 15

The Context: situating Lyari in space and time. 19

The framework. 24

Apparatus. 24

Proxy Class. 30

Interventions: State, Urbanity, Violence. 37

State Theory. 37

Urbanity. 39

Anthropology of Violence. 46

Outline of chapters. 49

Sources. 51

ONE: Karachi Lyari Duality. 54

Brief Overview. 57

The Precolonial Period. 60

The Colonial Era. 67

The Long Partition. 78

Into the Nation-State Sequence: Praetorians, Parliamentarians, People. 81

Prelude to the Present. 97

TWO: The Name of the Gang is Order. 99

The Peculiar Practices of Gangs in Lyari. 102

The Long Shadow of the Gang From Chicago. 111

Beyond the Chicago Model. 115

A World of Gangs. 119

Finding The Name of the Gang in Lyari. 129

The Name of the Gang is Proxy Class. 133

Naming as a Statist Act. 140

THREE: Political Brokers and Proxy Classes. 145

From Brokers to Proxy Classes. 156

The Broker in Anthropology. 159

Power Brokers of Contemporary Lyari. 172

Baloch Unity: Wily Mr. Brohi. 173

Baloch Awakening: The Humble Lala. 177

Imagined States, Invented Societies. 181

The State Imaginary. 183

The Invented Society. 188

FOUR: Proxy Classes and Projects of Rule. 197

Crisis Apres Gang. 198

The undertaking of a Project. 202

The Facility. 204

The Testimony of Latif Baloch. 207

A Cast of Actors. 211

Bubbly. 213

Habib Jan. 216

Parvez and Umar. 222

Jamshed. 226

Rehabilitating the Facility. 229

The Camp. 231

The Conclusion. 238

FIVE: The Dreams of Death-dealers and Life-Givers. 240

Aslam Hero, Gangster, Vaccinator. 240

Before. 240

After. 242

Objectives. 244

The Protest. 246

Polio Workers in Pakistan. 251

Two Classes. 258

Labor and Proxy. 268

The Flag. 274

Sly Capture of Labor. 279

The End of the Tryst. 282


NOTES. 289


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