Different people have different stories about the Afghan Basti that was bulldozed under the orders of the court. But bulldozed it was and the residents all went their own way
A slim grizzly Zaheerullah Khan, begged the officials of Capital Development Authority (CDA) to spare his home of eight years where they had come last week to bulldoze the ‘illegal’ slum.
But, like thousands of other residents in the I-11 sector of the capital, Khan, 65, was asked to prepare remove his stuff from the make-shift mud house. A father of six, he moved to this slum in 2007 in search of peace when Taliban took over a major part of his native Mohmand Agency in the tribal areas.
"For us, the CDA and the government have proved no less than Taliban," he tells TNS sitting on the rubble of his house.
The narrow streets of the neighbourhood, which used to be the favourite ‘playground’ for children, showcase a deserted look. Over a dozen little boys in dirty dresses are running around the broken walls of their houses while grown-ups are busy digging out their belongings from the rubble.
"They say that terrorists and criminal elements lived here. They kept destroying our houses for three days and not a single bullet was fired," says Zaheerullah Khan.
Over 60 young men belonging to the Basti have been arrested under terrorism charges for stoning the bulldozers that came to destroy their houses. "Majority of people living here works as labourers at the vegetable market. They cannot afford to rent a house. They have dispersed; many of them have gone back to their native districts. Do you think trying to save our houses is terrorism?" asks Saeed Khan, another resident who had been living here since 2006. "When it’s time for elections, the people of the locality that are labelled Afghans are treated as Pakistanis. But when they do not need us, they label us Afghans. I have voted in the last two elections."
It took the CDA and law enforcement agencies three days to bulldoze all structures in the Afghan Basti which was set up in early 1980s to accommodate Afghan refugees. Over the years, the basti became a favourite destination for internally displaced people of the country from different war zones.
Spread over 750 acres, it houses over 2000 "housing units." A majority of the families are from different parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and tribal areas with a good number of Afghan nationals and also some Punjabi families. In 2013, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) conducted a survey of the locality and estimated that around 864 families comprising 7,995 individuals were residing there. According to the survey, only 114 registered and 27 non-registered Afghan refugee families -- 1,022 individuals -- lived there, while the other 6,973 people were either internally displaced persons (IDPs) from the Federally Administrated Tribal Areas (FATA) or Pakhtun families from different parts of KP.
The CDA officials and experts say the Afghan Basti is a unique case. They say that unlike other katchi abadis which were established after occupying state land, this was situated on private land. Over 480 plots in the sector have already been auctioned and allotted. The allottees knocked the door of the court which directed the CDA to get its land vacated from ‘illegal’ occupants.
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There is the other side of the story too. Syed Sarfraz Shah, 48, bought a piece of land in the sector in 2003 after the city managers are said to have vacated it from illegal occupants. "I sold out all my inherited land back in my village and bought this plot," he says, adding that after the 2005 earthquake people from affected areas came here and occupied their land.
"I have been living in a rented house since then. We had requested the CDA several times to give us land somewhere else if they could not have it vacated from the illegal occupants," says Shah. According to him, over 400 people who are legal owners of this land have spent millions in litigation and finally the court ordered the CDA to enforce eviction.
"I know many people who were in their late 50s when these plots were allotted to them. They are now in their late 80s but unable to get the possession of their land," says Shah.
Rights activists and Awami Worker Party (AWP), a left wing political party, have been lobbying for the right of ownership of those who have been living in the locality since years. "The National Housing Policy 2001 forbids forced evictions and mandates permanent or temporary resettlement before any attempt to reclaim the land is made," says Ammar Rashid, a researcher and teacher at the Quaid-i-Azam University, who works with the All Pakistan Kachi Abadi Alliance and is also information secretary of AWP Islamabad chapter.
"The CDA has set up only one low-income housing society in the last 15 years," says Rashid, adding that the CDA is a non-democratic agency which is not answerable to any public forum. "This drive of eviction is connected with the National Action Plan and the upcoming local government election in Islamabad. The city managers know once there will be public representatives from these slums, it would become too tough for them to occupy this land for themselves."
Veteran rights activist and Secretary General Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, I.A. Rehman condemns the government action of forceful eviction of people from the Afghan Basti. "They should not have been evicted in the first place. The government needs to rehabilitate these people with respect. The cases of terrorism registered against the innocent people protesting against occupation of their houses should be withdrawn," he says.
He adds, "The CDA has always taken a lenient stance when it comes to compliance of rules for powerful people but does not hesitate using force against poor".
The authority has failed to implement another court order about farm houses in the city and later its own decision to stop commercial usage of residential properties in the most expensive sectors of the city. On May 29, 2015 the CDA officials informed the members of National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat that there were 105 illegal housing societies in the city. Maroof Afzal, the CDA Chairman, informed the committee that under the law no development work can be launched in the capital without the approval of the civic agency. "The housing societies have to submit their layout plans but they did not," he is reported to have told them.
CDA spokesperson Ramzan Sajjid says that the Authority cannot afford to set a precedent that anyone can occupy private land and demand repatriation. "We had given ample time to the residents of slum but at the end of the day they had to vacate it," he says.
According to him, if they do not go for operation against such katchi abadis, "the media taunts us as a toothless body but if we go for it they say that we are anti-poor. Many people living here have their houses in other parts of the city as well. They are businessmen. We have even vacated a house from an MBBS doctor."