Bulldozing the poor of Islamabad to make room for the rich?

Published: April 19, 2014

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither were these colossal, labyrinthine slums. Some of them have been here since the 1980s, thriving under the CDA’s silent consent. PHOTO: EXPRESS/QAZI USMAN

I offer my deepest sympathies to the elite and upper-middle class families of Islamabad who may be experiencing frustrating irregularities in the activities of their servants.

It’s quite possible that the inconvenience is being caused by their maasi (domestic maid) Zareena’s sudden homelessness in the aftermath of the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) war on slums.

I’ll try not to undermine the importance of preventing illegal occupation of public land but this prevention shouldn’t be reserved for just one segment of society. It’s expected for these settlements to be raked away especially, if the occupiers are haplessly poor and have no teeth to bite back. But what about the wealthy ‘land-developers’ in this country for whom, collectively 1,200 kanals of land is the equivalent of the segment of your property occupied by your motorcycle?

Try approaching their gates with bulldozers and see what happens.

Everyone knows that the lightweight slumdogs can be tossed around with far greater ease.

Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while addressing a news conference on the horrific bomb blast at Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market) in Islamabad, was able to quickly identify one of the leading causes of the disaster to be the presence of too many poor people in the area.

Who gave them permission to park themselves there? It is inconceivable why the outcasts of the system don’t play by the system’s rules.

It is customary for demolishers to allot alternate plots to the uprooted families in order to rebuild their hovels. However, there are complaints that these arrangements were not made and during the hustle in which some 2,000 illegal constructions were razed, the belongings of many of the dwellers were also damaged. A school providing free education to the slum children was partially destroyed in the process, despite the fact that the structure was designed to be disassembled and relocated elsewhere.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were these colossal, labyrinthine slums. Some of them have been here since the 1980s, thriving under the CDA’s silent consent until they decided to end the silence one afternoon with an out-of-the-blue scream.

It’s like when you sail through the Islamabad Expressway 29 days a month casually exceeding the speed limit, not wearing a seat belt, with the license plate on your car not strictly matching the legal requirement and nobody stops you. And then on day 30, there’s a cop signalling you to pull over next to a dozen cars all fined at the same time; he’s seemingly on a rampage to fill some sort of a quota for monthly traffic fines.

It’s like that with the CDA and the slums too – they lull many generations of dwellers into believing their occupation is kosher or at least, not a deal big enough to fuss over. And when they find comfort in their squalor and expand to the size of a new metropolis, they spring the trap and bring in the bulldozers.

The rapid growth of slums is not a disease but a symptom of the government’s incompetence coupled with the public’s apathy. The poor don’t build their lakes of tin roofs and mud chambers to ruin the otherwise pristine view of the city from your terrace. They don’t do it to pollute your waterways or hinder civic development projects.

They do it because they too, allegedly, need an affordable roof over their heads, preferably one close to where they work so that their employers don’t shout at them when they’re late. And most of these dwellers are willing to relocate if allowed alternate plots to set up homes.

Perhaps, they should line their huts along the Constitution Avenue or in the well-trimmed lawn of the Parliament building. Lest, those responsible for their welfare forget how the other half of the nation lives.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat

A medical doctor and bubble-wrap enthusiast from Rawalpindi, who writes mostly about science and social politics (and bubble-wrap). He tweets @FarazTalat (twitter.com/FarazTalat)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Sami

    Bhai i will suggest to visit these slums someday. Most of these are occupied by Afghans not by Pakistanis. All of these have made National ID Card in the last tenure of PPP with the help of ANP. Do you know that slogans of “Pakistan Murdabad” are common in these slums.
    Also you belong from Pindi and just ask any dweller of this slum that what do you think about people of Punjab and the next thing they will say “Daal Khor” ( A discriminatory term for Punjabis by Pukhtoons ) and also they call Punjabi women as Chindakh ( A common term for Punjabi and Urdu speaker women among Pushtoons. It means Female Frog in Pushto ).

    So i dont want to see these slums. Only those people who are Potoharis and living in Slums must be given rights. Those who abuse Pakistanis and abuse certain Ethnicities have no right to live here. They should go back to their ancestral land or up North if they hate us so much.
    Also if you think i am stating in a wrong manner then kindly someday visit how slums were converted into Ghettos and no go regions within a decade in Karachi. This practice will be repeated here as well and we should be wary of this.Recommend

  • EqualJustice

    Government should do this at earliest. Unlawful occupation should not be accepted and Pakistan government is not responsible for afghan IDPS. This is the base-camp of capital crime like kidnapping ransom and robberies. And society should promote earners not snatchers..Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Unless these slums are occupied by non-humans, your argument is invalid.

    We cannot fault human beings for needing a roof over their heads. If these slums are a health, security or enviornmental hazard, it is human decency that expects you to properly relocate them.

    All they’re asking for, is a piece of land to park themselves when they’re not cleaning YOUR toilets and washing YOUR cars. That’s not a lot to demand.Recommend

  • THS

    i second thatRecommend

  • sparrow

    Spot on! reply to author. Couldn’t say more on this.Recommend

  • Ammar

    we are not against those people. ..but the problem is their identity. ..almost all the crimes have their roots in Katchi Abadees (slums) …

    first of all , All Afhgans must be sent home ASAP…Secondly our poor brothers should be taken in care by the govt like given land rights or low cost housing…third most important thing is education. ..Recommend

  • Hassan Ali

    Some people see slums as hubs of sub-human existence and humiliation. But it is necessary to see beyond the surface filth. I believe Don’t Bulldoze, Build Slums to Reduce Poverty.Recommend

  • Ammar

    v well written. ..its v easy to express the concerns about the country from a distance…like abroad or even living in posh area of a megacity…Recommend

  • fze

    Do you realize what kind of activities take place in such areas? They are the ideal hideouts for criminals even for our beloved friends from TTP. Whatever dwelling should be there , it should be a legal one.Recommend

  • Mehreen

    Such an important point , well raised and well explained .Recommend

  • M Ali

    A Karachiite here. As blatantly racist as Sami’s comment was, I sadly have to agree with him. We Karachiites are paying the price for our tolerance of such ‘poor people’ – a lot of these slums are criminal hotbeds where all sorts of militants blend in with impunity. They’re not populated by locals, they’re full of illegal immigrants and Afghan refugees, many of whom are involved in the drug trade, kidnappings-for-ransom and extortion from local businesses – that’s what they do for ‘work’. And all this happened in less than two decades. I doubt the same will be allowed to happen in Islamabad of all places, but often in such cases, your kindness will be punished – so be careful what you wish for.Recommend

  • Sami

    Dear Faraz i understand your argument but it is a multi dimensional and Complex problem.Human Decency must be accompanied with understanding for the future outlook as well.I am up for Humanity and infact i work for Edhi and Other orgs in my free time. But it is not as simple as that.

    For example i am sure if i will ask you to give your half house for the cause of Humanity then you will be saying No even tough you want to discuss about it.?!

    The suburban regions of Pakistan have huge tracts of Land but you wonder why they make colonies only near the Most expensive lands. Government can give them lands elsewhere but they will never go.

    All i am saying that when you will appreciate the people to occupy your land who dont even like your country and abase you for no reason then this practice will only increase and just like Karachi you will be the one who will be marginalized in the end.

    Also Integration failure is going on in Karachi and it will happen here. Do you know why All Political parties ( ANP, PPP, MQM ) now fight for Demarcation before Elections in Karachi?. The reason is that these communities rather than Integrating only vote the kind of their own and that actually polarize the whole segment of the society.

    My Idea is that Government must make a Holistic Policy where all Factors must be kept in mind. Also Integration and Assimilation must be discussed as well.Recommend

  • Adpran

    But these lands are not theirs, and Islamabad govt must have had plan to use these land. Relocate them is good idea although in relocation govt have to build houses or apartment too, cannot just give a land. But the question is, are they willing to move to the relocation area where usually outside the city?. If they chose to live in these slums, it’s because they can live near rich people who need their services to wash cars or clean toilets.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    I totally agree with this, the anti-Pakistani refugees that plan on creating a ‘Loy Afghanistan’ should be deported.

    I hope ET posts my comment even if it isn’t PC.Recommend

  • TheAverageMoe

    Naaaaaaah this slum could potentially become the next kathi pahari,sohrab goth or baldia town, just look at Karachi, more than 30% of the city is now under Taliban occupation and the military and police can’t do anything against them because certain ethno-nationalist parties play the ‘ethnic card’ to guilt trip law enforcement agencies, meanwhile they keep consolidating; this is similar to the La Raza.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Do you realize people live in these areas?

    And they don’t magically disappear when you destroy their homes; they relocate to another public land, unless you’re letting them crash on your couch.

    They don’t build slums because they think living in squalor is a great idea. They do it because they cannot afford the “legal” way.

    Perhaps if the CDA took heed of its own policy, and allotted them another piece of land to pitch their tents on, it wouldn’t have to carry out the slum-extermination process over and over and over again; making people homeless at the taxpayer’s expense!Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    How do you know they’re not ‘earning’ and simply ‘snatching’? It’s quite likely that the servant who mopped your kitchen floor this morning, is sleeping in a kachi abadi.

    Besides, human rights aren’t conditional upon whether the humans in question are ‘earners’ or ‘Afghan’.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Something wrong with your contention………..You bring a baby panther to live in your garden and once it grows up and starts harming your garden…….you complain and say it has to be sent back……where ? The logic is faulty.Recommend

  • Parvez

    Do bachay hee ache……….solution to many of our problems.Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    That’s not a lot to demand.

    1. If the land doesn’t belong to them *legally* then they have no right to be there in the first place. The idea that since someone washed your or my car, they’re above the law is wrong. Follow the rule of law, rich or poor.

    2. As for your example of not wearing seat belt, it doesn’t matter whether you get ticketed on day 30 or 60, you shouldn’t even be driving without seat belt. That’s the law. What part of it don’t you understand? The officer is merely following the law, quota or no quota. Meanwhile, you’re demanding privilege.

    I can get behind the idea that government should *legally* arrange for a piece of land with sustainable housing and infrastructure to support their community but that isn’t what you’re asking, Faraz.Recommend

  • Humza

    I think the government has every right to be tougher on people who are in the country illegally than their own citizens. Yes wrong is wrong but do you think the US is equally lenient with illegal Mexicans as they are with the acts of legal American citizens? Of course not. If the Katchi Abadis are full of illegal Afghanis and foreigners who are disproportionately involved in crime, it is mandatory to clear them off government land. The fact that illegal refugees would come to Pakistan and curse the natives is simply outrageous. Those people should be deported to where they belong as soon as possible. I have seen that even in Canada and the West that some of the Afghani refugees will take social assistance from the state but yet still curse the state that is feeding them. No nation should tolerate such behaviour.Recommend

  • Ali Khan

    Sir, do please read on the relocation projects that have been undertaken by the CDA in order to compensate the people living in said Katchi Abadis. I, myself, had been a part of initiatives for these slum areas for the last 3 years. I respect your point about every person deserving a roof over their heads. However, there has been blatant misuse of the relocation areas provided, by the people of the slum areas who were allotted these alternate land properties.
    For further insight, I would recommend you to take some time out and visit the CDA offices, Iqbal Hall, Sector G-7. I’m sure that your bias against the government authorities and the elite classes would be reduced to some extent. : )Recommend

  • Gilgit wala

    The Afghans are not suppose to migrate out of refugee camps.
    They are suppose to be living in Refugee Camps. Run by, or paid
    for, by the United Nations. Perhaps the Afghan Govt. should chip
    in and pay for the relocation ? What do you say? They may be
    cleaning your toilets during the day but at night they are involved
    in different endeavors. Illegal. They go fight in Afghanistan, at whatever rate. Make their money. Come back for rest and recreation. Then go back. While you, with your tear, soaked eyes, see only one picture.
    There are too many stories and scenarios with all this. And cannot be painted with one general brush. All of them dire.
    Here is a picture for you : Pathans, Punjabis, Sindhis, Baluchs, Muhajirs
    and Afghans. A new entity, only a few decades old.Recommend

  • Swat wala

    Once you get done wiping your eyes, all choked up,
    you should open a little clinic there. Free medical services,
    or pay what you can. You can be the new Mother Theresa.
    Walk the talk.Recommend

  • Maria

    After reading your comment, I can’t help but feel disgust that Pakistan has let such ungrateful people live in the country for so long. If they hate Pakistanis, they should be removed from the country and I support the clearing of these slums fully. Personally I feel that Pakistanis should not hire foreign people from these slum areas to work but rather give the jobs to their own people. Thankless foreigners need to be deported at once.Recommend

  • Citizen

    a long awaited move by CDA . i fully support this demolition . Afghan IDPS should be sent home ASAP . Theses slums are hideouts of criminals. They better be gone before more damage is done . Kuddos to Federal govt who took this move .Recommend

  • Prof

    “It’s like when you sail through the Islamabad Expressway 29
    days a month casually exceeding the speed limit, not wearing a seat
    belt, with the license plate on your car not strictly matching the legal
    requirement and nobody stops you. And then on day 30, there’s a cop
    signalling you to pull over next to a dozen cars all fined at the same
    time; he’s seemingly on a rampage to fill some sort of a quota for
    monthly traffic fines.”

    While you are comparing apples and oranges (the driver has the option to drive as per the rules while most slum residents dont have the option of taking up legal residence).. this does give an insight of your disregard for legal procedure.

    Illegal residents are illegal residents, how many more crimes…. purse/wallet snatchers, car theft, armed burglary and TERRORISM have to be traced back to slums before you accept that we just cant afford to tolerate slums any more. And to remove slums a rapid action is the best option.

    While Islooites must accept that if they cant provide housing to their servants, they have to learn to wash their toilets themselves. We too have been looking for a decent house with servant quarters… and in the meantime we do out own dirty work.Recommend

  • Citizen

    why CDA should allocate them another piece of land to pitch their tents ? Most of them are afghanis and they should be deported . As far as rest are concerned , they can head back to native villages and some can get accommodation at servant quarters . We islooites need to learn to do household chores ourselves until this problem is solved . state can chalk out plan to provide them low cost accommodation to these people but that seems kind of far from reality .Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Absoluely, but..

    Now that they’re already born, would you like to ‘un-birth’ them? Should we tell them to go jump off a cliff like lemmings, for the virtue of population control?

    They have a responsibility to put roofs over their more-than-two children’s heads; and we, as humans, have a responsibility to help them!Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I cannot write a piece critical of CDA unless I open up a clinic for slum-dwellers?

    Okay. From here on, you’re not allowed to comment on victims of drone strikes or terrorism until you open up a rehab facility for the affectees in Waziristan. All your opinions otherwise will be marked as hollow.

    I’m a writer. My vocation is raising awareness through writing. Not that I’m comparing myself to someone as skilled as Iqbal, but you probably never read his work and said, “What’s up with this choked-up, whiny poetry! You wanna help the Muslims of subcontinent, go open up a free clinic or something!”Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    It is not “illegal” to be too poor to afford a piece of land to pitch a tent on.

    Unless you’re allowing them to live in your guest room, or asking them to euthanize themselves, the only other option is that they build their meager shanties on unused public ground.

    Please note that it is CDA’s own policy to properly relocate the displaced slum-dwellers if their homes are destroyed. The organization may be in violation of its own rules.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    I’m not sure where that number comes from, but 30% of Karachi is occupied by Taliban because of poor people?

    I suppose 30% of Mumbai is also under Talibani occupation because of the oceans of slums that surround it?

    I’m not arguing that slums aren’t a problem. If you destroy a slum, the inhabitants will simply rebuild in a new location and form a new slum-city in less than a year. This matter needs to be dealt with with a little more finesse than just smashing things.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Many of them, if not all, are willing to move if you offer them the incentive of not waking up everyday wondering if a CDA bulldozer is rolling towards their home.

    And I’m sure CDA can allot them alternate plots. It’s not like they’re not using every inch of the land entrusted to them, all at once.Recommend

  • Faraz Talat

    Asking a private citizen to give up half a house is not an accurate analogy, because the matter here pertains to occupation of public land.

    Many dwellers are willing to go. CDA, or you, mustn’t assume that “they will never go” until alternate plots have officially been allotted (which are reasonably close to the city and not, say, at the bottom of the Arabian sea).

    And as i said someplace else too, human rights are not conditional on how polite those humans are, or how highly they think of your country. Besides, you cannot make blanket statements about what all of them believe or don’t believe.Recommend

  • Grace

    Name calling is not a reason to bulldoze slums – In the US, some Americans call Afghan refugees “Assghanis” or that country “Assghanistan” and I have heard Pakistanis there call Afghans “Welfare Khor” since a lot of them live on state khayrat but you don’t see Americans kick out Afghan refugees living in their midst. It’s not just Afghans calling others names. So why so much attention only to Afghans living in slums in Islamabad? To be fair, Pakistan has illegal people from many countries like Bangladesh, India, Central Asia and not just Afghanistan. Fix the problem of housing and poverty – not bulldoze slums.Recommend

  • Samir tariq

    Always a pleasure to read your articles…and this one too raises so many questions…not just about system and its inability to provide for the poor or needy alone, but also about our perception (or lack of it ) to raise our eyes from our brand new smartphone screens and ipads, to really look around and realize how we are very much part of this social injustice…Recommend

  • Habiba Younis

    ok, these slums were right on the side my university campus where I’m about to complete four years. The day they were bulldozed I was standing right there and my heart went out. Even now the thought of all those people with no roof over their heads is heartrending. But on practical grounds the problem is not as simple as it may appear, and what CDA did had to be done sooner or later (I know you feel very tempted to judge me as insensitive). the problem isn’t about ‘elites’ not finding slums aesthetically appealing but the shadowing activities that were taking ground there in the last couple of years. Just the past month, three dead bodies were found in the slum locality adjacent to our campus. The slums were increasingly used as criminal hideouts-fact. They were becoming rather already were smuggling ports, yes. The people in these slums were Afghan refugees, and if its the question of relocating them then its Afg govts responsibility to take charge here and provide incentive for these people to return back.Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    I’m not the one you need to convince, Faraz. I’ve already stated that these people should be compensated with homes and a proper community.

    My issues was your reasoning for not wearing a seat belt, or not paying a fine for one, which implies privilege for a situation that demands compassion.Recommend

  • WookieBrown

    but you wonder why they make colonies only near the Most expensive lands.

    You’re implying that people living in these dwellings are thieves or robbers when their reasoning is a lot more innocent i.e. rich homes or ‘expensive lands’ is where they work. Its reasonable, for poor, to spend as little time and money traveling. There is no need to demonize someone merely because they’re poor.Recommend

  • Swat wala

    Here is a quote from Shakespeare ” A fool thinks himself
    to be wise. But a wise man knows himself to be a fool.”Recommend

  • Motiwala

    Nope, the baby panther was not brought in. Or invited.
    It was pushed in by it’s siblings. Now, it does not want to go
    back to the jungle. It is used to getting free food, free shelter
    free everything. While it goes about destroying and hurting the
    owners of the garden. The very hand that feeds it.Recommend

  • gp65

    Hmmm, @AverageMoe refers to what he has observed in Karachi where he presumably lives and gives names of specific localities which have become No GO zones due to supposedly illegal Afghans living there. You could have challenged his facts and figures but instead you decided it would be cool to drag Mumbai into the discussion. Presumably everyone can get behind dumping on India and you do not need to rebut someone with fact and logic.Recommend