The end of Afghan Basti: It was all they had

Published: August 2, 2015
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Residents watch as officials use a bulldozer to demolish illegal houses at a slum on the outskirts of Islamabad. PHOTO: REUTERS

Last week, Islamabad High Court judge, Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui ordered the removal of illegal settlements in I-11 area of Islamabad. The judgment summarised that the Capital Development Authority (CDA) had allotted plots in the I-11 Sector, and therefore the settlements established there were violating the rights of the land owners and resultantly had to be removed.

Strangely enough, however, the voters list of 1985 had the names of the inhabitants of the Afghan Basti (settlement) as eligible voters while the plots were allotted a year later in 1986. How could Afghans be registered voters?

Well, it seems that the name is a misnomer because the population in the basti is mainly Pakhtun which had settled there from parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkwa (K-P), FATA and FANA. The people in the basti have valid Nadra issued Computerised National Identity Cards (CNICs), many have spent their entire lives in the basti, working as labourers in the nearby Sabzi Mandi (fruit and vegetable wholesale market).

Children from the I-11 Katchi Abadi sitting on top of their roofs prior to the operation. Photo: Muhammad Nawfal Saleemi

The CDA started to mobilise and coordinate with other departments including the police, Rangers and the fire department so that a successful operation could be launched and the area be cleared. The usual rhetoric was used to justify the operation by claiming that the basti was the hub of illegal activities such as drug trafficking and smuggling, as well as being a hideout for criminals and terrorists. However, no evidence was presented to prove any of this, but then again, who needs proof when fear mongering will do the trick to sway the public opinion.

A large contingent of the police force in riot gear along with CDA staff shadowed by excavators and bulldozers gathered opposite the basti in the driving ground next to Metro Super Market on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. The locals, along with workers of the Awami Workers Party (AWP) had a standoff with the administration on all of these three days.

Finally, on late Wednesday, the media started to report that a major operation would be launched on Thursday and the administration started to close the roads leading to the settlement. The CDA staff, numbering in hundreds, was backed by a heavy contingent of Islamabad Police, Anti-Riot Units as well as Rangers.

A couple of influential locals, Sartor Khan and Mufti Abdullah, after apparent negotiations with the CDA decided to voluntarily take down their own houses after which the CDA would leave the area. After the negotiations, Khan left the scene. Interestingly enough, no representative from the AWP was invited to these negotiations, even though the party has a significant support base in the basti. The demand of the locals was simply alternative housing and resettlement, yet the CDA did not entertain nor offer any such settlement.

As the operation began, two houses were demolished; the police started to order the people who had gathered there to disperse simultaneously issuing warnings of arrest. The giant bulldozers started to move forward and several more houses were demolished, while the locals helplessly witnessed the devastation of their shelters right in front of their eyes.

However, a few resisted with the only thing they had, rubble and stones. Soon, clashes erupted and the police responded with sheer brute force. It was a barbaric sight: Women and children were dragged out on to the street, while their homes were being demolished, tear gas was being excessively used, and homes were directly shelled. The cries of hapless women and children choking from the tear gas echoed through the entire basti.

A view of the I-11 Katchi Abadi during the Police Shelling. Wooden fruit crates were set on fire by the locals to counter the effects of the excessive tear gas shelling. Photo: Muhammad Nawfal Saleemi

After a few hours of clashes, the locals all but retreated, and by sunset, the CDA had demolished more than a hundred homes, leaving people scrambling for their belongings amidst the rubble. Many could no longer locate where their homes once stood. The tears and the sheer hopelessness on their faces was a reflection of the state’s failures to care for its people and the collective disregard for humanity that plagues this country.

A man searches for his belongings amidst the rubble following CDA’s operation in I-11 Katchi Abadi. Photo: Muhammad Nawfal Saleemi

The basti was a shelter of the most basic kind; the houses were made of mud, straw, wood and left-over materials that the locals had been able to procure. The homes were constructed by the residents themselves. There was no running water, natural gas, hardly any electricity, no health care facility and a sheer absence of any real education infrastructure. Open sewers and open defecation along with unclean water meant that it was a hotbed of disease and illness.

It could hardly be deemed liveable but it was all that they had – it was their shelter. It was the only protection the impoverished had, the protection they had built with their bare hands, when the state had abandoned them.

Will the administrators and the elites think about these homeless souls when they are comfortable and secure with their own children in luxury gated communities?

I think not.

Why should they since we can simply categorise them as illegal occupants, land mafia and terrorists and this does justify the rulers sleeping comfortably with the air conditioners at 16 degrees.

Muhammad Nawfal Saleemi

Muhammad Nawfal Saleemi

The author is a student of BSc hons (Accounting and Finance) at LUMS.

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

  • Akbar Mohamadzai

    It is a brutal state, a sadistic state.Recommend

  • RFD

    No, wrong. The bastis were hideouts of terrorists/extremists, used for drug trafficking.
    human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, target killing and a wide range of dangerous
    illegal activities. Bastis are illegal encroachment and settlement. These are just a few
    things the Afghans do. Wherever they go crime rates go up. And they bring their
    culture with them, which is still in the 7th century. Literally barbaric.
    The Afghans need to go back to their country. And help rebuild. This is no country for Afghans.Recommend

  • Lala

    Why does this article not have outpouring comments? It is a sheer failure of Punjab Government to provide alternate housing for its people, and laws must be promulgated immediately to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. Also, CM Punjab and other PML N workers must immediately help these people in procuring at least somewhere they can live and call home. They are the people of Pakistan, yet they do not have the right to live here, regardless if it was their land or not shouldn’t they have at least one place they can live with dignity? Agreed that crime must be involved somewhere, but this is just simply, plainly, disgustingly shameful and a slap on the face of PML N government. Pakistan was created so Muslims could live with dignity in the subcontinent, and in 1947 the people who migrated with nothing but their clothes on were also helped and given aid by the newly formed and terribly poor and cash starved Pakistan Government. What do we have to say for ourselves, that we are worse than we were 68 years ago?Recommend

  • Muhammad Asif Nawaz

    Afghan Basti? Nop, those were Pakistanis.Recommend

  • Tajamul Hussain Turi

    Rule of law is like a web which can catch small insect but is torn away by big animal. Justice and law is a joke for poor and tool for powerful to rule on lower class.Recommend

  • AK

    These illegal settlers have been running crime rings for decades. Hats off to CDA, Police for executing the decades long pending cleansing.Recommend

  • I am PAKISTAN

    I don’t agree with the writer’s view. One:if they were not Afghani then so what. If i being homeless occupy the land owned by author. And if he is kind and let me live there for years, does it gives me any privilege of forcefully maintain maintaining the control of that land owned by the author?
    Two: these so called poor homeless carry out millions rupees business every day in sabzi mandi. They are much resourceful than what author is thinking. In last holy month of ramazan they were part of the group who ripped off the skin of common people like you and me who ate fruit at sehri/Aftari. So that level of compassion they possess for public.
    Three:if govt has alloted plots to public, where that public should be adjusted to let that unhygienic kachi abadi as it was.
    Four; is govt really responsible to provide shelter to its citizens as per constitution? If yes then what is fault of those who are not living in kachi abadi of I -11? And any such provision may be shared.
    Five: All legal obligation including sufficient warnings were given to them. They never took it serious. Finally the wolf had to come one day but boy never thought of it.
    Six: There must be a solid ground to ask for compassion for illegal acts. The writer must place himself in shoes of a plot owner who has paid millions but failed to get promised land. Recommend

  • Rd px

    Whenever an illegal settlement is removed, it is bound to be painful. But there is no other option. The state has limited resources.Recommend

  • Sami

    The point is that these people were living on someone else’s land. So they had to vacate under the court orders. Imagine if some group of people will inhabit your land and then develop their soceity there?. You will let them live there based on the notion that they are living there for many years?.

    The land on which they were living worth billions of rupees. If that land would ge given for free then imagine this practice will be multiplied and more and more settlers will settle on other prime lands under the notion that government will transfer ownership to them.

    Any ordinary Pakistani work very very hard to buy a small piece of land. On the other hand if someone will try to just get hold of some land on the pretext of poverty and humanity, then it will discourage those hard workers who spend their whole life to settle their families. It will discourage the people to follow the rules and it will encourage any group of people to settle anywhere in Pakistan and then get the ownership without following any rules of ownership. So should we accept such practice or not?. Are we ready to give up our own lands in the future as we love the humanity so much?.Recommend

  • Bairooni Haath

    Pakistan was created for the elite.Recommend

  • adnan

    Same needs to be town in Quetta Town in scheme 33 in KarachiRecommend

  • Lolz

    Dude, you haven’t understood the actual point. It is not about who would be the rightful owner of the lands, the issue is that for more than two decades they resided there but CDA and Sarkari Mafa kept a blind eye and let them erect a whole town! It is this land mafia that earned from all sides and yet shares authority with CDA and Sarkar! In the end only the poor is punished which is unfair!Recommend

  • ZKhan

    Pakistani Govt should allocate them Land and build home for this Poor People on the outskirts of the City….Pakistani Govt have Spend billion of dollars on 5 million Afghan Refugees till date..Still they Can do some more..Recommend

  • Lolz

    People who run crime rings live in 29000 Kanals Jati Umra’s, not in slums! How could these people become illegal settlers after 30 years?Recommend

  • Lolz

    Dude, you seem a very innocent person and perhaps you haven’t heard of Sarkari Mafia. You should be offered a job in CDA for your sentimental comment – oops smells like you already owe then loyalties!Recommend

  • Farhad

    Politics needs to be humanized in Pakistan with many other things too.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    So much for Ummah.Recommend

  • Sami

    I am pretty amazed when you said that it not about the rightful ownership. Then what is all about then?. Do you know this settlement was cleared in 2005. Then it again sprang up in 2007. So from where 2 decades ( 20 years ) figure is springing up?. Are you the resident of Islamabad?. The locals knew it very well but i am pretty sure that you are not a local resident of the city and just commenting here without any knowledge.
    Also the past inefficiencies should not dictate that this practice should be promoted in the future as well. Moreover just meet any Afghani. They never accept Pakistan. They hate us to death. Settling them in the capital will do no good to our country. The people who do not accept your existence will be settled in the capital and just imagine what role they will play in the future to destabilize our county.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    just like Pakistans don’t want Afghans we Indians don’t MuslimsRecommend

  • awan

    There goes your argument of being a secular state. You are draconian prehistoric jungle, at best. Not even a state.Recommend

  • Rajiv

    Are u talking about Republic of India?Recommend

  • Hasan Jamil

    The Punjabi establishment knows it very well that the new destination of these people will be Karachi .They will even encourage them to migrate to Karachi as has been in practice for the last two decades .Sohrab Goth Banaras Kati pahari are infrested with these people where the vice dens are .But the mighty establishment will never bother to evict those miscreants as the matter pertains to Karachi .
    Karachi is jsut for the purpose of revenue collection for punjab and the establishment for their ultra luxurious lifestyle .Recommend

  • abdpak

    PLEASE SEE THE DIFFERENCE IN CASE OF AGHANIS LIVING IN PAKISTAN AND MUSLIMS LIVING IN INDIA AS THE MUSLIMS ARE LIVING IN THEIR COUNTRY WITH THEIR INDIAN IDENTITY AND AFGHANIS SEEK ASYLUM IN PAKISTAN NOW THE WAR IS FINISHED AND THEY HAVE TO GO. WE ARE GIVING AWAY 20,00000 RUPEES TO EACH FAMILY/PERSON SO THEY CAN START THEIR NEW LIFE. INDIAN KILL THE MUSLIMS.Recommend

  • vinsin

    India is not a secular state. India was partitioned in 1947.Recommend

  • curious

    Why is it being called afghan basti when in reality it is miskeenabad.
    This name is written in the voter list mentioned above.Recommend

  • Syed

    Poor analogy. You are comparing difference of nationalities with difference of religion. So, kindly tone it down bro. Recommend

  • AK

    Stop voting them. For those illegal Afghan criminals, you can setup a shelter on your own purchased land if you have that much sympathy for those thugs.Recommend

  • Abdullah Bilal

    and it still is a secular state… read a book…Recommend

  • Reeba Tehseen

    Afghanis hate us because we opened our borders for America to fight the ‘anti-terrorism’ war. So you can say that we played a part in their displacement in the first place. They have a cause to hate you, the question is what cause do you have to hate them?
    Secondly, you can not speak for them because you can not imagine yourself in their shoes. People do not make the choice of being born poor. Neither they can help being the victims of the state politics. They did not ask to be displaced from their homeland without any shelter and financial security. Do not be insensitive towards the plight of others.Recommend