Pakistan slum demolition drive exposes country’s housing crisis
Ashrak Khan wore a defeated expression as he surveyed the brownish- gray shanty homes of his neighborhood on the outskirts of Islamabad, his house marking the border between those still standing and others now reduced to rubble.
The 45- year- old fruit vendor and his family have lived in the slum since moving from the Swabi district of northwest Pakistan in the mid- 1980s, but they are now among more than 15,000 people facing summary eviction.
“I have no idea what to do, where to go,” he said, surrounded by his four tall teenage sons. “We are Pakistanis here but we have no rights,” he added, pulling out his ID card to drive the point home.
With no water supply, electricity or sewage, the 2,000 homes that formed the “Afghan Basti” slum in Islamabad have long stood in stark contrast to the rest of Pakistan’s green and largely pristine capital.
Situated on the edge of the city, the neighborhood is now at the heart of a battle over housing rights for the poor versus a drive by city authorities to get rid of “illegal” settlements.
Activists say authorities have launched an ethnic- based smear campaign against residents to try to force them out, and dozens have been arrested for resisting the bulldozers — some of them charged under anti- terror laws.
“The Islamabad High Court has given us directions to remove all the illegal slums and we are carrying out operations across the city,” Ramzan Sajid, a spokesman for the Capital Development Authority, told AFP at the site, over the rumbling of cranes, bulldozers and tractors.
Land the New Gold
Islamabad’s their many bureaucrats supporters among the city’s middle and upper classes, this slum and others like it are a haven for criminal gangs and supposed “Afghan” militants.
Their very existence is seen a blot on the landscape of the capital and testimony to the lawlessness that is rampant in some parts of Pakistan, an underdeveloped giant of 200 million people.
But planning experts say they point to a wider crisis facing the country’s poor as land prices in Pakistani cities have skyrocketed, with family homes in parts of the capital now costing as much as in some cities of Western Europe.
“Land is the new gold,” said Arif Hasan, widely considered Pakistan’s f oremost urban planner, adding that at least 30 percent of Pakistan’s urban population can only afford to live in areas considered “slums”
or “katchi abadis.”
No Right to This Land
Residents say they are lawabiding citizens who want to get on with their lives in peace.
“I was born here, I grew up here. How can I see my house being demolished for no apparent reason today?” asked Nasir Khan, a 32-year-old who like many in the area makes a living as a fruit seller for a monthly income of about US$100.
While it was largely ignored by the city’s authorities for decades, Afghan Basti was nevertheless a functioning community, with shops, mosques and even five schools funded by non-profit organizations.
Many of the first to move to the slum in the mid-1980s had spent nearly three decades improving their houses, using solar panels to generate electricity and digging their own wells and sewage systems.
In this photograph taken on Friday, July 31, Afghan refugees and Pakistani tribal people shift their belongings during an operation to demolish their poverty-stricken neighborhood in Islamabad.