Pak­istan slum de­mo­li­tion drive ex­poses coun­try’s hous­ing cri­sis

The China Post - - LIFE - BY IS­SAM AHMED

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.

AFP

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.

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