On Islamabad’s war against the poor | Pakistan Today

On Islamabad’s war against the poor

The hypocrisy of the elite

One may accuse me of excessively scrutinizing Islooites for a malady afflicting the entirety of the upper class, quite possibly including me, from Abbottabad to Karachi. It might simply be that the capital city is harbouring more patients of ‘classitis’ than Lahore or Multan.

Regardless, this accusation comes in the context of injustice unfolding in Islamabad’s own backyard, so it’s the ignorance of the Islooites that I find most pressing.

A year ago, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) commenced a brutal crackdown on the slums of I-11, Islamabad. Since then, every trick in the right-wing instruction manual has been employed to justify a barbarous campaign against the country’s most destitute class of people.

We’ve heard rumours of the residents’ alleged ‘terrorist-ness’, and unlicensed arsenal confiscated from the slums. A fake moral quandary was posed, in a strategy reminiscent of the Bush administration’s; built on a lie that our reluctance to throw thousands of impoverished families out into the streets would only ensure that “the terrorists win”.

When that failed, the CDA attempted to rally Islamist bigots to its cause by warning the nation that the expanding ‘Christian’ slums could cause Islamabad to lose its Muslim majority. Not only did this statement offer us a window into the minds of Islamabad’s anti-slum crusaders and the prejudice against non-Muslim minorities ingrained into them, it inadvertently rubbished the common claim that Pakistan treats its minorities equally. If ‘minorities’ are indeed treated fairly and equally, why then would CDA be concerned about Muslims becoming a minority in Islamabad?

The next obvious demographic to be reached out to, were the racists. In a post-APS nation awash in fear of “too many Afghans” breaching its porous border, and spreading through its sacred lands like fungus on a moist slice of bread, racism played its manifest role in assisting CDA’s anti-slum drive. Many proponents of slum-destruction had noted, with great disdain, the harrowing abundance of wheatish-skinned people with accented Urdu dwelling in the mud-homes. None could be distracted by the fact that most of them were legal citizens of Pakistan, born and raised in this country.

Consequently, many quickly reasoned that these fruit-venders, janitors, and other working class human beings posed a grave threat to our national security and prosperity, and must be swiftly dealt with. And that they needed to be dealt with without an ounce of leniency, so to send a crystal clear and resounding message to the next wave of ‘aliens’ to breach our borders: “Pakistan is a heartless place!”.

Or at least, that’s what I assume their message is.

After much banging of pots and pans by concerned citizens and diligent leftist organisations, the Supreme Court took notice of the brutality, and expressed its contempt of CDA’s campaign in no uncertain terms. It called CDA the “worst run organisation in the world”.

A year later, CDA continues to live up to its notoriety.

At the National Press Club Islamabad, the Awami Workers Party (AWP) and the All-Pakistan Kachi Abadi Alliance raised the issue of CDA’s recent crackdown on the residents of 1-10, who are allegedly being threatened and served eviction notices. Similar reports have come in from the kachi abadi in G-7.

This, apparently, is in stark violation of the apex court’s order to the CDA to cease such activities. Not only is this significant, but also strangely ironic. Islooites who had aggressively favored CDA’s decision to bulldoze the slums, had justified their position by citing law. Illegal settlements must be removed, because we must always do what the law says; nevermind the part of the law that says the government must ensure that all citizens have shelter and basic necessities of life. It appears that it is CDA itself which has chosen to ignore the law.

Interestingly, the tune changes remarkably when Islooites’ favourite restaurants and cafes are threatened. Unlicensed businesses operating in residential areas must be forced to shut down, right? One is truly saddened by the thought of the Islamabad’s privileged socialites bravely coping with these closures, by nibbling unenthusiastically at sundaes at their second-favourite dessert places.

It’s difficult to not feel bitter about the arrant injustice of it all. And it’s difficult to have to explain to the privileged that slum-dwelling isn’t a hobby. It’s not the equivalent of a rebellious teenager spray-painting graffiti on the wall, and savoring the thrill of having done something possibly illegal, or at least frowned upon. And it is not the equivalent of something truly vicious, like robbing a bank, or getting young people addicted to heroin.

Slum-dwelling is a last resort for people who have been failed by their government; as constitutionally, it is the government’s job to ensure affordable housing for its citizens. After all, according to AWP, CDA has been known to sell land to luxury complexes and clubs at markedly reduced costs, and it can certainly do the same for the impoverished people who deserve this concession the most.

Indeed, it’s easy to discuss facts with people – which we have plenty, in favour of stopping the evictions of kachi abadi residents, and the destruction of their homes. What’s hard, is teaching people to be empathic; encouraging those who have a roof over their heads, and always will, to understand what it’s like to be in a situation where you cannot afford one.

Islamabad is infamous for its elitism, and always has been. We can only hope that this city finds the will to stop living up to its stereotype.

Faraz Talat

Faraz Talat is a medical doctor from Rawalpindi and an ardent traveller who writes frequently about science, social politics and international relations.

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