Grab it if you can

Syed Ali July 18, 2010
Over the past couple of years, the menace of land grabbing has picked up in Karachi. This criminal act would not be possible unless rogue public officials and law enforcement individuals were involved. Largely, it has been state property and its departments which have been targeted, but a large portion of private property (which has lying vacant) has also been occupied by people who refuse to leave it unless there is an armed operation remove them. This hardly happens.

In some instances the illegal occupant is conned as well. They buy a vacant property from someone who is protected by a political party which is backed by an organised mafia who may initially pose as the owner at the time of purchase the land. However, the sale is usually made with the understanding of the actual status, and both parties are guaranteed protection.

Keep Karachi bleeding

Previously, I had  written that guns are not the problem in Karachi rather it is new migrants to this city which have come here on an agenda, or maybe dream of becoming rich quick. The most shocking part of the land grabber's strategy is to keep Karachi bleeding. With law enforcement agencies busy in finding murderers the land grabbers can continue their work. The result? The people of Karachi suffer the evil of "target killing" on a daily basis.

The mafia has tried to further destabilise the law and order situation under the patronage of a corrupt political party. This is not the first time the party has been identified behind such activities. On numerous occasions they have been known to create hurdles for the government.

A recent attempt to clear public land held by members of an ethnic political party, resulted in severe violence. Within 30 minutes of the operation the police was forced to stop its activities because the police party was being indiscriminately fired upon. The incident resulted in the death of two individuals. It is difficult to understand why senior police officers chose to halt the operation when backup could have been asked for considering police were attacked.

Do you have a flag?

If you dare to visit this place it is in an area where the party's flag wave from every house and arms are openly carried around by the land mafia. Almost every district in Karachi has illegal occupations, but there is little that can be done about it. The rightful owners are scared of speaking out as they fear a reaction. It worries me that our very vocal media is uninterested in highlighting the land mafia, investigating it and creating awareness about this issue, with the interest they have shown in the fake degrees cases. We must understand that if we do not help stop this now then it cannot be controlled later.

It could very well be your property which could be illegally possessed by these people in connivance with officials. It will not matter if you have always owned it. Forging documents is not difficult, as we all know since our politicians have been doing the same. You can try to fight the case in court to get back your land but with judiciary understaffed judiciary how long will you continue to attend hearings for your own property? The time will come when your property is illegally occupied or sold under your nose. Not to mention the possible of physical harm and threats to your life and your family members which will be enough for you to let go of your office, factory, shop or even your house.

All Pakistanis are free to move within the country and migrate to any place they wish without being stopped or questioned. This does not mean that they adopt the mantra"if you cannot legally buy it, you should grab it" just because they have the power and the backing of the mafia. A large Pakistani population works abroad. They work hard to earn a living but do not behave like this. The same  people are on their best behavior abroad, whether as law abiding (permanent or temporary) citizens, which shows we have the ability to follow laws. But only if they are enforced fairly and stictly, so there is still hope.

A way forward

Civil society, NGOs, rights and justice organizations must start campaigns against these criminals. I suggest the government start low priced residential schemes on easy installments within and around the outskirts of Karachi for migrants. If resources do not meet the needs of city's population then the authorities must arrange for alternates. If they cannot, then they must put a stop to migration and return the occupied properties to their rightful owners, before there is complete collapse of law and order.

Law enforcement agencies must continue recovery operations with the support of the media in exposing the perpetrators behind this mafia, so that this matter is taken care of once and for all. I don't know what happens upcountry but Karachi appears to be illegally under the control of these criminals who could be stronger than our local government and the police.

Karachi, always been a welcoming city, needs peace. Together we can achieve it, all she asks for is us to live and let live as law abiding citizens.
Syed Ali A businessman who writes on politics and civic issues. He completed his masters in business administration from Boston University. He tweets @abidifactor.
The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Tariq Zaheer | 12 years ago | Reply I m mohajir I own Karachi I don't accept to interfere in Over City and society. Because they don't Like me and my people. They r terrorist. They r all ....................: If they r Pakistani so prove that. I know about Nawaz, Bhutto, ANP Groups. They r currepted. I dont understand which types of people r live in this country.
Uzma Shuaib | 12 years ago | Reply Saying that only ANP is involved in land grabbing and carrying weapons is ridiculous. You think you cant clear ANP controlled areas of weapons try clearing NINE ZERO. Flags of ANP.. well i see MQM flags and Altaf portrait all over Karachi. Karachi is a Metropolitan City . Its culture is the culture of Sindhis , Balochies , Punjabis, Pashtoons and yes Mohajirs.. They all together make Karachi. its a Mini Pakistan.
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