ISLAMABAD: Lawmakers from opposition benches in the National Assembly on Friday criticised the government for action against an illegal Afghan settlement in Sector I-11.
Calling the Capital Development Authority (CDA)’s operation a “bulldozer approach”, they also demanded an inquiry into the ‘clean-up operation’.
Though the government’s spokesperson assured the opposition members of conducting an inquiry into the case, the ruling party’s lawmakers, including Deputy Speaker Javed Murtaza Abbasi, defended CDA’s operation saying encroachments could not be allowed in the name of human rights.
Directed by the Islamabad High Court (IHC), CDA enforcement teams on Thursday razed around 150 illegally-built settlements in Sector I-11. The slum-dwellers were tear-gassed after they pelted the police and CDA teams with stones.
During the proceedings of the house on Friday, PML-N MNA Tahira Aurangzeb said action had been taken against illegal occupants, who also possessed ammunition and drugs. To this, Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party’s Abdul Qahar questioned where the recovered ammunition and drugs were.
Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI)’s Shireen Mazari said authorities were going after the poor and homeless but were reluctant to remove encroachments erected by the elite in the city’s posh sector and agro farms. She termed it a dual policy of the government.
Jamaat-e-Isalmi’s Sahibzada Tariqullah said that majority of the dwellers in the illegal settlement hailed from militancy-hit regions of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. He said calling those slum-dwellers refugees, drug dealers, criminals and terrorists was shameful.
He said the police officials mistreated women and children during the operation and demanded a special committee of the house to probe the matter.
PTI MNA Arif Alvi said it seemed there was no space for the homeless in Pakistan. He said that a rights activist, Hassan Turi, was arrested by the police during the operation and his whereabouts are still unknown.
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, however, backed the government’s stance and demanded a similar operation against illegal Afghan settlements in Karachi. MQM MNA Sajid Ahmad said many Taliban leaders had been arrested from these settlements in the past.
The city administration said it initially offered the slum dwellers the option to voluntarily vacate some 230 plots which had been allotted to individuals some 25 years ago but were never handed over to the allottees due to the presence of squatters. Upon refusal, the police and civic agency officials took action and started a clean-up operation. Around 150 shacks and mud-houses were bulldozed on Thursday.
Slum-dwellers complained that they were not given enough time to recover valuables from their houses. Islamabad Police IG Tahir Alam Khan, however, said the residents were asked to vacate the area three days before the operation.
In 1985, the government had allowed nearly 400 Afghan refugees to settle along a seasonal stream passing through the area. With time, the slum grew, mostly through internally displaced persons from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and internal migrants from parts of Punjab. A UNHCR survey carried out in 2013 estimated that over 8,000 people lived in the settlement.
The Afghan Basti was previously cleared in 2005 after a massive eviction operation by the CDA and the ICT Administration on court orders. But it was back up and running by 2007.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2015.