Fashionable Land Grab: Why Is Malik Riaz Untouchable?

Fashionable Land Grab: Why Is Malik Riaz Untouchable?

The high drama at Bahria Town Karachi was widely discussed on social media, despite many of the mainstream news outlets ignoring the incident of violence in which Sindhi nationalists parties set fire to Bahria Town management office in the city. Sindhi nationalists’ parties which led the attack said they had nothing to do with the violence and instead blamed the Bahria Town management, accusing them of sabotaging their peaceful protest.

The protest was organised against illegal grab of land by the Bahria Town in Karachi where Sindhi villagers were forcibly evicted from the land a few months back. The protest was primarily organised to condemn the forced eviction of Sindhi villagers to pave the way for town planning of the posh locality in the vicinity of Karachi. Bahria Town used force against Sindhi villagers and in turn the Sindhi nationalist used violence against Bahria Town offices and property in Karachi. There was an avalanche of condemnation from mainstream political elite against the violence perpetuated against Bahria Town in Karachi at the hands of Sindhi nationalists. A section of mainstream media just went out of the way to make a villain out of Sindhi nationalists—blaming them for arson and violence against private property.

The matter is about the land in the vicinity of Karachi city where there are Sindhi villages—popularly known as Goth—which Bahria wants as part of its plan to construct a posh locality, where there are active residential areas, agriculture fields and other lively activities of a traditional Sindhi village.

On May 7, a party of Bahria Town's guards arrived at Jam Kamal Khan Goth and started the demolition process. As was expected, they were resisted by the locals. But the next day the Bahria Town Karachi returned with a larger party comprising Bahria town guards and a police party, “On Friday, the security guards — accompanied by policemen in civvies and in uniform — tried to destroy agricultural crops in Jam Kamal Khan Goth in order to pave the way for new BTK projects near Kathor, a move that was resisted by the villagers," reads a news report in one of the local newspaper.

The locals have always been opposed to the Bahria Town project and they have already conveyed their opposition to the government through petitions.

Pakistani mainstream media is not helping the situation by labeling Sindhi nationalists as terrorists.

And unfortunately for smaller nationalities like Sindhi, the Pakistani state had always been very callous as far as rights and aspirations of these smaller nationalities are concerned. The illiberal policies of Pakistani state towards smaller nationalities—which were there, right from the very start—gelled with the neo-liberal economic policies embraced by the new political class in post-Zia period to give rise to a situation where big money joined hands with callous and repressive Pakistani state to trample upon the aspirations of not only smaller nationalities but also down trodden sections of the society. Adding insult to injury was the fact that what was being done to the downtrodden was shown to be “modern” and “fashionable” when it was in fact unjust, cruel and downright inhuman. This was done through power of the media—millions of rupees were spent on advertising for post and luxurious new towns which were acting as an answer to the middle class perennial problem of absence of decent housing. That such housing schemes are being built on land of helpless farmers is nobody’s concern. Nobody is made to answer the question as to where these farmers will go.

The corruption of the political class is complete as they are no longer feeling the responsibility to cater to the needs and wants of dislocated farmers. As this political class is very much swayed by the neo-liberal philosophy of making all the resources of the state and society go into serving the interests of big money. This big money, they are told under the new neo-liberal paradigm, is going to serve the interest of everybody as this is in the interest of economic development and growth. People and their interests do not matter.

Nationalism is very much alive and vibrant in the Sindhi society. It draws its strength from a narrative that weaves a story around the process of land grabbing started at the time of creation of Pakistan. In 1948, Karachi was taken over by the newly formed federal government of Pakistan. Sindhis resisted but their hue and cry fell on deaf ears. This was the time of Punjabi-Muhajir dominance of the decision-making process and economic resources of the society.  Sindhis dubbed the takeover of Karachi as the first land grab. Migration of non-Sindhi nationalities from the north towards the Southern city of Karachi was termed by Sindhi nationalists as an attempt to deprive the Sindh nation of their demographic majority. This was also a type of land grab as more and more Pashtuns came to Karachi and settled there.

Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was a great political craftsman as he used the growing alienation of Sindhi populace from Pakistani state since Pakistan’s creation as an issue on the basis of which he attracted Sindhi public and consolidated his vote bank in the Sindhi society. He gave the Sindhi people and elite access to state resources and state power, thus removing their alienation from the state.  But when he had achieved this objective he linked his popularity in Sindhi society to his federalist project for Pakistani state.

Remember, it was Zulifikar Ali Bhutto who introduced and consolidated federal parliamentary structures in Pakistan. So inside Sindh PPP was a Sindhi nationalist party, which kept its emphasis on provincial autonomy, but at the national level it advocated a strong center and a federal structure. Only a political leader with Bhutto’s acumen could have performed this task.

The present PPP doesn’t have the ability to defeat Sindhi nationalists on their own turf—they are too much under the sway of neo-liberal economic paradigm to come out openly in favor of Sindhi villagers who are the victims of Malik Riaz. This time the land grab is complete and fashionable. Someone has correctly pointed out that Zulifikar Ali Bhutto is not buried in Ghari Khuda Bakhsh. He is buried in Bahria Town Karachi.

Umer Farooq is an Islamabad-based freelance journalist. He writes on security, foreign policy and domestic political issues.