A House Of Cards: When ‘Development’ Leads To Ruin
Last Friday, Bahria Town Karachi (BTK) found itself in hot water after its security staff attacked villagers resisting forced evictions. According to several reports, BTK security personnel – accompanied by plain and uniformed police officers – arrived heavily armed in Kothe, Malir, and tried to bulldoze agricultural crops in order to clear the area for ‘development’. When clashes broke out, BTK staff allegedly resorted to firing at, and beating up, villagers. 13 BTK staff members have been arrested and the police have registered a First Information Report under Sections 147, 148, 149, 337-A and 365 of the Pakistan Penal Code pertaining to rioting armed with weapons, kidnapping or abduction in order to murder and cause injuries, etc., against BTK security officials. .
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Violent and unjust land acquisitions are carried out regularly in the name of ‘development’ all over Pakistan. Acquisitions often take place via intimidation or deception, with institutional backing and without any respect towards the sentiments of residents or the culture and historic significance of localities and their eco-systems.
This phenomenon is not limited to Sindh, either. Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Lahore is another sad example of a giant, lucrative housing project standing on the back of rampant rights violations accusations. Lahore High Court Chief Justice Mohammad Qasim Khan did not mince his words when he recently referred to the (DHA) as one of the “biggest land grabbers” around.
Even projects like the Orange Line Hi-Speed Metro project have been implemented with a remarkable disregard towards Lahore’s historic architecture and skyline. The view of Shalimar Garden and Chauburji – both enlisted by UNESCO’s World Heritage sites – is not only hindered by the hi-speed train infrastructure but also threatened by it. The foundations of The Shalimar Gardens may not be able to bear the tremors produced by the Orange train for long. Though Pakistan is party to international conventions that prohibit such construction anywhere within 30-feet of the vicinity, ‘development’ projects such as these continue to wreak destruction in Pakistan.
Moreover, Gwadar Port’s haphazard development poses not only ecological risks but also political ones. People of Gwadar are being displaced from ancestral homes in the name of development. They fear that they will be further marginalized as the area becomes an economic centre, dominated by economic interests that don’t trickle down.
Our capital city, Islamabad- the only planned city in the country – is known for its green belt and the beautiful Margalla Hills. However, these Green belts and the Margalla Hills are being cut rapidly to acquire land for new elite housing projects. The city has witnessed thoughtless development in the last two decades which has defaced its natural beauty.
The world development has lost so much currency over the years that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s recent statement regarding development of cities in the unexplored islands of Sindh has become a cause of great concern for the indigenous populations who fear they will lose their livelihoods as they believe ‘development’ does not benefit the poor in any way. Not only this, the mangroves forest act as embankments against floods and high tides. Removal of these for new construction projects would damage the natural support systems these people rely on, further damaging the already fragile relationship between the province and the center.
In order to fix this situation and make the federation strong and inclusive, Pakistan would have to tackle many problems, such as lack of affordable housing, climate change, population growth, to name a few. It will also have to change its approach to ‘development’ by prioritising local needs over ‘wealth creation’ for the wealthy classes, investing in human capital and preserving natural habitats and ecosystems.
Introduction of Town Planning Commissions and overhauling of regulatory institutions such as CDA, KDA and LDA in line with international ‘good practices’ would be helpful in developing sustainable cities in Pakistan in which the environment, cultural signature and political dignity of local residents is given due importance. Only an inclusive Pakistan would be a strong Pakistan.
Kashif Ali is a geologist-turned civil servant. He holds a degree in Geology from University of Sindh. He has interest in global politics and current affairs and writes extensively on diverse subjects ranging from culture and education to religious extremism and public administration. [email protected]