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‘People’s Conference’ In Islamabad Discusses Displacements Under The Garb Of Development

Press Release

Hundreds of progressive political workers, intellectuals, youth and affectees of ‘development’ projects from all over the country gathered for two successive days at the Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai Community Centre in Islamabad for the first ‘People’s Conference on Land, Ecology, Development and Displacement’ organised by the Awami Workers Party last weekend. The conference brought to light the increasing incidence of violent dispossession taking place under the guise of ‘development’ in both peripheral regions and major Pakistani cities, and the increasing control of state-backed mafias on land and other natural resources at the cost of indigenous communities and working masses. 

Eight sessions took place over the two-day conference, ranging from discussions over global finance and real estate, to the state of exhausted resource peripheries and the imperative of housing for working-class residents of metropolitan areas in the face of ever proliferating gated housing schemes. Amongst the prominent speakers present on the occasion were ex Director General of the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority, Tasneem Siddiqui; President of the Gwadar Fishermen Alliance, Khudadad Waju; Dr. Majed Akhter of King’s College London; and Director of the Institute of Business Administration, Dr. Akbar Zaidi. 

AWP leaders Ammar Rashid, Alia Amirali, Khurram Ali, Hafeez Baloch and Aasim Sajjad shared their experiences of organising local communities from Karachi to Islamabad against mass evictions. They asserted that whether dispossession is enforced by the state, and where it entities like Bahria Town are in the lead, repression against those who engage in peaceful resistance to defend their homes and lands is commonplace and intensifying. AWP organisers resisting eviction of katchi abadis in Karachi’s Gujjar Nala and Orangi Nala areas have been jailed repeatedly, while Seengar Noonari, who has been on the frontline of resistance to the forced capture of villages for the expansion of Bahria Town was forcibly disappeared two weeks ago. 

Legal experts like Ahmed Rafay Alam and Abira Ashfaq as well as urban planners like Ayesha Shahid noted the use of colonial era laws like the Land Acquisition Act (1894) to dispossess villagers and katchi abadi residents alike. They questioned the role of the superior judiciary in fulfilling its constitutional mandate of protecting the rights of the most vulnerable. They also criticised massive development initiatives like the Ravi Riverfront City and Rawalpindi Ring Road which are both ecologically destructive and generating mass displacement. 

Sibt-ul-Hasan and Nazimuddin Salarzai shared how disputes over land are intensifying in the ex FATA districts in the shadow of the war on terror and the multifarious devastation caused by the latter. These disputes are exacerbating sectarian and other conflicts due to the flawed strategic policies of the state. Hashim Khoso and Nausheen Anwar discussed similar resource-based disputes in the context of Sindh, especially in the urban metropolis of Karachi. They warned that control over land in Karachi is continually conflated with ethnic identity, with potentially even more explosive consequences than have been experienced in the past. 

The conference resolution noted that the politics of land and other natural resources is even more important today than when Pakistan’s was a primarily agrarian economy. Today’s increasingly financialised model of ‘development’ is generating more surplus populations than ever before as profiteering through speculative real estate is considered far more important than the current or future welfare of millions of working people who previously used land and other natural resources to secure basic livelihoods. The need for a land reform agenda in the 21st century prefacing the wellbeing of working people and the natural environment is, therefore, extremely urgent.

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