CAIRO – Residents of Islamabad’s slums have become a target for repeated police crackdowns and evacuation risk after being accused of sheltering terrorist groups, a charge that added heavy woes to their harsh living condition.
“Whenever there is any terrorist incident they blame the katchi abadis [the slums],” Noor Mohammad Khan, a vegetable seller in the Afghan Basti slum, told The Guardian.
“We tell police, 'if you think there are terrorists come and carry out operation, including commando operation', but they don't find anything,” Khan added.
The Islamabad's Afghan Basti slum has been reportedly accused of being a hotbed for terrorists who enter the capital and find safe haven in the slums.
The crackdown on Islamabad's slums started last year with the appointment of a new government which raised an alarm on the illegal settlements, charging it of sheltering terrorists and criminals.
According to police officials, few terror plots were linked to the slums where evidence for inciting crime and begging were found.
“We carry out raids once or twice a week and always find illegal weapons, narcotics or suspicious characters to arrest,” one of Islamabad's top police officers said.
Earlier this month, at least 11 were killed in a double suicide bomb attack that targeted the city's district court.
Links to terror groups were denied by slums dwellers, who are mostly Pashtuns and Christians.
Yet, they claim that prejudice against them is “ethically motivated”.
“There are members of the government who do not like Pashtuns,” said Haji Muzafar Khan, 60, who lives in a slum near the Afghan Basti.
“The upper class Punjabis think we are uncivilized, dirty terrorists,” Khan added.
According to a recent survey by the capital police, more than 85,000 people are living in 24 slums across the city.
During the Soviet occupations of Afghanistan, millions of citizens fled to Pakistan who are estimated by three million and are expected to be deported to their homeland.
Stigmatized as sheltering terrorists, slum dwellers and right activists claim that government's plan to empty slums was circulated for commercial interests after land prices skyrocketed.
“This is a government that very much represents urban commercial interests,” said Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, an academic and chairman of the All Pakistan Katchi Abadi Alliance.
“They like the idea of vacating all this public land and selling it off on contract,” Akhtar added.
The first legal action against the capital slums was issued last February, ordering municipal authorities to “clear the slums”.
“Clearing these areas will be difficult because there are so many people,” the police officer said.
An alternative method is being mulled that includes: “Putting a fence around them will enable us to monitor who is coming and going much better,” he added.
While the government plans to evacuate slums, it doesn't provide an affordable housing for the deprived labor class in the capital, said Khan, the vegetable seller.
Along with low profile municipal services in slums, “The rich hire poor people to clean their houses and be their security guards but they don't pay them enough, they just say 'go and live in a katchi abadi',” he said.
Enduring various woes and harsh conditions, slums’ dwellers have no intention to abandon their land.
“We have been here for 35 years and the government has to build us somewhere decent to live before they can kick us out,” said Khan.
“Even if they demolish our settlement we will live under the open sky with our children and women.”
Related Links:Qur’an Desecration Flares Pakistan Tensions
Pakistan Ulemas Fight Sectarianism
Proxy War Fuels Pakistan Sectarianism
Pakistan Adds Trains' Prayer Section
Somber Christmas in Pakistan