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Karachi

October 25, 2018
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Pakistan Quarters residents fight police to keep their homes, and win, for now

Karachi

October 25, 2018

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Residents of Pakistan Quarters knew that the police would be conducting an operation to evict them on Wednesday, so they started preparing for it the night before. They set up blockades on roads and streets to stop the law enforcers. But things got ugly in the morning.

At around 10am, when the police finally began marching ahead removing the hurdles with heavy machinery, the locals — including women, children and the elderly — stood their ground, which resulted in a clash between the two sides.

The locality remained a battlefield for at least four hours, until the Sindh government intervened. The most challenging point for the police was when they managed to enter the area and had to deal with the residents’ Plan B, being attacked by stones from balconies and rooftops.

The police were forced to backtrack, but before they could come up with a counter-plan, they received orders from the provincial administration to halt the operation.

Earlier, contingents of law enforcers, including riot police, had been called in for the operation. They employed water cannons, batons and tear gas to disperse the protesters shouting anti-government slogans and pelting them with stones.

Over 30 people, including eight policemen, were wounded in the clash, while some women also fell unconscious. Windows of several police vehicles were damaged, while PTI MPA Khurrum Sher Zaman also came under attack. The clash caused a massive traffic jam on all the connecting roads.

PTI MPA Jamal Siddiqui and MQM-Pakistan leaders Farooq Sattar, Kanwar Naveed Jameel and Amir Khan also joined the protesters. Expressing solidarity with the locals, they demanded that the government not evict the residents and urged the CJP to take suo motu notice.

In the evening, the Soldier Bazaar police registered an FIR against over 400 protesters, including Sattar. The police also took over a dozen protesters into custody.

“They [the residents] attacked the police with batons and stones despite the fact that they were already given notices,” said SHO Rafay Tanoli. He said 13 protesters were caught on the spot, as Sattar and the others escaped.

The protesters claimed that they have the relevant documents of their homes. “We, the poor, are being targeted from all sides,” said Amir Khan, an elderly resident. “With the rate of inflation rising daily, I recently became jobless during an encroachment drive, and now the government is trying to make me and my family homeless.”

Another local, Nadir Raza, warned that there is a reaction of every action. The irate residents said that a change would come in society only after the government provides alternatives to the poor.

“It’s not an unsolvable issue. It can easily be solved. The government should regularise our colonies just like it has happened in the past with others,” said resident Muhammad Nasir.

Disappointment

During the eviction operation, the residents looked for the PTI and MQM-P politicians who had promised them that they would not be forced out of their homes, adds Zubair Ashraf. The political leaders arrived later and tried to convince the people that they were already trying to resolve the issue through talks with the government.

Besides their anger at the police for using force against them, the locals appeared disappointed in the PTI and MQM-P lawmakers, who failed to find a peaceful solution to their problems despite their claims.

“They were here recently in the all-party conference held on the issue and reassured us that we shall get ownership of our homes, but this is what we got,” said Abid Ali, 28. He said he was born here and is the third generation of his family to live here.

“My grandfather was allotted this place. During his lifetime, he had told us that [Zulfikar Ali] Bhutto announced giving us this place. I grew up listening to others saying the same. But it never happened. Instead, we are being treated like we are terrorists.”

Alternative arrangement

Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah said Pakistan Quarters is a very old settlement that has been inhabited by people for a long time, so there should be an alternative arrangement for them before they are asked to evacuate, adds our correspondent.

Talking to the media at the head office of the Saylani Welfare Trust in Bahadurabad, the CM said that before trying to evict the residents, the federal government should have made alternative arrangements for them.

Replying to a question, he said he had already issued instructions to the chief secretary to hand over whatever record the joint investigation team looking into the money laundering case is asking for. “But look at their demand! They are asking for records from 2008 to 2018.”

On a query about the Centre’s task force for development, the chief executive said: “Don’t take it seriously. Let them do whatever they want, but they must invest in the infrastructure and uplift of Karachi.”

Regarding federal minister Faisal Vawda, he said: “[Vawda] has no knowledge of the water system, but he frequently talks about his knowledge of opening and closing valves. This is what the valve man of the water board does.”

He joked that he would see if there is any vacancy of a valve man in the water board and ask them to interview Vawda for the position. “But the positions of valve men are filled purely on merit.”

Earlier, CM Shah checked out the welfare trust’s different departments. Addressing the certificate distribution ceremony of IT courses, he claimed that his government has made the best interventions in the health, education and other sectors in Thar, but the issue of infant mortality is still rife. “We can save the poor of Thar with loving care.”

He said he has ordered development of a health management information system which would keep the entire record of every woman from her pregnancy to the birth of her child and onwards. “I’m sure this would help improve mother-child health in Thar.”

Inquiry committee

CM’s law adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab said the CM has formed an inquiry committee headed by Karachi police chief Additional IGP Amir Shaikh to investigate the police action against the residents of Pakistan Quarters.

Wahab told the media that police action was unnecessary. “This incident is not tolerable,” he said, adding that the Sindh government is with the residents.

The adviser said the provincial government had no role in the matter of Pakistan Quarters, as it was the federal administration’s property and the residents were being evicted on the orders of the Supreme Court.

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