«THE OPEN CITY: SOCIAL NETWORKS AND VIOLENCE IN KARACHI Azmat Ali Budhani, Haris Gazdar, Sobia Ahmad Kaker, Hussain Bux Mallah Collective for Social ...»
The city was also the capital of the newly formed state, and a majority of the central government employees were Muslim officers and staff who had ‘opted’ for Pakistan at the time of the partition. There was a serious housing crisis for government employees of all ranks arriving from India, and the unused military housing of the Lines Area were handed over to them as a temporary measure. Public-owned open space around the Lines Area became a vast refugee camp; and after a few years the refugees were still there, having converted their tents into more durable dwellings, but with minimal public infrastructure.
Some ten years after independence and the arrival of the first refugees the central government, which was still in charge of Karachi by virtue of being the national capital, began an eviction drive in the city centre. Around the Lines Area the main focus of the eviction drive was to clear the main thoroughfares and to create a large public park to house the mausoleum of the state’s founding father who had died in 1948. Work on the mausoleum and the evictions started in earnest in 1958 with the coming to power of the military regime of Ayub Khan. It was felt by some that the civilian governments of the 1950s had been reluctant to forcibly evict the refugees, for political reasons: leading Muslim politicians who had migrated to Pakistan from India did not have support bases in the country, and localities such as the Lines 20 Area and surrounding refugee camps offered the possibility of developing territorial constituencies. The military government had no such constraints and many refugees from the city centre were relocated to new localities several kilometres in the suburbs. The Lines Area, as it is known today, consists of two types of quarters: the former military quarters under the possession of post-independence government employees;, and the refugee camps, turned into irregular settlements. Although the latter were clearly the more vulnerable to the threat of eviction (the drives for which they survived in the 1950s and the 1960s), but the former also carried uncertain rights of tenure.
The election of a civilian government in the 1970s brought greater security to the Lines Area.
The new populist government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP announced that it was going to regularise irregular settlements. This won the party some support in the area, and residents of one of the irregular settlements within the Lines Area renamed their locality Shahnawaz Bhutto Colony after the father of the prime minister. There was also an understanding that those government employees who had been housed in the former military houses would retain their homes even if they left government service or retired. In the event there was no formalisation of property rights, even though rights of possession became secure and were transacted. Government departments began to supply services such as electricity, water and sanitation even to the irregular settlements in the Lines Area.
One of the local leaders who emerged in the late 1970s was Zahoor Bhopali, who campaigned against evictions and for infrastructural development. He was from a better-off part of the Lines Area and was known as an educated and literary man. Bhopali began his political career as an activist of a moderate Islamic party. After the military coup against Bhutto’s government Bhopali was befriended by the army chief Zia-ul-Haq. He used his connection with Zia to gain further concessions for the Lines Area. Bhopali based his local mobilisation on ethnic grounds: he broke with the Islamic party and set up a local group that paid explicit attention to the conditions of the Muhajirs. He was assassinated by unknown persons in 1980.
Soon after, the MQM began to mobilise young Muhajirs also on ethnic grounds. The founding leader of the MQM, Altaf Hussain, was a former resident of the Lines Area, and he was able to gain influence there quickly. While Bhopali had been seen as an educated and cultured notable, the MQM political model was based on youth mobilisation, irreverence and armed force. In the late 1980s, MQM cadres were involved in conflicts with non-Muhajir residents of the Lines Area, and in one incident several houses belonging to ethnic Pashtuns were set alight. They and many other non-Muhajirs, including ethnic Punjabis and Sindhis, were forced to leave the neighbourhood. In the 1990s, the Lines Area was a major site of conflict between rival MQM factions, and MQM factions and the police. Some well-known MQM armed cadres were from this area and a number of them were killed in clashes with the security forces.
Akhtar Colony Akhtar Colony was formed in the 1960s as a result of eviction. Its residents originally occupied a stretch of land close to a railway line, and had to move when the military authorities acquired that area to construct a hospital. Most of the residents were migrants from Punjab who were employed in menial jobs in various government departments. Job opportunities had opened up when the provinces of West Pakistan were merged into one unit in 1955, making residents of Punjab and NWFP eligible for provincial government employment in Karachi. Many were civilian employees of the military. When they were evicted from their original place of settlement they moved a little further away beyond the 21 perimeter of a planned upper-class housing society for military officers. The area was not designated for formal development because it was close to a seasonal river and was low-lying and flood prone.
The retired army commander for Karachi, General Akhtar Pagganwala, helped these migrants to acquire secure tenurial rights to their plots as well as basic physical infrastructure. He was one among several senior military and civil officers who went out of their way to establish migrants’ settlements in or around government or cantonment land, and the colony named after him. Akhtar Colony developed into a middle class locality, and property prices in some of its segments are comparable with the rates prevailing in the neighbouring upper-class military officers’ housing society. The colony remains predominantly ethnic Punjabi.
Kausar Niazi Colony Kausar Niazi Colony is in the north-central part of the city, in an area that was developed for formal housing schemes in the mid-1970s. Nawaz Khan was an ethnic Pashtun migrant worker from NWFP who came to Karachi in the 1960s. Like many other ethnic Pashtuns he started work as a travelling salesmen, selling foreign-manufactured smuggled cloth fabric. As his business developed he moved to an undeveloped area close to a seasonal river. He first asked some families of Afghan nomads to set up camp in the area. He knew them through his trade – as they too brought smuggled cloth to sell in Karachi. Quite soon some eighty Afghan families arrived with their tents and started living here. Nawaz also approached other labourers to come and set up their makeshift huts, and by 1970 there were some two hundred families living in the area.
In the meanwhile the PPP had emerged as a new political party and Nawaz − who had become visible as a community leader − was invited to join it and become its local representative. The area was undeveloped and there was hardly any population at the time.
In a few years Nawaz had developed links with a number of PPP leaders, including Kausar Niazi, a minister in the cabinet of Zulfikar Bhutto. According to Nawaz, Niazi encouraged him to get more people to move to the area and to develop a political base for future elections.
Nawaz named the settlement after Kausar Niazi.
More migrants from NWFP, Punjab and other parts of the country started to arrive and settle in Kausar Niazi Colony. Nawaz was regarded as the de facto owner of the land, and he marked out individual plots of various sizes and sold them to the migrants. His connections with Kausar Niazi meant that the police and the city authorities were inhibited from demolishing the houses or evicting the settlement. As formal sector housing developed in the area, several stakeholders emerged claiming ownership of the land: the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) argued that it owned the land; and two private sector developers claimed that they had been allotted the land to develop formal sector housing. Nawaz was able to mobilise the residents to effectively resist attempts at demolition and eviction. There were clashes with the police in which several people were injured. A new law for regularising irregular settlements was enacted in 1985, and this allowed Nawaz and other residents to get their settlement registered and regularised.
Noor-us-Sabeeh Mohalla Noor-us-Sabeeh Mohalla is a quarter of a large informal settlement called Machhar Colony (mosquito colony) in the south of the city, close to the harbour. All of Machhar Colony, including Noor-us-Sabeeh Mohalla, is on land reclaimed from swamps and mangroves that 22 used to get inundated by tidal flows. Officially the area comes under the jurisdiction of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), which is a government-run authority for managing the Karachi port. Noor-us-Sabeeh Mohalla gets its name from a local ethnic Bengali community leader who first moved into this quarter of Machhar Colony.
Machhar Colony started to be colonised in the 1980s as migrant workers arrived from various places – including ethnic Pashtuns from the NWFP and ethnic Bengalis from Bangladesh and from other parts of the city. The colony started developing on low-lying swamp land close to the old city quarters of Lyari, which is dominated by the ethnic Baloch and Kachhi communities. The Lyari Baloch dominated port labour and transport, and the Kachhis were traditionally a seafaring community. The new migrants were also engaged in these sectors.
Noor-us-Sabeeh Mohalla was an extension of Machhar Colony into its farthest corner. Ethnic Pashtun land suppliers had first marked out plots of land with stone markings in the mids. They carried out some reclamation work later by bringing lorry-loads of earth fill to stem the tidal flow. The plots had already exchanged hands several times by the time the area was ready to be used. The sale would be recorded on stamped paper as a civil contract between the Pashtun land supplier and the buyer. It was not possible to conduct a proper land transaction, of course, because the land supplier himself did not possess title. Noor-usSabeeh arrived here along with a number of other ethnic Bengali families from a more settled part of Machhar Colony in 2001. They bought the plots and continued with the reclamation work. Within a few years much of the area had been bought and settled, with the buyers constructing concrete structures.
KPT officials frequented the area and demanded bribes from the local residents as fees from protection against demolition and eviction. They also enforced informal regulation regarding housing size and structures. If, for example, a person raised an extra storey, the KPT officials had to be paid an additional fee. Police officers also came to the area to demand bribes against the threat of eviction and arrest. Since most of the ethnic Bengalis were irregular migrants from Bangladesh, they felt vulnerable to violation of immigration laws. Most of the houses in Noor-us-Sabeeh had electricity, and many of them had their own electric meters. In the records of the electricity company these meters were supposed to be located elsewhere, in a regularised part of the settlement. Electricity company officials took bribes from the local residents in order to fudge the record. There was no regular piped system of water supply in the quarter, though there was in other parts of Machhar Colony. Noor-us-Sabeeh residents maintained their own storage tanks and bought water from water sellers.
In the initial period of the settlement the Pashtun land supplier had mediated relations with the police and KPT officials. As the settlement became more durable – through the arrival of more residents, the construction of concrete buildings and the acquisition of electricity supply – the role of the Pashtun land supplier diminished. The residents dealt with the KPT and police officials themselves, or through Noor-us-Sabeeh. The Bengalis had brought with them a model of community known as the ‘Shamas’, which consisted of a group of families that regarded themselves as a common entity with one leader. Noor-us-Sabeeh headed the Shamas and was looked upon to arbitrate internal disputes. This model, though different from the kinship and tribe-based collective action common among other ethnic groups in Karachi, served the same functions.
The ethnic Bengalis had developed close connections with the ethnic Baloch – many of whom were captains or owners of fishing vessels on which the Bengalis worked – and had migrated 23 as far as Balochistan and Iran through Baloch social networks. The Bengalis received some measure of protection through their connection with the Baloch, who had greater access to political parties and leaders. Since around 2003 some Bengali youth had started working with the MQM. They had been supplied with handguns, and were sometimes called on to support party activities in other parts of the city.
Ghazi Goth There is a stretch of high rocky ground in the north-east of the city that is surrounded by land designated by the city authorities for educational and recreational purposes. Some residents claim that the rocks are an ancient site of pilgrimage for local Hindus. In the mid-1990s the area now known as Ghazi Goth or Ghazi village had only a dozen or so households living in makeshift huts, and without any public utilities. They consisted of some Afghan nomadic families and a handful of Bagris households from rural Sindh. The Bagris are a marginalised caste in the Hindu hierarchy, and are regarded as untouchable by high caste Hindus and Muslims alike. The Afghans and the Bagris were both involved in marginalised economic activities such as rag picking, begging and selling flowers at traffic junctions.