«THE OPEN CITY: SOCIAL NETWORKS AND VIOLENCE IN KARACHI Azmat Ali Budhani, Haris Gazdar, Sobia Ahmad Kaker, Hussain Bux Mallah Collective for Social ...»
Ghazi Abdullah is a cleric who heads his own small madrassa (religious school), which he started building on state land in this area in the late 1990s. He is an ethnic Punjabi but lived in rural Sindh before moving to Karachi. He is known to have connections in the police and the administration. As Ghazi was developing his madrassa he was introduced to Babra – a Hijra through a mutual Sindhi acquaintance.15 Ghazi asked Babra to arrange to bring more people to live on the land surrounding his Madrassa. He was aware that Babra had many connections among the poor and marginalised groups, and would be able to bring them to Ghazi Goth. At the time there were also evictions from a number of makeshift settlements that were mostly made up of poor migrants from southern Punjab and NWFP. Ghazi contacted the evicted families and asked them to settle in ‘his’ village. Currently Ghazi Goth consists of over three hundred households, including Bagris, ethnic Seraikis from southern Punjab, Afghans and Hijras. The common feature among all of them is that they are from socially marginalised groups and engaged in low-status economic activities.
The land on which Ghazi Goth is settled belongs to the city authorities. Although there is no immediate private claimant – perhaps because the land is rocky and hard to develop for commercial purposes – the authorities regularly raid and demolish the huts, and as a result most of the houses are still makeshift. There have been several occasions when the settlement was razed and the residents detained, though most of them returned and rebuilt their huts.
There has never been any attempt at demolishing the Ghazi’s madrassa. There are no public utilities, although some Muslim families are allowed to take electricity from the madrassa, which does have a connection. There is a water mains that passes close by the settlement and residents have tapped into it. There are no drains and therefore no proper toilets. The residents have not paid anything to live here, and there has been no transaction to legally establish possession. The only formal recognition of the existence of the settlement is that many residents have given Ghazi Goth as their residential address for their national identity cards, and this address has been accepted by the citizenship-registration system.
15 The Hijra or Khusra are a marginalised but socially accepted community of transvestite and transsexual men.
Some homosexual and bisexual men also associate themselves with this community. The Hijras have welldefined community structures, and traditionally receive alms on special life cycle events such as weddings and births. Many of them work as beggars and some are engaged in sex work.
24 Non-state violence and social networks Karachi’s phenomenal demographic growth was premised on large-scale migration from neighbouring states and other districts and provinces within Pakistan. The proliferation of irregular settlements, moreover, was a necessary condition for this migration. The city could not grow without an influx of labour. Nearly all formal sector housing developments, however, were designed for the upper and middle classes. In fact, given the excess demand for housing, any formal development was bound to end up as a middle or upper class locality.
After all, secure title and property rights in land exist only in land that has been brought under specific formal sector housing schemes.
The rest of the land is subject to great variation and uncertainty in title and property rights.
There is a multiplicity of claimants, starting from ‘indigenous’ communities (such as the Panhwar Sindhis of Natha Khan), the provincial government, city authorities, cantonment and military authorities, para-statal organisations (such as the port authority in Noor-us-Sabeeh), as well as various regular and irregular settlers.
For a poor migrant the informal sector would always be the natural destination, given that he or she would always be willing to trade in tenurial security for a price discount. The absence of clear title and property rights has not altogether prevented transactions from taking place.
Informal institutions – the most important one being the commodification of possession – have led to a thriving market in low-cost housing. The cases of Kausar Niazi Colony and Noor-us-Sabeeh are obvious ones. The stage-wise development of residential housing in these two localities shows that transactors do not wait for regularisation before they start buying, selling and renting.
Each successive transaction can add value in the process by incrementally strengthening the security of the right to possession. The proliferation of informal transactions does not mean that these transactions are secure, only that a risk discount is incorporated into the price.
There are, of course, cases like Ghazi Goth where the political weakness of the resident communities ensures that the settlements never successfully climb the ladder of regularisation. Ghazi Goth residents are the most marginalised segments of Pakistani society, due to caste, religion and profession. In fact, it is quite likely that they will have to leave to make room for slightly better-off people if the patron of Ghazi Goth manages to secure his own position. His reason for inviting beggars to come and settle on the land were not very different for the reasons that Afghan nomads have been used by Pakistani Pashtun patrons, as in Kausar Niazi Colony: these are precisely the groups who will put up with the extremely insecure tenure that the early stages of land development have to offer.
The informal sector does not operate in isolation from formal state agencies and service providers. The regularisation of land title or the right to possession is only one conspicuous interface between the formal and the informal. The entire process of informal housing development is premised on frequent transactions between private parties and state personnel.
Sometimes the intervention is in the form of patronage – as in the cases of Akhtar Colony and possibly Natha Khan – where state officials acted as protectors of irregular settlements. In other cases the relationship is electoral – as in the Lines Area and Kausar Niazi Colony in the 1970s. In many instances, particularly the more recent ones, the interaction appears to be a purely commercial one. This is vividly illustrated in Noor-us-Sabeeh (Machhar Colony) where officials of the port authority allow residents to remain on land owned by the authority on the payment of bribes. In fact, numerous smaller transactions that contribute to the 25 incremental regularisation of a settlement involve bribes to local government officials, police and agents of public utilities such as electricity, gas and water supply.
Violence and the threat of violence were recurrent methods for enabling transactions and the process of settlement and regularisation. Forced eviction on the part of the state authorities was a common feature in nearly all migration stories, at least in the beginning. The ability to inflict or withstand violence was an important characteristic of individuals and groups that first occupied state-owned land for development. Collective action, too, was a critically important feature in negotiating and re-negotiating property rights in an environment of institutional fluidity. Prior kinship and ethnic networks were conspicuous in both the story of migration, as well as the story of settlement and regularisation. The presence of ethnic Pashtun land suppliers was particularly conspicuous. Their comparative advantage lay in their ability to credibly threaten the use of force,16 and to quickly mobilise large numbers of men on the grounds of kinship and ethnic solidarity. Punjabi migrants, on the other hand, appeared to have relied more effectively on their social connections with state personnel, particularly in the military.
The case of the Lines Area shows that the formal recognition of tenurial security were not sufficient by themselves for ensuring effective security. Although a populist government had announced in 1975 that the residents would be awarded property rights, it was still many years later that public infrastructure followed. In the event formal individual titles were not granted even three decades and several policies later, even though it became increasingly difficult to evict the occupants. The Lines Area also provides an insight into the change in the nature of negotiation in the 1980s following the demise of Bhopali – who believed in petitioning the authorities – and the arrival of the MQM, which took direct armed action to confront the authorities as well as other ethnic groups.
The rise of the MQM and other violent ethnic-based groups in the 1980s happened in a context where formal institutions of the state offered little contractual security to poor communities in the most fundamental sector: housing. There was a history of evictions, but also successful mobilisation for resisting eviction, changing or bending land-use regulations and accessing public infrastructure. State personnel had every incentive to persist with irregularity as it became a major source of private income for the regulators. It was also clear that group-based mobilisations of various forms – mostly around kinship and ethnicity – yielded positive outcomes. Ethnic solidarity had proved to pay high dividends – either through patronage of powerful individuals and organisations within the state, or through numerical mobilisation.
As its cadres returned from the campuses to their low to middle-income communities, the MQM had little difficulty persuading fellow Muhajirs (and not only the youth) that they were surrounded by ethnic groups that enjoyed a high sense of kinship-based solidarity and articulation. These other groups – particularly the ethnic Pashtuns – were also known for their ability to inflict and withstand violence. The Muhajirs, therefore, needed to counter the kinship-based solidarity internal to other ethnic groups through the formation of a dedicated and ideologically motivated organisation. Moreover, this organisation needed to be armed.
In fact, the MQM youth began to mimic many of the functions of ethnic communities they despised as being uncultured and unschooled. The focus shifted away from political issues to 16 This was possible partly due to reputation effects, and partly because wanted men could easily escape to their home districts after committing crimes.
26 contract enforcement, dispute arbitration and policing within the Muhajir communities – and the collection of ‘donations’ in order to finance the organisations’ activities. This form of self-governance had been common among many other ethnic groups with traditional forms of solidarity and leadership. Internal group sovereignty from state institutions was seen as a positive attribute at a time when state functionaries were seen as parasitic rent-seekers. The MQM attempted to transform the ‘Muhajir community’ − whose numerous constituents had shed many of their parochial identities and traditional hierarchies at the moment of displacement in favour of a citizen-based identity − into the largest and most powerful solidarity network in Karachi.
Informality in land ownership, but not just in land, offers a vast arena for the continuous negotiation and renegotiation of economic rents. This can be seen clearly if we compare the descriptions provided above with an alternate hypothetical scenario of land development. In fact, the development of upper class housing schemes, such as the Defence Housing Authority, can serve as an alternate model (Siddiqa 2007). The DHA acquired land from the provincial government – which is the residual claimant to all land – for the purpose of allotting residential and commercial plots to retired military officers as a reward for service.
It was assumed that the land belonged to the provincial government in the first instance, and rival claims of ownership on the part of the ‘indigenous’ residents were brushed aside. The DHA being under the direct control of the local army commander, was able to impose a very low nominal transfer price with the provincial government.
The DHA developed the land and allotted it to military officers at prices that only covered the cost of development. Military officers promptly sold the plots on the market, earning profits in the range of double or triple the initial investment. DHA land is thought to be securely held, with a high level of trust in the legal title and strong checks against fraud and rival claims. The margin earned by the military officers represents an economic rent on the usevalue of the land, but also includes a premium on the security of the title. The economic rent incorporates the military authorities’ ability to effect and enforce an initial transaction with the provincial government, and to enforce subsequent contracts. It also incorporates the expectation that the military authorities will not themselves act in a predatory manner with respect to owners in the DHA. This latter expectation is partly based on a self-fulfilling prophecy, since most buyers and residents in DHA are themselves wealthy and powerfullyconnected individuals. The economic rent, in any case, is virtually all concentrated in the first transaction, whose beneficiary is the individual military officer.
By contrast, the cases of low to middle income settlements in Karachi have shown that there is a steady process of economic rent creation and appropriation, as land changes possession and use. The process is punctuated by political mobilisation, collective action and violent conflict. There is no binary division, therefore, between the formal and informal sectors.
Rather, there is a continuous process of formalisation – not always linear – in which economic rents are created and appropriated (sometimes destroyed) through political means.
The DHA case is also, of course, one of political appropriation of rents, but the political mobilisation and the rent appropriation are both concentrated at one point. In Kausar Niazi colony, by contrast, there were multiple stakeholders that sequentially participated in, and benefited from, the accretion of economic rents.