KHARO CHHAN (THATTA), June 16: “We have only heard about Zulfikarabad in newspapers. We are worried we will get thrown off our land. We don’t want to get swindled.”
When fisherman Abdul Ghani Katiar explains his apprehensions about Zulfikarabad — a proposed new city that will be built in Thatta district on the Indus delta — he is not alone in holding such views. Many people this writer talked to in Kharo Chhan and Keti Bunder shared his concerns.
Most know very little about the project the government wants to build in the image of Shenzhen, China’s boomtown. Most of what they know is based on news reports as well as the rhetoric and graffiti of Sindhi nationalist parties.
People most probably to inhabit what will become Zulfikarabad are highly sceptical of the whole project because of the fact they live in poverty without any basic infrastructure.
This writer visited Goth Haji Yusuf Katiar in Kharo Chhan taluka to see what a cross-section of local people had to say about the new project.
The village is located where the Indus meets the Arabian Sea and is accessible via a rickety launch ride from one bank of the Indus to the other. It has no jetty and villagers have to wade the water on a slippery riverbed where the launch stops to get to shore. People from several surrounding villages had gathered in the (non-functional) schoolhouse to voice their concerns about Zulfikarabad.
‘Respect our rights’
“We want something in writing stating that we will not be removed from our land and that our rights will be respected. We have been here for ages. We want the state to focus on education, healthcare and roads in this area. Give us something first, then we will believe in Zulfikarabad,” said Mr Katiar.
Ishaq Solangi, an agriculturist, echoed these concerns. “If I don’t know the details of this city, how can I give you an opinion? The local people need to be informed about the project. The district commissioner should form a committee to tell us about the project. There are two extreme opinions about the project: that either we’ll be thrown into the sea or we’ll get prosperity. We want to know what the true situation is.”
Concerns about the lack of information are reinforced if one visits the Zulfikarabad Development Authority website (zda.gos.pk). Of the 10 phone numbers listed, none is in working order. The authority’s address is listed as Bahria Complex 1, ground floor, M.T. Khan Rd, Karachi.
However, when this writer visited the building, a security guard said that the office had shifted “seven or eight months ago”.
Abdullah Murghar, a local landowner, expressed fears about urban problems being imported to the area. “We don’t want factories, plazas and big-city problems. [If the city is built] we will experience Karachi-like violence. We are peaceful people. We don’t want the sort of development [that will destroy our peaceful lifestyle].”
Shafi Murghar, a social worker, said the government should consult local people before finalising plans. “We don’t oppose development. We are sceptical. The state should remove people’s misgivings. We should have representation on any committee [formed for Zulfikarabad]. The policymakers in Islamabad should understand local norms.”
Sindhi Nationalist parties share the locals’ fears and are also apprehensive about the ‘outsiders’ a new development will attract, even though the PPP, which considers Sindh its power base, has tried to allay fears.
“What are the aims of this city? Will it be a port? Will industries be set up? There appears to be no such development activity,” Dr Qadir Magsi, chief of the Sindh Taraqqi Pasand Party, told Dawn.
“Who is this for? The [land] rates will be so high indigenous people will be unable to afford them. The demographic situation [in Sindh] is already very delicate. There are many outsiders. If the project goes ahead, Sindh’s indigenous people will be turned into a minority in their own land,” the nationalist leader observed.
‘The people will gain’
Waqar Mehdi, a special assistant to the Sindh chief minister, dispelled the impression that local people will lose out in the new development.
“Local people will gain, they will get jobs. People will be taken into confidence. A PPP committee has been formed in this regard consisting of myself, Taj Haider, Makhdoom Jamiluzzaman and Aajiz Dhamra.”
Asked about the lack of information, Taj Haider, who heads the committee, said: “We are organising everything at this point. The broad outlines have been fixed.” The city will be “basically [for the people] of Sindh. There are development plans to help locals acquire the necessary skills. Everyone will gain.”
Asked about the reservations harboured against the project, Mr Haider said, “there may be some reservations, but we must deal with these objectively.” As to how the government could ensure the project’s continuity considering elections were close, he remarked that “the project comes under the provincial government. We don’t feel threatened,” adding that the project would not be shelved as he was fairly confident the PPP would return to power in Sindh in the next general elections.—Iqbal Khwaja from Thatta also contributed to the report.