ISLAMABAD: The Katchi-Abaadi of Sector I-11 became a battleground on Thursday, as residents threw rocks at the Capital Development Authority (CDA) officials attempting to bulldoze their homes and were met with batons and tear-gas shells.
Awami Workers Party (AWP), which has been supporting the slum-dwellers in their protests against the operation, claimed in a press release that an infant was killed during the melee on Thursday. AWP Punjab President Aasim Sajjad Akhtar told Dawn that the child was only six-days old.
The AWP published photographs of the baby’s funeral on Twitter but the Sabzi Mandi police said they had no information about the death of the child. “If an infant was killed during an operation, it was not reported at the police station,” Moharrar Mohammad Kashif said.
Fifteen injured people, most of them police and CDA officials, were shifted to the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims). Pims Spokesperson Dr Ayesha Esani told Dawn that preempting violence, authorities had declared an emergency at the hospital on Thursday morning. “The injured include a woman police officer, six policemen, five CDA officials, an Assistant Commissioner, a journalist and two male residents of the slum,” she said.
CDA continues operation against illegal settlements
Meanwhile, hundreds spent the day digging through the rubble of their homes to retrieve their humble belongings. Despite repeated warnings by the CDA over the last three days, the residents had refused to vacate the area.
The informal settlement in Sector I-11 Islamabad is the largest in the Capital, starting out with a few mud huts in the 1980s, it is now home to over 10,000 people. While it is commonly referred to as the Afghan Basti, according to a 2013, UNHCR survey the residents are mainly Pakistani citizens from parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Fata and Punjab.
The last operation against the settlement was carried out by the CDA in 2005 when a large part of the slum was razed. Later, authorities turned a blind-eye as the residents rebuilt their homes.
On Thursday, the CDA’s anti-encroachment teams along with bulldozers and armed policemen arrived at the settlement at around 10 am. Deputy Commissioner Islamabad retired Captain Mushtaq Ahmed and SSP Islamabad Sajid Kiana personally oversaw the operation.
Before demolishing the settlement, the deputy commissioner negotiated with the community leaders and managed to convince them to allow the CDA to demolish four houses, after which the residents would be given another day to voluntarily vacate their homes.
Following this deal, a majority of the slum-dwellers were assured that their homes would not be immediately demolished so they did not move their belongings. Unfortunately, while the CDA bulldozers were demolishing a third hut, some residents began pelting the officials with stones, injuring them.
The police responded with tear gas shells and the enforcement wing demolished a number of homes. Some women climbed on to the roofs of their mud huts and holding Holy Books in their hands, begged the police and the CDA to not make them homeless but were arrested by women police officials.
Another elderly woman was seen being dragged to a police van by a woman cop. Dozens of slum dwellers were arrested and the Sabzi Mandi police registered cases against them under several charges of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) and the Anti-terrorism Act.
A resident, Farad Khan, native of Mohmand Agency, told Dawn that his family did not remove their belongings from their hut because they were told that only a few homes would be demolished. “The CDA betrayed us. Our few belongings are a couple of hand carts, some quilts and some pots and pans. They are now buried under the rubble of our home,” he said.
Inspector General of Police (IGP) Tahir Alam Khan spoke to reporters at the site of the operation, informing them that 500 houses had been demolished. “We are trying to complete this operation without the use of force,” he said.
CDA Spokesperson Ramzan Sajid said the CDA is committed towards completing the operation. “These are illegal residents and they were given many days to vacate the area voluntarily,” he said.
Mr Sajid said those who have been allotted plots in Sector I-11 have been waiting to take possession of their land for the last 25 years. “We have a responsibility towards those people who have paid for this land,” he said.
According to the police, in the afternoon the resisting slum-dwellers tried to stop the police by pretending to take out a funeral procession. As the procession was approaching, the mourners began pelting the policemen with stones and when the police fired tear-gas shells, everyone dispersed, including the man pretending to be dead who got up and ran.
By evening, the police had arrested a few dozen more and an announcement was made by a community elder in Pashto who said “Gather your belongings and vacate your homes. The operation is final.”
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2015