BEHIND the immaculate façade of Bahria Town Karachi, violence has been ongoing since years. Indigenous farming communities have been coerced into surrendering the land they have called home for generations and seen their livelihoods destroyed. Police contingents have raided goths and threatened those who continued to resist their strong-arm tactics, sometimes arresting them on spurious terrorism charges. Bahria Town personnel, along with local authorities, have overseen the bulldozing of villages, the destruction of tube wells, the uprooting of orchards and even the levelling of graveyards. All this suffering, the very erasure of a people’s way of life and their history, scarcely found a mention in the media.
On Sunday, a different kind of violence took place at the sprawling gated community. The occasion was a protest called by the Sindh Action Committee against the real estate developer’s modus operandi on the outskirts of Karachi. According to reports — of which this time there was no shortage— a mob broke away from the protesters gathered in front of the main entrance and pushed their way inside. They set fire to two international food franchises, a car showroom, realtors’ offices, several vehicles and the main gateway itself.
The wanton destruction of property, and the panic and fear caused thereby, is condemnable. There must be a transparent probe to determine the identity of the perpetrators and look into why matters took such a turn despite the presence of police contingents who would have had advance notice that a large number of people and organisations from across the province, including nationalist parties, were going to converge outside BTK.
The SAC has pointed the finger of blame at Bahria personnel themselves for having staged the violence to sabotage their peaceful protest. Whatever the case may be, there appears a danger at this point that a legitimate rights movement, based in the very real deprivation inflicted by ruthless corporate interests hand in glove with the power elite, could be hijacked by groups with a broader agenda against the state.
One could ask why nationalist parties have suddenly shown up after being nowhere on the horizon in all the years Bahria was working to depopulate villages in the district. Those directly affected by the firm’s seemingly unstoppable expansion in the area could find themselves crushed in what could follow this new development. The events on Sunday have already provided the perfect excuse for law enforcement to crack down on locals.
But there is another danger, one the state must consider in the interest of Pakistan’s future. The impunity with which Bahria and other powerful land developers operate, trampling the law and the rights of local populations, is straining the fragile bonds between the different ethnic groups in the country and also deepening the sense of socioeconomic inequality. Such a model of ‘development’ is unsustainable — and as phony as the replica Eiffel Towers that dot Bahria’s gated communities.
Published in Dawn, June 9th, 2021