“Tackle the real terrorists not us,” Pakistani slum dwellers

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Photo: Umar Farooq/IRIN
Ghaffar Ali, 14 (center), at a protest against evictions of slums in Pakistan, including Afghan Basti, where he and his family live

     22-year-old Muhammad Yaqub got a notice from the authorities saying his mud-walled, thatch-roofed home in Pakistan’s capital city was scheduled to be bulldozed.
He lives in one of 18 illegal settlements which the Capitol Development Authority (CDA), a department under the Ministry of Interior, is planning to move or raze this month. The settlements, home to more than 80,000 people many of whom are internally displaced or Afghan refugees and migrants, have come under renewed scrutiny since 3 March, when gunmen and suicide bombers killed 11 people in a rare attack on a judicial complex in Islamabad.
“Where were they [the attackers] from? Where were they hiding?” said Shaista Sohail, who is overseeing the slum eradication programme, when asked if the
attack prompted the latest push to clear the slums. “If you go to these areas, all kinds of clandestine activities are rife,” she said.
The demolitions were slated to begin on 24 March 2014, but after thousands of residents held a sit-in in front of CDA offices on 20 March, officials announced the clearance operation would be postponed. “We learned health authorities were planning a polio vaccination campaign [in the slums], so we have postponed the
operation,” said Sohail, dismissing the impact of the backlash.
Residents of the slums say they are being blamed for the government’s inability to provide adequate security for the country’s civilian population, especially in the capital.
They say the threat of eviction hangs over them whenever the government is faced with another embarrassing security lapse.
“They want to destroy these settlements because they say there are terrorists,” said Mariam Bibi, a resident of one of the slums slated to be razed. “We are sweepers, labourers, hardworking people, not
terrorists. They don’t arrest the real terrorists, who go around bragging about what they have done.”
As part of an investigation into the attack, Pakistan Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan ordered police to focus on the
illegal settlements, which have been blamed for housing militants in the past.
“Many slums have sprung up around Islamabad. These people don’t get registered, and this will inevitably create a law and order situation,” Khan told lawmakers last September. “There are many foreigners, mostly Afghan migrants, who have no identity card, no record – 98,000 illegal people, mostly foreigners, some with criminal records.” That statement came a day after militants in the northwest killed a senior Pakistani general, one of the highest ranking officers to die in the decade long war between the militants and the government.
Ibrahim, another resident has witnessed regular police raids for years. “It happens every year, but this year we are more worried
than usual,” he said. “The police regularly conduct raids, but don’t find anything. They pick up 100-200 people at a time, check if anyone is an Afghan, then release
them in the evening,” he said, adding that he was detained in such a raid last month.
“We conducted around nine major operations [in the slums] this year,” said a senior police official in Islamabad, declining to be named because he was not
authorized to speak to media. “We always check them out, [finding] small-time criminals… The threat from the slums is not
any higher than [the rest of] Islamabad.”

(Report by IRIN)

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