Islamabad’s Forgotten Villages

Sep 2014

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Photographer: Sara Farid | Overlooking Kalinjar and Gandhian

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Check points have become a common sight in Islamabad, and they dot the road as I drive along Islamabad’s northern limits. A tall, concrete wall built by the Pakistan Navy trails along my side, set along the Margalla Hills that oversee the capital. Cars slow down, almost rhythmically, speeding up as soon as they pass by the naval officers, who peer into car windows during the day, or flash a torch on the faces of drivers at night. Suddenly, I notice an interruption in what looks like never-ending concrete: I can make out the rough beginnings of a dirt road. I get out of my car and make my way down the grainy path, and this is when I realize there is more to this northern stretch of the city than the walls and uniforms that dominate its landscape.

Mud houses, cattle and an old haveli crop up at the end of the uneven path, set atop the incline that transforms into the Margalla Hills. The city, with its broad boulevards and slow PTV-like hum of whitewashed government buildings, dissipates, and it is as if a village has replaced the squared and gridded Islamabad that I have grown up in and known my entire life. These are the villages of Kalinjar and Gandhian, I later learn, and they predate the capital that was planned and built by the Pakistani state in the 1960s. Today, these villages are enclosed, on all sides, by walls of the Naval Complex.

The Naval Complex is just one of several expansive landholdings owned and operated by the armed forces in Pakistan. Over the past several years, the Pakistan Army has increasingly claimed and demarcated residential and commercial areas in almost all major cities for its officers and their families. Indeed, the expansion of the naval complex into and around Kalinjar and Gandhian is just one manifestation of a far broader dynamic in Pakistan: From Okara to Dera Bugti, the armed forces are acquiring and developing land around the country, sometimes facing passive, or even aggressive, resistance. Though the role of the armed forces in owning, operating and distributing land is not new–the British distributed jaggirs, or land, in specific areas to build a loyal community of officers–their expansionist policies are quickly gaining unmitigated ground. Today, the Pakistan Army owns more land than any other institution or group in the country. Unlike other state organizations that own territory (for example Pakistan Railways), the scholar Ayesha Siddiqa has discussed how the armed forces can transform state land into privately owned assets that, in turn, can be legally distributed among members of its fraternity.((Siddiqa, Ayesha 2007: Military Inc. – Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy, p. 175.))

Growing up, however, the class of Islamabadis I knew saw the navy as a far more innocuous wing of the armed forces than the larger Pakistan Army. After switching its headquarters to Islamabad’s G-sector (the Naval Headquarters were based in Karachi before Pakistan switched its capital to Islamabad), the navy built schools for civilians, and a small market that was a favorite among Islamabad shoppers. Back then, civilian access to the naval complex was far easier, and less inhibited by the heightened security concerns that dominate the city and the country today. Yet, even with the relatively fluid civilian mobility in and out of the Naval Complex, officers always enjoyed a privileged position in the capital city. When the navy decided to shift its location to the city’s norther E-sector, nestled at the edge of the Margalla Hills, the armed forces acquired the land at a massive discount, far beneath the actual market rate.

Today, memories of navy lands frequented by my family and friends seem like a distant memory. After a 2009 attack on the Pakistan Army’s General Headquarters in Rawalpindi, and a 2011 attack on the Pakistan Naval Base (PNS) Mehran in Karachi, the Naval Complex has heightened its security protocol. It is no longer possible to enter the Naval Complex without appropriate identification, or a pre-confirmed invitation from a resident of the complex. The borders around the complex, which were once porous–a more natural extension of the rest of the city–are now heavily manned with armed naval guards.

The further I walk down the dirt road, the further I get from the naval security officers that man the gates of the complex, and the closer I get into the two villages that were part of Islamabad’s terrain long before the militarized presence of the army. While my family and friends continued to live our lives relatively unperturbed by the changed and charged security atmosphere, these two villages and the people who live in them have felt the brunt of the transformations that have taken place in Islamabad. In the midst of new developments, these two villages like Kalinjar and Gandhian have become rural islands pushed to the edges of the city in the name of security. That is why a walk down this path is like a trip down a memory lane of Islamabad’s history, where the story of the capital is etched across its lands.

*                                      *                                      *

Like the rest of the country, Kalinjar and Gandhian are growing. Situated at the base of Islamabad’s scenic hills, cattle stand roped to posts, filling the spaces between houses, and the village sits nestled among areas that have been declared national parks. Despite their scenic beauty, however, these villages have an economy closely linked to the capital that has been sprouting up around it. Many of Kalinjar’s residents are employed in the Naval Complex as household help, gardeners or staff in the hospitals and schools. But while its residents are a de facto part of the surrounding city, as part of its original labor force, many do not feel included in the development, or security, logic that has gone hand in hand with its growth.

Photographer: Sara Farid | Peaceful vistas of Islamabad

Photographer: Sara Farid | Peaceful vistas of Islamabad

“For the past 60 years, our village has enjoyed peaceful vistas of the new city of Islamabad. Now, the navy has constructed [walls and] new offices outside the sector [that was] allocated to them. […] [Some of these constructions, like] the wall [that the navy] built [even] took over some of our village land,” says Kazafi Khan, a middle-aged village resident.

Like other residents living in Kalinjar and Gandhian, Khan has lived in these villages for as many generations as he can count. Over the years, he has seen the village grow from the small community of what he says are primarily Mughal caste families, to the expanding homes that he grew up among. He says that the biggest indication of this growth can be read off the architecture of the homes. As children get married and have families of their own, they extend the houses they grew up in, building rooms that grow out of their parents’ homes. Despite these changes, Kalinjar and Gandhian are not as densely constructed as some of the city slums that have cropped up elsewhere–like F-7’s France Colony in the middle of the capital where families have had to build upwards, because there is no space left on the sides of their homes, or the Afghan Basti at Islamabad’s further edges in I-11 where dilapidated mud huts stand too close for comfort. But, like these slums around the city, residents of the two villages too fear the expansionary, security logic of the capital. Where recent eviction attempts by state authorities in Islamabad have cast slum-dwellers as threats to the capital’s growth interests–they are occupying lucrative land they have no rights on, they are told, and live in messy homes that make the capital look unattractive–those who live in the villages are increasingly seen as threats to the capital’s security concerns.

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15 Responses to Islamabad’s Forgotten Villages

  1. […] bring you two investigative long-form articles in keeping with TQ’s mission. Zehra Hashmi investigates the encroachment by the Pakistani Navy on village land and Asad Hashim takes stock of the […]

  2. TQ Chāt | # 21 | Tanqeed on Sep 2014 at 11:04 AM

    […] by the way, have you seen last week’s releases from our Fall 2014 issue? neoliberalism against privatization and how the state sanctions bonded labor and islamabad’s lost villages. […]

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