Islamabad’s Forgotten Villages

Sep 2014

Photographer: Sara Farid | Father walks with his children along the boundary wall to the Naval Complex

Photographer: Sara Farid | Father walks with his children along the boundary wall to the Naval Complex

The collusion of elite classes becomes even clearer on Pakistani urban landscapes like Islamabad. When Greek architect Constantinos Doxiadis conceived Islamabad in 1960, it was thought of as a city without the poor. The city’s elite planned to keep it that way, and enlisting the help of the army and concerns surrounding security has turned out to be one of the most effective ways to do so.

Indeed, the business ventures of the armed forces, through which they have become a major land buyer within the country, has come hand in hand with subjecting space in Pakistan to rising walls, mushrooming check-points and beefing up of security in cantonments and all major cities after 9/11. In many cases, increased security takes the form of brazen intrusion. It is not uncommon to see a public thoroughfare that is blocked off by concrete barriers. Such exclusions are built into security infrastructure, which through its very ubiquity takes on a commonsense, self-evident character.

In such a situation, the question of encroachment takes on a different meaning. It is not the poor who are encroaching upon what is state or public land. Rather, it is an infrastructure of supposed security that is taking over public space in a manner that reflects a direct militarization of citizens’ immediate environment. And this supposed exception is built into the state apparatus, its legal structures and, especially, its discourse.

Given this, the tension that Kazafi Khan mentions–between the villagers of Kalinjar and Gandhian, and the Naval Complex–speaks to the way these security measures and militarism affects the everyday life of Pakistanis. Indeed, they do so not just in the form of sporadic terror attacks but as a systemic and material reality. The conflict is embedded within the relationship between city authorities, the country’s military-industrial complex, and the urban-rural poor of Islamabad. While the dispute between the villagers in this particular area and the navy could be seen as an isolated incident, it is in fact part of a far larger dynamic, that brings to light the exclusionary logic of security within Pakistan. This is because the story of security in Pakistan is about much more than just safety: It is also a story about land acquisition, encroachment and displacement.

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Along the road that leads up to Kalinjar and Gandhian, there is a lush, green golf course. The course is visible from the road through a chicken wire fence, and has a spectacular view of the Margalla Hills. Driving on the road, one can see caddies and flying golf balls in what is technically a “green area,” in other words land that is not meant for building or construction. This land was acquired by the CDA many years ago.

A retired naval officer, requesting anonymity, said that the function of the green area has been maintained, as the golf course is, in fact, green. He added that it was also public in the sense that anyone could become a member of it. When I asked him about the wall and the ensuing tension with the villagers, he explained that it was built on a public road because it is the access point into the naval headquarters – everything beyond the road is naval property.

“Plus,” he adds, “the residents of the village have no legal rights to the land in the first place, and so cannot accuse the navy of encroachment.”

His response first and foremost highlights a long-standing ambiguity around the legal status of the villagers of Kalinjar and Gandhian. Parts of the villages are situated on the green area, which is technically not allowed. In addition, Mohammad Asim Khichi, Director of Public Relations at the CDA, claims that city authorities acquired the village by means of compensation in 1963, when the building of Islamabad began. However, Kazafi Khan, the resident, said that that CDA never completed the compensation payment.

More indirectly, however, the retired naval officer’s quote reflects what Khan explains is the differential relevance and application of the law for Islamabad’s economic classes. Indeed, constructions take place on green areas across the capital, but action against those who are poorer is both more frequent and more unforgiving. According to Khan a powerful military institution such as the navy often has overriding preferences when it comes to use of the land, the golf course being a case in point. In one case, he says, the CDA tried to prevent the expansion of the navy, but returned to their offices when high-level navy officers appeared on the scene. When I asked Khichi about the CDA’s power in relation to the military, he admitted that the CDA has not declared any of the navy’s activities a violation, though the issue is being discussed.

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In contrast, Muzzafar Khan, the retired CDA official, maintains that the navy has indeed slowly but surely encroached upon public land. He added that this represents a typical dynamic of the powerful against the weak, even within state institutions. Even as the CDA took noticeagainst this encroachment, the armed forces continued to do as they wished. “Security concerns have created immunity for all such kinds of construction and violations of public space,” he concluded.

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The ways in which the lives of Kalinjar and Gandhian residents are bound up with the naval complex that surrounds them is written across the edges of the Margalla Hills, where the naval complex sits. Take a film of an average day in these villages, and one will see residents entering and exiting the naval complex that is encroaching upon their lives, because that is where they work and that is where they earn their living.

Exclusivity is fast becoming the logic that underpins the development of this far-reaching area of the capital, say the villagers that I have spoken to. It looks grim, they add, but they are trying to shift the conversation, through ongoing negotiations, so they can co-exist in lands that were once exclusively theirs.

In the meantime, Kazafi Khan says that he hopes for the best.

Zehra Hashmi is a PhD student in Anthropology and History at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is interested in security infrastructure and electronic news media in urban Pakistan.

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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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