A Politics of Rage in Islamabad

Dec 2015

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Photo credit: Sara Farid

Photo credit: Sara Farid

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“Politics makes visible that which had no reason to be seen, it lodges one world into another” – Jacques Ranciere1

At the end of July this year, 3000 homes were razed to the ground, and 20,000 people were displaced in a harrowing eviction operation carried out against Islamabad’s largest katchi abadi or informal settlement. Over three days, its residents were pulled out of their homes on the orders of the Capital Development Authority (CDA), Islamabad’s municipal administration, with the support of the federal government, and with the help of the capital police and the paramilitary Pakistan Rangers. 

The fact that the I-11 katchi abadi was razed to the ground over three days was an unimaginable and terrifying reality for its residents, and those of us who stood by them. The site is a haunting and surreal spot on the urban landscape of an increasingly exclusionary Islamabad. Yet, despite our horror, we understood that the demolition of this katchi basti was an understood and even common-place fact–a natural extension of the brutality and violence of the Pakistani state.

This paradox – that a brutal state reasoning is both pervasively known, even accepted, and that it was capable of shocking and jarring those of us who witnessed it yet again – is, I will argue, fundamental to a politics of redistribution, recognition–and resistance.

The state has unleashed various brutalities upon its citizens time and again – disproportionately in Balochistan and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). Yet, the residents in the I-11 abadi – many of whom had already experienced such brutalities in their everyday dealings with the state, or in the face of the war that has ravaged the Tribal Areas – were shocked, stung and wounded. Those of us who stood by them – members of the AWP, APAKA, the Awami National Party (ANP), and others – were likewise saddened and enraged. The idea, “of course they could do something like this” did not account for the rage and struggle that the demolition left in its aftermath among those collectively resisting. The ability and track record of the state, and its local city officials, to act in this way did not naturalize the event that took place. Somehow, the horror of losing I-11 to bulldozers did not become a natural fact.

It is this fact, that the horror of I-11 did not become naturalized, which is fundamental to our politics. From this continuing sense of disbelief and loss in the aftermath of I-11’s demolition, and from the very context of failure and disillusionment emerges a strange kind of political clarity–and optimism.

An Uneven Horror

Photo credit: Sara Farid

Photo credit: Sara Farid

The sense of  indignation, rage, and sorrow was unevenly distributed. Everyone in Islamabad did not share in this outrage. While some were supporting the eviction and some were resisting it, most were either supportive or indifferent.

This uneven distribution of affect made fractures within society starkly visible. Borders appeared in the shape of political opinions and government orders. Most painfully, they appeared spatially: The sense of what is imaginable, possible or reasonable was explicitly divided along class and ethnic lines.

The Pashtun laborer from I-11 is on the losing side of this divide. While the I-11 residents worked in the central vegetable mandi allowing life to be, quite literally, possible for the elite, their economic and ethnic identity was a perpetual source of anxiety for the establishment. This anxiety is born from the entanglement of the figure of the Pashtun migrant laborer from the specter of a terrorist descending from the northwest–which, after all, is one’s own creation on various registers.2 Both the need for Pashtun migrants and the anxiety that emerges in their presence is what creates this real and imagined border within Islamabad. Even as it is physically pushed to the edges, a place like I-11 lurks as a space of paranoia and anxiety within the imagination of the elite.

That is why the case of I-11 foregrounds what it means to resist a militarized state from margins that are a source of anxiety and fear for the center, even as those margins are intimately peripheral to the heart of power.

In fact, the anxiety in the rest of Islamabad was met with first disbelief, then loss, and finally rage, in the margins that was the I-11 abadi. The concentration of these affects among a handful of I-11 residents and their supporters generated its own politics.  The political failure of being unable to stop the eviction made apparent not just the need for the redistribution and recognition of housing rights, but the redistribution and recognition of a rightful rage. After all, it was rage, shock and horror in the face of an eviction that fueled the political organizing itself. Since everyone did not share in this anger, finding ways to communicate shock and horror became a part of a necessary political process. A politics of resistance is impossible if it is not wrapped in with these affects.

In fact, the unequal distribution of affect within the landscape of Islamabad was the context from within which the political subject that resisted the eviction emerged.

A political subject is typically understood as the “we” or politics.“We” can refer to a shared and naturalized identity of being a “worker,” “black” or “Pashtun.” Many who study moments of political resistance explore how and why certain political subjectivities emerge to mobilize masses onto the streets in protests or in front of bulldozers forming a human chain. During the I-11 eviction, those who identified themselves as being “under attack by the CDA” witnessed the emergence of a political subjectivity. While there was no natural, pre-existing reason why they should see themselves as being in the same boat, and on the same side in relation to power, the attacks by the CDA situated them so that their position as being under attack was naturalized, compelling them to co-identify and act collectively.


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As is the case in other instances, political subjectivity often involves a double bind, where individuals are both subject to relations of power but also enabled through these relations. One has to necessarily act within and through the set of conditions that shape the political self. These can vary from general economic and social conditions to the specific ways in which a neighborhood is planned or a house is built. As these circumstances seem to shift, for better or for worse, such as in the very prospect of losing one’s home, an altered subjectivity emerges. Not only during the demolition or its aftermath, but also the weeks leading up to it, were particularly telling in this regard.

This essay will describe the various routes taken to organize resistance in the face of an imminent threat– including protests, legal recourse, negotiations with the CDA and finally mobilizing both social media and mainstream press and TV. It is importance to recount the ways in which state institutions such as the Islamabad High Court and the CDA were approached and the various ways in which all such recourses failed. Private liberalized media that thrives on spectacle ran live footage of the battle with the police for close to seven hours, and yet there was no push from anywhere to halt the operation once it had begun. In what ways, then, can we begin to comprehend an event defined by abandonment from the state and from society at large? 

Since when does everyone care about legality?

In many ways, the question of legality has subsumed other elements of the discourse around the eviction that are as, if not more, significant to the manner in which the operation unfolded. Yet, the continuing role of the courts cannot be understated in the matter either. The Islamabad High Court’s order for katchi abadi demolitions trace back to two years ago. One hearing, a week before the Operation on Friday, provides insight into the sequence of events that led to the particular targeting of I-11. It also points attention to the discourse around terrorism, Afghans and security that the emerging narrative was couched within. A crucial element of resistance was then to develop a counter-narrative and find means to disseminate this not only as information but also as an alternative logic to view informal settlements as structural phenomena; instead of simply undesirable spaces, they can also be considered productive sites of social and political life. 

Returning to the realm of legality, the beginning of the proceedings the IHC judge Shaukat Siddiqi reprimanded3 the CDA for publicizing their anti-encroachment drives as major achievements in the newspapers while in fact they had “done nothing.” The CDA had announced that they had developed a six-phase plan of evictions4 and would proceed phase by phase. Siddiqi asked them to change the order of this plan to tackle I-11, the largest of the bastis, first. This is because the case being heard by Justice Siddiqi was filed by citizens who had bought CDA allotted land in I-11. This area was only a small portion of the katchi abadi. Justice Siddiqi asked that by the next hearing the entire basti be cleared, and then the CDA should proceed to tackle all other such settlements in the city. The entire proceedings lasted around 15 minutes. 

Before this, members of the AWP and the APAKA had been present at the court hearings and had continually called for a resettlement plan before the evictions were carried out. These demands and concerns went unheeded by Justice Siddiqi and the CDA. At this last hearing, it was clear that a protest organized by the AWP and attended by katchi abadi residents alongside press coverage of an ongoing resistance had perhaps trickled into Justice Siddiqi’s ears. He told the CDA lawyers, in a very dismissive tone, that he did not care whether they resettled the abadi or not, he simply wanted them removed from land that they occupied. The words of the judge made the logic abundantly clear: the “state’s responsibility [is] to protect the private property of its citizens.” The needs and rights of one group are clearly recognizable, and when violated they disturb the order of things. Meanwhile, the literal homelessness of another group, and the violence that an eviction entails, is not intelligible, or understood, as a wrong of the same degree and nature within the logical framework employed by Justice Siddiqi. 

The sense of rightful claims cannot be disentangled from notions of belonging, on the part of both katchi abadi residents and institutions of the state. These notions of belonging are tied to place, particularly the city, and to a particular group of people such as Pashtuns in this case.  An earlier cases where Justice Siddiqi issued an order for katchi abadi evictions exemplifies this. Amin Khan had petitioned the Islamabad High Court on January 28, 2014 to direct NADRA to issue him a computerized national identity card. Amin Khan, originally from FATA, had been a resident of the I-11 katchi abadi. Justice Siddiqi dismissed Amin Khan’s contentions and instead directed attention to the Ministry of Interior, demanding that they explain how katchi abadis had been allowed to emerge in various parts of Islamabad. It is important to note that he referred to katchi abadi residents as “people from outside” – what does this allegation of non-indigeniety connote in the very specific context of Islamabad as a settled, planned capital city?  

Meanwhile, Amin Khan withdrew his katchi abadi address from his CNIC application as it was creating various kinds of obstacles – not only to the procurement of his identity card but to his very home and neighborhood – and stated that he would be satisfied if his original FATA address would be printed on his CNIC. Justice Siddiqi directed NADRA accordingly, and closed this case but continued to press on the issue of katchi abadis. Keeping aside the issue of why NADRA was not issuing Amin Khan a CNIC in the first place, the fact that his straightforward request in court led to a directive to the Ministry of Interior to clear all slum settlements reveals a particular kind of xenophobia. It is safe to assume that Amin Khan’s request rung alarm bells in a few particular notes; not only were Pashtun migrants to the city occupying katchi abadis but they were demanding a degree of legitimation through the request for a residential address in Islamabad. It is not Justice Siddiqi alone but the mainstream of civil society, politicians and media who also consider katchi abadi residents, particularly I-11 residents, to be bodies out of place in Islamabad.

Political economy of belonging

Photo credit: Sara Farid

Photo credit: Sara Farid

It may be the logic of the state to view the working class bodies of the katchi abadis as marginal and unnecessary to the pretensions of high modernity in the capital city. This logic certainly translates into objective conditions, ranging from the absence of basic amenities to the constant threat of eviction, which then shape the field within which katchi abadi residents can act. Yet, the idea that katchi abadi residents are defined in absolute and total ways by their marginal social and spatial location within the city must be resisted. It is important to emphasize that katchi abadi residents are not marginal due to a predetermined and fixed position that they occupy by default. Working solely with an analysis of positions occupied, such as ‘poor’ or ‘migrant,’ obscures the process by which they come to be marginalized, and are continually made marginal, in specific instances through a specific kind of relation to the state, generated and reproduced through events or rather state practices such as eviction. Resistance politics would be entirely futile if the subjectivity and agency were determined by the sole actions of the state. The state’s incredible anxiety – manifested not only in the huge reinforcements of rangers and police brought in but also the discourse they had to conjure and disseminate – demonstrates the fact that this power relation is not secure by any means. 

This paranoia and brutish violence that results from it is in many ways not unique to the Pakistani state. It can be understood within the logical circularity of the substantial (empirical conditions of marginalization and oppression on the ground) and the potential, “without which the movement would be simple repetition of pre-given terms entering preauthorized, pre-meant relations” Brian Massumi argues in Parables of the Virtual. Thus, in a sense, it is important to both have an acute awareness of political realities, for instance the immense power of the state and the ways in which it exercises it, all the while forgetting it a little, just long enough to act. To forget the multitude of immense power of the state or even, for example, the failures of the past, does not necessarily mean repeating the same mistakes. Rather, displacing the centrality of failure within memory allows one to see change within a different framework, as an emergent relation or “a modulation of potential.” After the demolition, such a potential came forth to some extent through the deepening of social relations and tightening of community in the very face of loss. Through the very process of fragmentation there was built a growing consciousness and ability to imagine the katchi abadi as an entity in its whole form. The ways in which facial recognition and sociality worked following the demolition speaks to this.

I first noticed this when I was approached by katchi abadi residents in neighborhoods such as Tarnol and Fauji colony. I did not know these people but recognized them, as they did me. As I began to spend time in these new spaces, I saw that new kinds of ties were in formation amongst former katchi abadi residents through the process of recognizing others whom they may not have had close relations with before; beyond facial recognition, this was also a recognition of a new shared precarious condition, as opposed to some sort of common pre-given identity. How will these spaces reconfigure themselves as sites for emergent political and social relations? Although only time will tell, it is clear that the notion of potential is central for any politics emerging from this fundamentally new social milieu. 


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Through the destruction of the I-11 katchi abadi and the subsequent dispersal of its residents to various far flung parts of the Pindi-Islamabad periphery, in order to make room for developing a sector for middle class housing, the very idea and practice of collectivity was attacked. In fact, apart from a discourse around terror networks, the fact that the space functioned as socially in particular ways was never even taken into account by the CDA or other parties involved.  ‘Modulating potential’ under these conditions is perhaps the most difficult task, for as Massumi claims the most recent form of power relations under capitalism usurp the expression of potential itself–the very capacity to belong and belong together.

There are many layers to the outsider status thrust upon I-11 katchi abadi residents. The court’s response to the supposed illegality of the settlement and their response to Amin Khan’s request for a particular address was only one of those layers. The direct order for eviction that came from the Interior Ministry overtly relied on a pervasive security risk discourse. More specifically, the narrative went something like this: the I-11 residents, perhaps because they are Pashtuns, harbor terrorists or may even be terrorists themselves. These impressionistic and entirely unsubstantiated allegations were embedded within a security logic, namely the notion that it is perfectly reasonable to demolish an entire settlement based on fears that have no evidence behind them. In addition, the fact that the I-11 katchi abadi had been inaccurately labeled Afghan basti, perpetuating the idea that unregistered refugees were living here, was another tactic to mobilize xenophobic sentiments in middle class society to gather consent for the operation.5

It is also important to note that whether they were indeed Afghan or not is yet another tactic to obscure the political questions at stake. ))

The Pakistani state, through Islamabad’s various bureaucratic institutions, time and again attempted to further this idea of Islamabad as a planned city, while katchi abadis – and particularly Afghan citizens – were seen as digressions from a supposedly universal conception of planned order. Yet, their anxieties and ambivalence around the tensions within this idea came across quite clearly. Not only were two institutions of the state, the Islamabad High Court and the CDA, in a fraught relation with one another. Fingers were pointing to CDA officials and employees from all directions. Hence, a movement towards resistance or change would involve not only pushing against this idea but would also deploy the ambivalence with which the state approaches it in the first place. This involves a sharp attentiveness to the ways in which the relations between the state and its subjects is in a process of continual evolution, as is amply evident from the case of the I-11 katchi abadi. To view the relations between citizens and the state through the lens of their pre-given identities would in Massumi’s words simply mean moving some furniture around, the same old furniture. To say that the ontological status of the relation is separate from the terms of the relation would imply that these very terms (the marginal, the peripheral, the oppressed) are not “already-constituted.” Instead, these are not identities but relations that are generated and reproduced through practices. This does not mean that the actions of the police on the day of the eviction should not be called out as brutal, oppressive and even unlawful. There was nothing inherent to the policemen present that day that led them to act in this way. After all, they quietly sat across the road for two days prior and indeed appeared quite reluctant to carry out the eviction at that point. Telescoping out from the intricacies of the architecture of the event, it is clear that the state’s vacillation and contradiction between various state institutions indicates that the decision is not intrinsic to state structure but in fact a process. By extension, it is a process that politics can intervene in. This mode of conceiving political relations is essential to the kind of optimism and theory of change that a resistance politics can be built on. Namely, not everything is or can be given in advance–including the political position of those who resist.

The Two Sides of a Media Event


Photo credit: Sara Farid

What happens to mediation during a crisis-filled event? Islamabad watched the demolition of the I-11 katchi basti on live television for over 5 hours.6 Yet, the spatiality of this view cannot be emphasized enough: the perspective and by extension the affects oscillated widely depending on where one stood on the road, whether one was behind the bulldozers instead of in front of them, whether one had a manicured lawn in the F-sector or lived in an abadi themselves. A significant part of the frustration felt by those who were ‘in between’ in a sense – who closely knew those in the abadi and saw the events unfold in front of their eyes but did not live in I-11 – was borne out of seeing how this exercise in power, one of straightforward subjugation, was not recognized as such by middle class society. Not to mention, in order to have relief from demolition and any push for resettlement, it was this very liberal society that would have to be called upon – even as they repeatedly proved themselves useless or at least apathetic. A nexus of urban planners, lawyers, journalists and civil society activities with liberal leanings would have to be mobilized to bridge the yawning gap of access between the katchi abadi residents and institutions such as the Supreme Court of Pakistan. And so it was that the question of mediation revealed itself to be deeply connected to that of discourse and counter discourse. On the next day, the reporting was heavily skewed and often times blatantly inaccurate. However, slowly condemnations began to trickle in from a few politicians and allies in civil society. It was too little and too late.

As someone who was originally interested in the infrastructures affecting circulation of news in informal settlements in Islamabad, I found this ‘media event’ to be particularly revealing. It not only bared the media landscape, it also showed the ways in which I-11 residents were not only disseminators of alternative information but mediums themselves. As background, it is important to know that for the most part, different from bourgeois homes, those in the basti were not obsessed with watching 24-hour news and talk shows that have captivated middle-class Pakistani viewers since the liberalization of the news media. This is not to say that they were unaware of the significance of media in their lives. As opposed to seeing it as a source of information, they sought to use it and indeed even occupy it in far more direct ways.  In the moment of eviction, the OB television vans rolled into I-11 a few days before the demolitionthe bulldozers had arrived and a large number of residents had come out to the main road protesting peacefully. The residents now engaged the mainstream media not as viewers or spectators waiting to see what would happen to them or attempt to gauge the seriousness of the eviction threat through media reporting. Rather, they proceeded to attempt to get their perspective into the media as fully as they possibly could.


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This occurred in a number of ways and a variety of instances. First of all, many members of the community were more than eager to speak to the cameras to tell them what had occurred. In terms of print journalism, they engaged the reporters and gave them in-depth stories even weeks before the demolition. The interesting aspect of this is that they were less interested in the ‘end result,’ that is, to see how they and their ‘state of illegality’ was eventually represented or portrayed in the media. What appeared to come first and foremost, I learned in both observing these interactions with the media and by talking to those who were being interviewed, was the opportunity to insert oneself into mainstream media discourse. They also understood all too well that much of their fate rested in who read and how much of it could proliferate–a cruel calculus indeed. All of this is not to make the argument that the media generates unconditional possibilities for giving voice to the marginal. It both does and does not. What is interesting here is the ways in which they shaped their voices to make themselves intelligible, worthy of compassion and empathy, for the powerful. They did so by proclaiming themselves to be hard working and laboring people who deserved a roof to sleep under. They attempted to use their identity cards to proclaim their citizenship (it was clearly not a given), and displayed these to the watching cameras. There were also times when they raged against the state. In all of these moments, postures were taken with the awareness that there was a viewer on the other side of society who was always and already failing to listen.

Simultaneously, there were layers of translation that modified, reconfigured and interpreted these messages as they were printed, broadcast and posted. The social media ‘coverage’ of not only the event but the situation at large – primarily through the AWP, APAKA and others tweeting independently – was perhaps least edited but of course the presentation of information in social media cannot be considered unmediated. It is in fact highly mediated, not solely through the technological forms it takes but also by how it imagines the audiences it is responding to and communicating with. Social media is by no means ‘organic,’ it in fact takes on a fairly orchestrated political thrust. This observation is not meant to delegitimize its potential, such as by putting out information that would otherwise go unreported, but only illustrate the fact that this medium too has to do the work of translating the deeply complex and highly antagonistic political messages to generate a movement against evictions. How to communicate what is at stake – such as through the messages directly addressed to the CDA from women at the women’s meetings a few days before the demolition – and not alienate forms of liberal sympathy that are both in part complicit in the eviction process at large and perhaps the only recourse in the moment of crisis? The question of what constitutes the various media forms in such a context, alongside the ambiguity of who constitutes the public being addressed, is instrumental to understanding the politics of resistance and its entanglement with fraught desires for and against recognition. The spaces of mediation allow for a politics of representation, and the forms that resistance takes is observable in the engagement with power in this domain. What happened on the day of the demolition, although not devoid of mediation of other kinds, was markedly different.

In a matter of seconds, an everyday space was transformed into a war zone. The lines were clearly drawn, both spatially and otherwise. One side, even as they put forth the most direct resistance possible, was painfully aware of their transgression. In what appeared to be the collective eye of the abadi, the police were clearly committing the obviously greater wrong of brutally destroying homes but the residents knew that they stood on the other side of legality and recognition. The precariousness of this balance between a generalized condition of obstructed life within a working class space and an outright attack from the state manifested itself very clearly at this moment. The bulldozers were not able to decimate the entire space–by ‘space’ I also mean the social and political space that was woven into the physical built landscape. Rather, the demolition violently started a process of unraveling. Various aspects of both the material and the socio-political began to unravel, but then also, almost simultaneously, knot together again in various ways.

What emerges from ‘failure’?

Photo credit: Sara Farid

Photo credit: Sara Farid

What does an unraveling community look like? There are aspects of this question yet to be answered for the process is not complete nor is it absolute. Moreover, communities begin to reconfigure and people entangle themselves in new ways with one another’s lives almost simultaneous to the process of unravelling. On the first day of the demolition operation, people carried over belongings such as fans, charpoys, solar panels, across the stream of water to the other side of the settlement away from the tear gas. As they read the namaz-e-janaza of 16 day old Mubbashir at the mosque situated at a higher point on one side of the abadi that looks over much of the rest, the steady activity of three bulldozers was still in view. The next day, after what the rest of the abadi had witnessed, they were convinced of the futility of resistance. They attempted to pack as many of their belongings before one of the three bulldozers making their way through the abadi came to their homes. These belongings included the semi-permanent structures including parts of the home, especially wood that supported the roof, doors and windows. Not to mention, the animals that were left behind. In the next step, these belongings were often distributed in up to four different places, as relatives or rented places seldom had the capacity to store everything. Families living together too had to be broken up for similar reasons. Brokenness operated on multiple registers in these last few moments – worlds, houses, families, wills, a sense of the future. What then was the nature of the narrative that emerged in the aftermath of the qayamat – doomsday – as numerous people who had experienced the demolition put it? In particular, what were/is the mode of articulating the condition of impermanence and transience that I-11 residents were now placed in? Further, how does a sense of brokenness produce its own discourse? 

I, of course, only have partial answers. Many of these questions have answers that are still in formation and will be for months to come. Perhaps elements of this narrative are ever-changing, continually dynamic. My conversations with ‘ordinary people’ and especially women in I-11, that is to say not the political leadership, revealed a new kind of provocation in their thought and an incitement to resist mainstream discourse. A strong and pervasive thread throughout conversations was this assertion that I-11 had been a security threat. We are not terrorists, neither do we harbor them – a refrain I heard more times than I can count. This direct engagement with the deeply discriminatory view widespread in the mainstream media discourse points to the residents’ recognition of both the lines of opposition and the nebulous nature of the prejudice against them. It is by responding to the very impressionistic nature of this blatant xenophobia that one kind of politics takes shape. 

A dimension of this emergent politics took form not in words, but direct actions. I-11 residents had packed their belongings and collectively rented trucks, almost as soon as these trucks left I-11 they were prevented from entering other neighborhoods in Islamabad (such as Bangash colony, Fauji colony and Dhok Hassu) and instead were told to literally go back where they supposedly came from, and directed towards Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. I heard from various residents later that it was at this point they felt they had reached their threshold of patience, and oftentimes simply refused and almost came to blows with police officers or CDA personnel managing the trucks. Others found ways to go where they needed to through more non-confrontational means. Laying such a claim to the city was in many ways borne out of necessity – it was not a principled claim although ethics are of course part of the confrontations that take place.  However, this claim emerged as cohesive and righteous only after the sense of failure approached a point of rupture. 

Further, this process of moving and settling in other spaces entailed a labour of remaking ones’s life, which was fertile for not only reflections and nostalgia for the past but also a need for politics in the future. As is fairly typical of a post-eviction scenario, I suspect, I heard innumerable reminisces around the space of I-11 and the tight knit nature of the community that existed. In struggling to maintain ties with neighbors and friends – take Parveen who would travel for 45 minutes by public transport to see her friend Ayesha who was now in Dhok Paracha at the edge of the city, so that not only they but their children could continue to spend time with one another – the closeness that was previously taken for granted now became an object of longing. In these meetings, they would look towards the future (by going together to look for cheaper houses for rent in Tarnol, an area closer to the city) but also dwell over the ties that even if not lost were difficult or broken now. Hence, more than the event itself, it was the work of attempting to continue everyday life itself. This also generated a sense of power’s immediacy along with the burden of knowing one’s position within it. Characters such as local policemen, landlords nervous about renting to “kachi abadi walay” and lawyers filled lives. Through this period, a kind of distinctly political subjectivity came into being for even in those who would not have described themselves as political in the first place. 


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Ranciere claims that politics cannot be defined on the basis of an idea of pre-given subjectivity. This notion adds a degree of nuance to the easy, but also quite necessary, habit of labeling certain opinions and positions as ‘liberal’, ‘radical’, ‘middle class’ and so on. If following Ranciere we consider political subjectivity as not a relation between two kinds of pre-identified (classed, raced) subjects but between the contradictory terms through which a subject comes to be defined, then we can see political subjectivity only as a product of political relations. ((Ranciere: 2)) Hence, at the very moment of rupture – on the day of the operation – a sense of the collective, the social and of course by extension the political, flashed into being. The relationship between the state and its precariat was viscerally felt, experienced and indeed made known. This could be seen in the idiom in which the operation was being described, as an apocalyptic event, as well as in the very fact that all residents at the time faced a singular threat and condition – that is the condition of eviction. It is within these conditions of eviction that a new subjectivity had to have been produced. For some of us, parts of it came into view and even in their fragmentary form became the source of an optimism, extending beyond mere resilience (the struggle must go on) amidst political failure. I do not mean to point to I-11 as a case of exception – even as it was a pivotal moment of transformation for myself and others – but as exemplary of a process of political regeneration through both failure and the optimism, or even a desire for it, that is produced in and through it.

Zehra Hashmi is a PhD Student in the Anthropology and History Program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is a member of the Awami Workers Party and the All Pakistan Alliance for Katchi Abadis.

  1. Jacques Rancière. “Ten Thesis on Politics.” in: Theory & Event. Vol. 5, No. 3, 2001 []
  2. http://tribune.com.pk/story/678110/capitals-slums-a-nuisance-for-officials-haven-for-terrorists/ []
  3. http://www.dawn.com/news/1196873 []
  4. http://tribune.com.pk/story/910455/katchi-abadis-case-crackdown-on-illegal-slums-after-eid-cda-tells-court/ []
  5. UNHCR Communication and Public Information Officer, Duniya Aslam Khan shed some light on the matter. “The Afghan basti is not in I/11, it’s in I/12. They were moved in 2009 – not by UNHCR, we had requested the government of Pakistan to find a site for the Afghans to be moved to. Before 2009 they were living in F-10 and surrounding areas,” she said. – See more at: http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/afghan-basti/#sthash.sLGSFSOB.dpuf. []
  6. For an analysis of moments such as this one, see Paul Frosh and Amit Pinchevski’s Media Witnessing: Testimony in the Age of Mass Communication. Authors in this edited volume address how mass media events turn us all into ‘witnesses’ and not just viewers. The question at stake in the case of I-11 is one where this may have in fact failed to happened or even actively prevented. []

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