‘Halo halo’ [proceed proceed] chanted a thousand protestors as they entered the Bahria Town in early last month. People from not just Karachi but other parts of Sindh, including Thatta, Jamshoro, Sukkur, Larkana and Hyderabad, screeching to let the world know how Pakistan is snatching away their ancestral lands.
A protest by the Sindh Action Committee against the real estate mafia, which is hand in gloves with the government, continued for nearly half an hour. A fraction from the protestors broke away to set ablaze the property of the luxurious Bahria Town. The rangers and police contingents retaliated by hurling tear gas, water cannons, rubber bullets, baton charge, arrests etc., at the protestors resulting in several injuries.
Simultaneously, the World Sindhi Congress (WSC) held protests in London against large-scale land grabbing in Pakistan’s Sind Province, particularly the illegal occupation of Bahria Town in Karachi and the land grabbing in Sindh by the Pakistani Army and its proxies.
The speakers at the protest informed that Bahria Town, owned by Malik Riaz, spans 46,000 acres. However, the ill-fated property dazzled with state-of-the-art facilities, grand entries, pillars, facade, showrooms, restaurants and other luxuries has been made on one of the most valuable lands of indigenous Sindhi people which has been occupied by force and deceit with the support of the Pakistani state.
As a result, hundreds of years old communities have been rendered homeless, villages occupied; historical sites razed, and indigenous populations missing.
The Sindhi community says that the Pakistani state has clear designs to convert Sindhis into a minority in their historical homeland.
Pakistani Army’s Occupation in Sindh
Baharia Towns and the Defence Housing Authority are the new weapons of the Pakistan military to occupy Sindh’s land. They have not hesitated from ensuring forceful migration by booking locals on fake terrorism charges, exploiting resources, making unlawful arrests and torturing the locals. The Pakistani military is using Bahria Town and DHAs for land procurement by hook or by crook.
The matter was dragged to the Supreme Court who found the acquisition of land by Bahria Town illegal. However, making a mockery of the judicial system a fine of PKR 460 billion ($ 3 billion) was imposed on Bahria Town, thus, legalizing the land grabbing.
Land grabbed and resources plundered
With the silhouette of the replica of the Eiffel Tower in the background, “The police have been arresting our people, threatening them that they’ll show their arrest as being from places such as Wana, Mastung or Kalat,” said Kanda Khan Gabol.
“They took me into custody for several hours and only let me go when a crowd gathered and it seemed as if the highway would be closed down,” he added.
Breaking into the homes of sleeping villagers, policemen hauled off five men of the village– Din Mohammed, Abbas, Iqbal, Punno and Dadullah in their vehicles. “Not only that, along with money, jewelry and other belongings, they also took away three goats,” said Mohammed Musa. “That was a kind of warning that next time they would cart away our women as well,” he added.
This was the sequel to when a police contingent led by Inspector Khan Nawaz, had surrounded the village to force the indigenous population to vacate the land for a road to be constructed through it. Villagers were picked up in the garb of a raid when they refused to give up.
According to their families, police would not give them any information about the detained men. Local representatives told them that the price for the missing men’s freedom was to give up their land. “What choice did we have except to surrender?” asked one of the villagers.
Homes have been leveled, graveyards obliterated, fruit trees uprooted, and tube wells smashed.
“They don’t know anything else but agriculture and livestock rearing. Where will they go?” said a local rights activist.
On 13 March 2014 Faiz Mohammed’s looked on helplessly as bulldozers leveled the 56 acres of land, tilled by his father and grandfather before him, there were once hundreds of fruit trees and date palms and destroyed his tube well.
Several villagers in Jamshoro revealed that they are being forced to surrender their land at Rs70,000 per acre. This land allegedly ‘sold’ by the villagers is then purchased by individuals fronting for massive land developers in the area at Rs2,000,000 per acre. That’s an insane increase of 2,757 per cent. In many cases, even the small sum promised to the owners was not fully materialized.
Calling it the worst colonial occupation in their thousands of years of history, the Sindhi protestors said that the army wants to ‘gulp all the resources of Sindhi people including gas, oil, coal, water, islands, coastal lands, jobs.’
To ensure the vast township’s road dividers, parks and golf course continue to look lush and verdant, Karachi’s water is being diverted cutting into the already inadequate supplies to the 20-million strong city. The residents are now either dependent on exorbitantly priced tankers to get water yet another mafia or stand for hours at the communal taps.
Not just this, the greed or rather the helplessness of the Pakistani government’s to give into the demands of the mafia has led to the destruction of historical sites too. The 23,000-plus acres ‘acquired’ by Bahria Town Karachi ‘illegally’ was once home to scores of historical sites, including tombs similar to the Chawkandi necropolis near Thatta, as well as Buddhist stupas, rock carvings etc.
Now, every tomb in the path of construction has been ruthlessly demolished by bulldozers.
Historian Gul Hasan Kalmati informed that Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai the revered Sufi mystic widely regarded as the greatest poet of the Sindhi language had stayed in this area. “His takia (shrine), which was located here, was also a resting place for jogis on their way to Hinglaj Mata (the Hindu temple in Makran),” he recalled.
However, today on the spot where the Shah’s takia once stood, stand the toilets of Bahria Town Karachi’s Grand Mosque.
All this when “Sindh generates 63% of the revenue, while all the power rests in a province of Punjab, which has a 65% population in the army. Also, the language imposition of Urdu has happened, although we only speak Sindhi, which has resulted in our own languages fading out of our society,” said a local.
Provisions to gift Sindh land to China
Experts and locals see this as a move by Pakistan to gift some land to China and this will not be the first time it does so. The founder of the Jeay Sindh Freedom Movement (JSFM), Zafar Sahito, who is living in exile in New York says, “China is being allowed to exploit our natural resources, take over our industry, and farmlands without any hindrance. Sindh is being deliberately selected for industrialization by Pakistan to have its demography and resources shattered and exploited. Sindhis will soon be Chinese slaves.”
In yet another unfortunate move, the recent island development ordinance propagated by Pakistani President Arif Alvi is seen as a plan to sell off Pakistani islands to future investors or maybe even China.
There are two clauses that have resulted in an upheaval. A careful reading of the ordinance reveals that once the government takes over the islands in Sindh, located around the Pakistani port of Karachi, the police, judiciary and the local government will NOT have any jurisdiction over them. Nobody knows why a clause so unscrupulous was inserted by the Imran Khan government.
Another clause in the ordinance, which is said to be even more controversial, suggests that the federal government has the right to “sell the land” acquired through the promulgation of this ordinance. This clause has raised eyebrows as no government in the world thinks of selling land which is considered to be a national asset.
Pointing out the relevant section, Geopolitical analyst Mark Kinra says: “Section 47 under Power to dispose of land states that, ‘The Authority may retain, or may lease, sell, exchange, rent or otherwise dispose of any land vested in it’.”
“It is possible that the Pakistani government and Establishment might be planning to create mega-cities for the Chinese people or even for naval purposes, something which only time can tell. It is, therefore, obvious that they do not want the judiciary, the police or the local authorities to be poking their nose into what China is doing. And by inserting the clause of selling the land, it is once again possible that the federal government may sell off these lands and properties to big investors. For Pakistan, that big investor could be China,” Kinra added.
Khan does not seem to be very secretive about his plans. In December 2019, Khan had announced that he will sell off land and other state assets to foreign and Pakistani investors at the Dubai Expo 2020-a mega global event that was to be hosted by Emirates.
Seeing the illegal occupation on Sindh land as deja-vu, the citizens of Gilgit Baltistan (GB) say that China now controls the mines and most of the land in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir.
“With the mammoth $64 billion China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), the Pakistani government and its Establishment are ceding more territory to iron-brother China,” said a report.
In 2015, Pakistan handed over 2,000 acres of land in Gwadar, Balochistan, to China to build the Gwadar port.
People of Sindh seek liberation
“It is colonisation of Sindh by wealthy businessmen, which we reject,” said Syed Zain Shah of Sindh United Party.
“The people of Sindh are the rightful owners of their lands. They want their lands back, they want their rivers back,” said Jagdish Ahuja, also of Sindh United Party.
The demands echoed at a rally organized to mark the 117th birth anniversary of GM Syed, who is considered the founding father of ‘modern Sindhi nationalism’. Placards of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other world leaders were raised and Pre-freedom slogans were heard demanding Sindhudesh.
The people of Sindh consider themselves the descendants of the natives of the Indus Valley Civilization, whose society was shaped by the different religions and cultures in the region in the last 5000 years. They say their province was illegitimately occupied by the British Empire and then delivered to the Islamic nation of Pakistan in 1947 against the wishes of its population.
Shafi Muhammad Burfat, founder and current chairman of Jeay Sindh Muttahida Mahaz said, “Our nation believes in universal peace, unity of humanity and human development and our country has remained as an independent nation on the face of the earth for thousands of years. But today, it is enslaved by Punjabi colonialism in the name of religion and through the might of the military. The Sindhi people do not want to remain in the oppressive slavery of the terrorist state of Pakistan, and therefore, we appeal to the entire international community to step forward and support us in our struggle for national independence from the fascist theocratic Islamist terrorist state of Pakistan.”