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Globalization

Islamabad clears illegal, temporary settlements

Pakistan's capital is well-known for its planned and orderly layout. But new residents moving to the city live in makeshift settlements which authorities and locals call 'illegal encroachments.'

Ranjana Bibi takes sure steps across clods of dirt, planks of wood, and her neighbors' belongings which are strewn across her path. This plot of muddy land used to be covered in small huts, but that all changed recently.

"The bulldozer came and lifted up our huts and threw them to the ground and put dirt on top," she said. "They destroyed everything we had."

Pulling her tattered scarf over her head to protect her eyes from the blaring sun, Ranjana Bibi sifts through the heap of bamboo poles and a mess of plastic sheeting that used to be her home.

"What wrong have we done? We work hard for the people who live in this area," she continues. "We make ends meet washing dishes and clothes day in, day out. If someone gave us some land and said, go live there, we would. We haven't done anything to deserve this."

Unwelcome guests

Ranjana Bibi and her neighbors in this encampment have moved from surrounding villages to the city in the hope of finding work. They say there's more work to do in Islamabad since people in proper houses can generally afford to pay someone to tend their gardens and run their errands.

"We cannot welcome everybody here and, at the moment, everybody wants to come to Islamabad," says Syed Mustufan Kazmi from the Capital Development Authority, or CDA. He says managing encampments is a major part of his job.

A multi-story which building is under construction along a road. In front of it stands a sign that reads “Hameed Shopping Centre.”

Shopping centers are planned on the sites of current temporary settlements

Unlike most cities in Pakistan which have morphed and bulged to accommodate just about anyone, Islamabad was built around a predetermined blueprint.

"There are cities with mushroom growth and no planning, but here, we have proper planning," he told DW. "We have provided land in every sector to accommodate low-wage residents in specific quarters."

But as more and more proper houses were built in Islamabad, more and more people established encampments, or encroachments as Kazmi calls them. While the land they live on might look vacant, he says all of it will eventually become a shopping center, school or proper residential area.

Destroying temporary settlements

Kazmi's staff dispatches teams of CDA workers a couple of times a week to remove unofficial settlements. But, he says, the CDA always tries to go about this as peacefully as possible.

"We don't use bulldozers every time," he says. "There is no need. We don't expect or see any huge resistance from those smaller groups."

Harsher tactics are deployed for larger settlements like the one Ranjana Bibi lived in, but to Kazmi, force is sometimes necessary. He believes those who defy the city's blueprint are defying the law.

"Illegal is illegal. There is no need to issue notice to illegal persons. It is our responsibility to remove illegal, unlawful settlements."

Kazmi says it is an ongoing battle to destroy new encampments, but the efforts are appreciated by legal residents in the surrounding areas.

A woman in a long green scarf balances two beds on her head as she walks across a grassy plot of land.

Residents are now collecting their belongings after the CDA raids

Asif Deen is a print shop owner who lives near Ranjana Bibi's encampment. He says many home and business owners in this area are quick to point to the encampment as the source of neighborhood problems.

"Property values are going down here because of crime," he told DW. "We don't know if the people in temporary settlements are stealing, but we always blame the person who's on the lowest rung of the social ladder," he told DW.

Sanitation is another concern for Asif Deen and his fellow home owners. "They live in small huts and tents which obviously don't have facilities that proper houses have, so they have to go outside to relieve themselves."

Starting over

Despite Deen's concerns and the efforts of the CDA to drive the settlers out, Ranjana Bibi's neighbors have already started to rebuild their homes.

As he hammers in the posts from his fallen hut, Mehram Khan recounts all that he lost during the raid on the encampment.

"Everything inside was ruined," he says. "There was some bedding, pots and pans, a drum of flour, a mud pan and a suitcase to keep our clothes in. All of our things, they're all destroyed. Even the wood I'm using to rebuild my hut was damaged but I'm forced to use it anyway."

Mehram Khan says he and his neighbors are still staying put though, for now at least.

"We don't have any money, so where can we go? We don't have enough that we can afford to pay rent somewhere else anyway."

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