New Delhi: A privately-owned gated suburb on the outskirts of Karachi has gained the ire of Pakistan’s All Parties Conference (APC) for being “illegal and unconstitutional” and a “modern form of colonialism”.
Situated just off a motorway northeast of Karachi, Bahria Town Karachi, spanning 46,000 acres, is being built by the Bahria Town Group and includes three-bedroom two-storey villas, sports facilities, a Grand Jamia Masjid — touted to be the third biggest in the world — and an 18-lane, 400-foot-wide Jinnah avenue “inspired by Sheikh Zayed Road Dubai”.
In a resolution adopted on 23 May, the Pakistan’s All Parties Conference said: “BTK had illegally occupied lands and it’s construction work should be stopped. We consider it as a form of colonialism in the 21st century which is worse than the colonialism of the 18th century. We believe that BTK is part of [the] invasion of global capitalism.”
Calling the central Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government and Sindh’s Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government “facilitators”, the APC members alleged that “BTK’s rogue elements under the patronisation of the Sindh government are destroying homes, villages, schools and graveyards like on [the] pattern of Israel in Palestine”.
The APC added “it was destruction in [the] name of development”. Sindh’s PPP government has previously come under fire for allowing Thar coal projects and the Defence Housing Authority City in Zulfiqarabad.
What is Bahria Town?
Founded by Pakistani business tycoon Malik Riaz Hussain, Bahria Town is a real estate development company based in Islamabad, and it owns a series of housing complexes, cinema halls, supermarkets and malls across Pakistan.
Since its inception in 1996, it has won 10 awards and received international recognition from The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, and many others, according to the company’s official website. It boasts of having over 2,50,000 customers and more than 100 complete projects.
The Bahria Town Karachi development project — launched in 2014 — is not without its fair share of controversies.
In May 2018, the Supreme Court of the country delivered three verdicts on the illegal procurement of land for the project, and “in each case declaring all such transfers null and void”. As a result, Bahria Town was barred from selling or allotting any plot of land while the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) was asked by the court to “file references against those responsible for illegally transferring and allotting land and to take action against them within three months”.
Fast forward to March 2019, the searing verdicts were reserved as the Supreme Court accepted Bahria Town’s Rs 460 billion offer for the Malir district land it occupied, which will be paid over a period of seven years. Should BTK fail to do so, it will have to face the NAB — which for now has been halted by the apex court from filing references. The APC resolution accused the SC of violating its powers in doing so.
The BTK project has rendered many villagers homeless. For this, the APC has demanded compensation according to the market rate. Moreover, it has also demanded the withdrawal of 500 FIRs filed against villagers.
The BTK reportedly faced resistance from villagers in Gadap and Kathore who believed their ancestral land was being taken over. In one such altercation, a resident even sustained injuries after being fired upon by Bahria Town’s private security firm.
On 9 May, the police launched a probe against 13 BTK staff members for “alleged rioting, kidnapping and injuring villagers” and detained several others in late-night raids.
Several other protests have also taken place in big and small towns of Sindh against BTK.