Anyone interested in gauging the extent of the Pakistani bureaucracy’s incompetence, insensitivity, and intellectual vacuity should take five minutes to go over the official response provided by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to the Supreme Court, which is currently entertaining a petition lodged by the Awami Workers’ Party regarding the demolition of slums and katchi abadis in Islamabad. The five pages of text produced by the CDA will surely live in infamy as a masterpiece of typographical carnage, twisted language, atrocious grammar, and most importantly of all, incoherent logic, demonstrating both the organization’s utter contempt for the court’s proceedings, as evinced by the insouciance that led to the document being circulated without even a cursory attempt at proofreading, as well as the utterly unhinged assumptions and arguments that underpin its case for continuing with the destruction of informal settlements across the city. Indeed, the fact that there are problems with the CDA’s argument becomes blindingly evident the second you realize that the section outlining its concerns is unhelpfully titled ‘roblems’ [sic].

So, what exactly has the CDA said in order to justify its campaign of razing katchi abadis to the ground? We are told that Islamabad is apparently one of the world’s most beautiful cities, and that the presence of poor people blights an otherwise splendid landscape. We are informed that settlements of this type are illegal, that there is a fixed number of authorized katchi abadis, and that any ‘new’ slums will send out a message to poor people across the country, inviting them to come and set up shop in Islamabad. The CDA then explains that because there are poor people in Islamabad who live ‘legally’ in dingy hovels and one-room ‘homes’ while paying exorbitant, extortionate rents, everyone else should do the same. That this would be ideal, from the point of the CDA, is also made clear by its account of how poor people living in these settlements represents an unsustainable burden on the provision of public services like gas and electricity. Then, in a passage that would bring tears to the eyes of the most hardened cynic, the CDA laments how the presence of these settlements prevents it from auctioning off extremely lucrative land to private developers who would presumably use it to build malls and expensive apartments, both of which are far more important and necessary than, say, the provision of housing and clean drinking water for the poor.

The CDA rounds off its list of grievances with some good old-fashioned bigotry. Apparently, the creation of Pakistan in 1947 as a homeland for the subcontinent’s Muslims was not sufficient to safeguard the interests and security of this community. Indeed, if the CDA is to be believed, the overwhelmingly Muslim population of Islamabad is under threat from the small number of Christians who live in the capital’s katchi abadis. For the CDA, it is clear that unless these Christians are kicked out of the city, with their homes destroyed, there will be an ‘affect’ [sic] on Islamabad’s Muslim population. Because, obviously, the persecution of Muslims by Christians in Pakistan is a fact of life in the Land of the Pure. It is not at all the case that Christians and other minority communities suffer from institutionalized discrimination, violence, and abuse at the hands of the state and the Muslim majority.

Sarcasm aside, it is not difficult to discern the CDA’s opinion on the question of development in Islamabad. As its response to the Supreme Court shows, the CDA has little interest in the welfare and well-being of the capital’s most marginalized and deprived communities, preferring instead to focus its energies and resources on making more money (and kickbacks) through the sale of the land it possesses while simultaneously presiding over the creation of an urban environment where the rich and powerful are able to consume and accumulate unencumbered by the need to cater to, or even see, the less fortunate elements of society.

The worst thing about the CDA’s argument is how it fails to even properly diagnose, or even investigate, the root cause of the ‘problem’ of katchi abadis. Fundamentally, these settlements exist because of the absence of affordable housing and effective public service provision for the poor. As the CDA’s report itself states, many of the people living in these settlements come to Islamabad to work. It is poverty that drives people to travel to the capital, and it is this same poverty that forces them into living arrangements that, because of their precarity and illegality, leave them at the mercy of a corrupt government machinery and unscrupulous local mafias. While the constitution of Pakistan outlines how shelter is a fundamental right that all citizens enjoy, and while there is an obvious ethical responsibility to look after the destitute and dispossessed, the CDA’s approach is one that, in addition to being morally indefensible, is also actively counterproductive.

This is not difficult to demonstrate. Consider, for example, what the CDA wishes to do with the land it seeks to reacquire by demolishing slums. By selling it to wealthy private developers, the CDA will simply trigger more of the speculative buying and elite-driven investment that has contributed to the astronomical rise in property values in all of Pakistan’s major cities. By effectively pricing the poor out of the city, the CDA is perpetuating the same structural factors that underpin the emergence of katchi abadis in the first place. Similarly, while the CDA is quick to blame the poor for their ‘unsustainable’ use of public resources like water and gas, it remains silent on the wasteful and extravagant use of these same resources by the rich watering their lawns and leaving their lights on. The CDA decries ‘land mafias’ (its terms for slum dwellers) occupying state-owned land, but has no problem with developers acquiring that same land to create housing societies for the rich. When mentioning how many of the capital’s poor live ‘legally’ in servants’ quarters and overpriced rooms, the CDA effectively says that the poor deserve no better; while the rich are free to live on as much land as they want, everyone else should not even aspire to live in conditions that are anything more than inhumane.

On the question of resettling the people displaced by its operations, the CDA is silent, neither knowing nor caring about their fate. Instead, it remains besotted with the idea that development is about glitzy malls, glistening towers, and wide roads, all of which will serve to attract precisely the type of shiny, fancy, and affluent people the CDA believes are worthy of living in Islamabad. It is, once again, a clear demonstration of how Pakistan was, and is, a state geared towards pursuing the interests of a privileged minority at the expense of an impoverished majority.