Plans to demolish a Christian-majority slum “to protect the beauty of Islam” in Pakistan’s capital were put on hold after a stay-order was issued by the Supreme Court.
The Capital Development Authority (CDA) of Islamabad has been on a demolition spree since 2014, targeting illegal slums, some of which – according to the organisation – sheltered Afghan “terrorists” and were breeding grounds for criminal activity.
However, the Supreme Court ordered a written justification from the CDA ahead of its next planned demolition, a response that was seen by Al Jazeera.
“Most of these katchi abadies [slums] are under the occupation of the Christian community,” read the CDA’s reply to the Supreme Court.
|Pakistan Christians call for better protection|
“It seems this pace of occupation of land by Christian community may increase. Removal of katchi abadies is very urgent to provide [a] better environment to the citizen[s] of Islamabad and to protect the beauty of Islam.”
The statement added that “shelter is the right of each citizen, but it is also a fact that Islamabad can not accomodate the migrants from all over the country”.
The CDA refused to comment on its reply and instead said the organisation enjoyed good relations with the Christian community.
“This community is part of Islamabad and we ensure that we look after their places of worship and their religious events,” Ramzan Sajid, CDA spokesperson, told Al Jazeera.
“I can’t comment on the SC [Supreme Court] reply because that is in court now, but we appreciate the community and its effort and our reply has been taken out of context by some.”
Christians, who form about two percent of Pakistan’s population, are regularly targeted in the country because of their religion. A suicide attack on Peshawar’s All Saints Church in 2013 killed at least 85 worshippers.
Earlier this year, two churches in Lahore were bombed during Sunday services, killing 15 people.
In March 2014, a crowd set 200 houses on fire in a Christian area over alleged blasphemous remarks by a resident.
According to an activist and political party worker protesting against the demolitions in Islamabad, accusing slum-dwellers of wrongdoing is a ploy by the development authority to make it “easier for them to acquire the land they are after”.
“The comments show the disgusting mindset that the CDA has,” Ammar Rashid, secretary of the Awami Workers Party, told Al Jazeera.
“The CDA wants to acquire the lucrative bit of land and – after playing the terrorism card earlier this year – they are now using religious grounds to get what they want. They want to kill two birds with one stone,” Rashid said.
“If the demolition goes ahead, it will be a human catastrophe. The CDA is not in a position to be taking decisions about the religious demography of the capital.”
The CDA raided Islamabad’s I-11 area in July this year on the direction of the interior ministry.
The slum, where more than 100 illegal houses were demolished, was reported to have Afghan militants.
However, according to Rashid, 95 percent of those affected by the demolition were Pashtuns from the northern areas of Pakistan who had been settled in the area for more than 20 years.
“There were labourers as well as fruit and vegetable sellers. Some were even born in the area. There were widows also present there,” Rashid said.
Protesters clashed with police and law enforcement agencies during the July demolition and threw stones at the authorities as the operation began.
Police resorted to a baton-charge and fired tear gas to disperse demonstrators. According to an Awami Workers Party spokesperson, an infant suffocated to death during the melee.
Sajid, the CDA spokesperson, confirmed the latest planned demolition was on hold for now after the court’s order.
Activists, meanwhile, are demanding repercussions against the development authority after it openly brought religion into play.
“Action should be taken against whoever drafted the report,” Farzana Bari, a human rights activist, told the AFP news agency.
She noted most Christians in Islamabad are sanitary workers – a job considered unsuitable for Muslims in the country.
“These poor Christians that the CDA is so scared of are their own employees who work very hard to keep the city clean,” Bari said.
Islamabad was built in the 1960s to take over from Karachi as Pakistan’s capital.
According to CDA’s website, the location – adjacent to the garrison city of Rawalpindi – was chosen after significant research.
“And the city was named Islamabad,” the website reads. “Islamabad, Pakistan. The City of Islam, Land of the Pure.”