Islamabad and Rawalpindi have been attracting migration from various parts of the country. But there seems to be a phenomenal rise in the population of the twin cities after the US-led war on terror that turned Pakhtuns’ land — parts of KP and FATA — into a battleground forcing millions of its people to find refuge in various parts of the country, including the federal capital and the garrison city. Such migration fueled xenophobic sentiments in Sindh where Sindhi and Mohajir nationalists created a political storm which triggered ethnic riots in parts of the southern province. No such untoward incident ever happened in the twin cities but a creeping envy seems to have gripped the two most peaceful cities in recent years.
Pakhtuns have always been there in Islamabad but after 2001 different layers of the Pakhtun society moved into the twin cities in large numbers. A visit to different parts of the twin cities and interaction with the community suggests that the first wave of migration consisted of the family members of tribal elders and peace Lashkar leaders who were killed by Taliban. Pakhtun intellectuals claim over 270 tribal elders were killed in FATA during the early years of the Taliban insurgency which remains unabated even today.
The Swat operation and terror incidents in Peshawar forced a large number of working class to find refuge in the outskirts of Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The threats of extortion and the increasing number of abduction for ransom compelled the Pakhtun middle and upper classes from posh areas of Peshawar like Hayatabad to move into Islamabad and Pindi. Sectarian tension in Kohat, Hangu and Kurram agency also forced several thousand families to flee the restive areas and move into the twin cities.
Raja Mansoor Ahmed, a resident of Gulzar-e-Quaid area of Rawalpindi and a trader dealing in wholesale business, claims Pakhtuns have taken over many businesses in the twin cities. “Go to Raja Bazaar where two decades ago more than 70 per cent shops were owned or run by Punjabis, but now the situation is other way round. Pakhtuns have taken over around 70 per cent businesses. Shoes, scraps, transport, car showrooms, hotels, clothes, Landa Bazaar business, estate agent, name any business and you will find Pakhtuns there. The rents of houses have skyrocketed. A five-marla house that would be rented out for Rs5000 is being rented out for Rs20,000 to 30,000 in Rawalpindi. In Islamabad, it could go as high as Rs40,000.”
Mohammad Akmal Baig, a resident of Sector G11/2 of Islamabad who hailed from Faisalabad, concurs with Mansoor. “This Pakhtun from Kurrum agency had just one shop in this market,” said Akmal pointing towards a Pakhtun teenager running a juice and chicken soup stand in an open space besides Akmal’s chicken rolls’ stall. “But now his three more brothers are also working in the same market with one of them selling Aloo Paratha (buttered loaf filled with meshed-potatoes) and two others selling French fries. Their father works as a security guard. They have even bought a house in the outskirt of Islamabad within a short span of time. Another Pakhtun here has nine sons and all are working here. In this market, at least 30 per cent of shops are owned or run by Pakhtuns.”
Pakhtuns themselves admit that they are taking over many businesses in the twin cities, but assert it is the market forces that favour them and that they are not involved in any unfair means to secure these businesses. “The Khattaks own the largest numbers of shops and general stores in Islamabad and Abbasis come second,” said a Pakhtun from Noshera. “My own family is running four general stores in this G 11 Markaz. It is a fair deal. If you want to sell your shop or business and if a Punjabi comes with less attractive offer and a Pakhtun gives you a higher bidding then where will you go?”
Laal Khan, a taxi driver living in Maherabad slum of Islamabad but originally hailing from Swabi, has also witnessed a large influx of Pakhtuns in the twin cities. “Pakhtuns are in majority in many parts of the federal capital now. In Islamabad, they constitute majority in Bahara Kahu where a number of people from South and North Waziristan have settled. They are also present in large numbers in D15 sector of Islamabad, Tramri Chowk, Khanna Pul, Golra Railway Station and Sabzi Mandi area of the city.”
“Did you ever face any discrimination,” TNS asked Laal Khan. “I never faced any discrimination. It could be because I just mind my own business, waking up early in the morning and earning my livelihood. These are the talks of politicians. I have heard of discrimination in the recent years but have not been subjected to it yet,” Laal Khan replies.
Latif Khan Aurakzai, a Pakhtun social activist hailing from Aurakzai tribal area, has a different story. “I have never seen the type of discrimination in 29-year of my stay in Rawalpindi that I witnessed in the last four years. Police here think that every Pakhtun is a terrorist. I have faced humiliation by police.”
Latif believes that the population of Pakhtuns is increasing and also affecting the politics of Rawalpindi. “A large number of Pakhtuns are living in areas from UC1 to UC12 of Rawalpindi. In many of these UCs (Union Councils), they constitute majority. The Pakhtun factor helped the PTI-backed candidate Shaikh Rasheed win NA-55 during the last general elections. These union councils will also matter in the elections of 2018.”
Latif claims there is a sense of marginalisation among Pakhtuns. “They are living in slums where basic amenities are non-existent. The attitude of civic bodies and police is also not good towards them which is fueling anger. The ANP is trying to make some inroads in such areas on the pattern of Karachi but with little success because they have lost credibility. But if the state does not come up with a plan to extend these amenities to the Pakhtun areas, then the sense of frustration could be exploited by ethnic Pakhtun parties, which could create problems in future.”
Kashif Saleem, an IT consultant living in PWD Society of Islamabad but hailing from Chicha Watni, Sahiwal, agrees with Latif regarding the discriminatory attitude of police. “If you are a Pakhtun, they will stop your vehicle but if you are a Pakhtun and also sporting a beard, then you are sure to be stopped and interrogated like criminals. Police do not bother to stop Punjabis. This attitude of the police is fueling anger among Pakhtuns.”
Such attitude has already caught the attention of Pakhtun nationalists, who accused the state of consigning the people of their community to the status of a second class citizen. “They demolished our settlement near Metro shopping centre in Islamabad. Punjab and Islamabad police are harassing our traders,” said a furious Pakhtun nationalist Senator Usman Kakar. “Thousands of national identity cards of Pakhtuns have been blocked. Pakhtuns constitute 50 per cent of Islamabad’s population. It seems they are afraid of our rising population but they should not forget that if we pick arms for our rights then it is going to be very catastrophic. They will forget the Baloch. We are under tremendous pressure from our community. The state must stop its discriminatory policy towards Pakhtuns.”
Analysts believe that the situation is not as bad as that of Karachi but if the state does not carry out effective planning then things could go out of control.
Sociologist Dr Mehdi Hasan says with the rise in population and establishment of slums, problems are bound to be multiplied. “Islamabad is not like Karachi. It is not industrial and the flux is not big. In Karachi, small businesses were taken over by Punjabis, the big business by the Bombay migrants and Pakhtuns took over transport there.”
Dr Mehdi Hasan opines, “Karachi’s problems got multiplied because of unplanned development and if the state does not stop unplanned growth of population in Islamabad then problems could also surface here. Law and order situation could arise in the federal capital which might lead to the stereotyping of any particular community. Some people have already started blaming the rising crimes in the two cities on slums’ residents. So the state has to come up with an effective plan to deal with the phenomenon of rising population.”
Dr Farhan Hanif Siddiqui of Quaid-e-Azam University, who authored a book on ethnic tension in Sindh, concurs with Dr Mehdi Hasan over this issue. “The twin cities are expanding but the amenities are not being matched. For instance, in several areas of Islamabad, even water connections are not available. People have to buy tankers. Similarly, a number of areas of the twin cities are bereft of gas connections. The federal capital did not have any decent housing scheme for low income people. So, the pressure on resources is increasing, which might escalate into ethnic tension in coming decades. So, the authorities must come up with some planning before it is too late.”