Dawn Editorial 2 December 2019

Housing scams

THE story of illegal housing schemes in Pakistan is one of untrammeled greed facilitated by a hollowed-out system of governance. All over the country, political bigwigs and members of the establishment in cahoots with a rotten-to-the-core land bureaucracy are making fortunes on the backs of ordinary citizens looking for a return on their hard-earned savings, or simply, a home to call their own. The police, as well as unsavoury operatives on the ground, provide the muscle for this ruthless land-grabbing industry that is a known catalyst for urban violence. While it is too early to speculate on the merits of the case, it has come to light that NAB’s Karachi chapter has requested its chairman to launch a fresh inquiry into the Fazaia Housing Scheme in the city for allegedly defrauding 6,000 people who have invested in the project. The amount involved, says NAB, is Rs13bn. This is not the first time that the housing scheme has popped up on its radar. Back in March 2018, an inquiry had been initiated into allegations that land had been illegally provided to its management for developing the project. Not surprisingly, that investigation went nowhere.
In October 2018, the scale of the problem of shady housing schemes was highlighted by a Supreme Court-ordered forensic audit that found an astonishing 5,492 such projects in Pakistan to be illegal, unregistered, or existing only on paper. The number of registered or licensed housing schemes stood at 3,432. In such a system, only unscrupulous individuals prosper. When revenue officials collude with the power elite, their services are rewarded with ‘files’ for plots, but the land development authorities themselves are deprived of revenue they are entitled to through development charges, fees, etc. In February this year, an audit report presented in the National Assembly noted that the Capital Development Authority in Islamabad had suffered a loss of Rs5,217.39bn on account of 109 illegal housing schemes in the ICT. Similarly, while Malir Development Authority officials conspired with Bahria Town Ltd to illegally exchange and consolidate land for its project in Karachi, MDA’s own finances were running so low that it could not afford to pay salaries to its employees.
Indeed, so entrenched is the corruption that often when it appears that action is being taken against land scams, it is actually retaliation against perceived reluctance to fall in line with the land mafia’s designs. An investigation by this paper a few months ago uncovered that a prominent feudal, unwilling to allow the ingress of multiple private housing schemes inside Jamshoro district — part of his ‘fiefdom’ — was chastened when illegal housing societies in which he himself is believed to have a stake were bulldozed by the provincial building control authority. Even among those with clout, real estate interests trump traditional centres of power. These Augean stables must be cleaned.



Terror suspect

THE recent deadly knife attack in London, carried out by Usman Khan, a British militant of Pakistani origin, has reignited the debate about home-grown extremism in the West, and what Western governments are — or are not — doing to keep a check on such atrocities. While certain quarters will be quick to blame Pakistan for this outrage, considering the suspect’s origins, the fact is that home-grown terrorism is very much a British problem, and pointing fingers at this country will not make it go away. While Khan did reportedly spend some time in Pakistan, he was born and bred in the UK, and was apparently radicalised by the speeches of Yemeni-American militant Anwar al-Awlaki. Moreover, up till now no solid evidence has emerged linking the suspect to any of the militant groups that have operated in Pakistan. The authorities in the UK need to ask themselves some tough questions, namely how a man convicted of planning an act of terrorism — Usman Khan was sentenced in 2012 for planning an attack as part of an ‘Al Qaeda-inspired group’ — managed to carry out a rampage with a knife without any red flags going up prior to the attack.
While Pakistan indeed has plenty of problems with home-grown militants of its own, terrorism in the West has evolved as an independent beast, and needs to be de-linked from actors in South Asia. Though there may or may not be operational links between terrorists in Europe, America and this region, there is plenty of evidence that militants who have been born and have grown up in the West are quite capable of wreaking havoc on their own. For example, despite its efforts the British government has been unable to totally shut down Al Muhajiroun, a UK-based extremist outfit which enjoys support from Muslim Britons from various ethnic backgrounds, as well as radicalised converts. In fact Anjem Choudary, a convicted British terrorist and reportedly one of Usman Khan’s mentors in extremism, remains a free man. The British authorities need to see what further can be done to ensure such dangerous individuals are prevented from preaching their hateful views and drawing recruits. Moreover, many Muslims based in the West flocked to fight for the militant Islamic State group, which shows that those in power in the UK and other Western states need to take a deeper look at why their citizens are shunning their home countries and systems to adopt the path of extremism.



Houthi prisoner release

THERE are signs that Saudi Arabia is working on an exit strategy to extricate itself from the brutal campaign — in aid of the Yemeni government — it has led against Houthi rebels since 2015. Last week, Riyadh freed over 100 Houthi prisoners, who were transported by the Red Cross to the Yemeni capital Sana’a which is held by the rebels. The Houthis have naturally welcomed the move; Saudi officials in the recent past have said they have an “open channel” with the rebel movement supported by Iran. Though violent exchanges continue between the Houthis and the Saudi-led coalition, their frequency has decreased. The rebels claimed downing a Saudi helicopter recently, while Riyadh bombed a market in Saada, the rebels’ stronghold, the other day. However, as compared to the past, the hostilities are currently in a low phase. Interestingly, the Saudis have toned down their rhetoric, which in the initial stages of the conflict was noticeably harsh. Perhaps these changes in strategy have occurred after the realisation dawned on the powers that be in Riyadh that the Yemen war is close to being unwinnable. The Saudis can continue bombing their adversaries for a long time; however, the Houthis, despite being the weaker power militarily and financially, have become adept at giving their richer northern neighbour a bloody nose, with frequent attacks targeting Saudi cities and installations.

For the sake of the people of Yemen, the sooner this futile war ends, the better it will be. The recent moves towards detente should be welcomed, and the Yemeni government must open channels with the Houthis, with Riyadh and Tehran urging their respective Yemeni allies to come to the table. If both sides are serious about peace, there should be an immediate ceasefire, adhered to by all sides, which can pave the way for more confidence-building measures. The Yemeni people have paid a high price caught in the middle of this vicious war; it is time to end the violence and let them rebuild their lives.


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