Urban Ethics

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Maria Beimborn

Ugly but useful?! Negotiations of urban citizenship in Islamabad
Maria Beimborn (Anthropology/LMU Munich)

Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan,is a planned city.In the 1960s, Doxiadis, the hired city planner, stood against the government´s imagination of an exclusive city for the young states´ bureaucracy, arguing that “all social, all income groups and all types of functions” should be included in the new capital. He was a grand visionary who was concerned about designing society and moulding identities through architecture. His original plan, which aimed for a capital of communities and neighbourhoods, administered by bureaucracy, was only followed partially and his inclusive approach soon proved that many were forgotten in the planning of the city. In more or less every sector, we find katchi abadis – more or less established slum areas, inhabited bypoor Christians, Afghan refugees, “internally displaced persons”, nomadic people. They were not only forgotten by the ambitious city planner, but are also ignored in most imaginations of the nation.

Since the very beginning of the state, the Christian minority struggles for a place, both in the capital as well as in the national imagination. In Islamabad Christians settled in the “jungles” of the city, which over the years transformed into densely populated areas with names like Faisal Colony, Shopper Colony or 100 Quarters.Despite years of struggle, many families are still not registered and the infrastructure of the settlements is hardly developed. The Capital Development Authority (CDA), who planned and administered the city until recently, regularly threatens to demolish the illegal encroachments, but at the same time acts asdeveloper and protector – at least as long as the illegal abadi settlers regularly paybribes/protection money to their officers. What adds up to the ambivalent relation with the CDA, is that the authority is the main employer ofpoor Christian residents. Many Christian men andwomen work as sweepers and sanitation workers in the public sector.

With the change of the government, demolition threats came up again and the fear finally cumulated in summer 2014, whenthe CDA – backed up with a High Court order – demolished the biggest illegal settlement of the capital. The settlers were (wrongly) portrayed as “Afghans” – an effective securitzation move that led to broad public support for the demolition. After the demolition the discussion about katchi abadiswent on, as a smallworkers party had filed a case in Supreme Court against the CDA. Suddenly the security problemtransformed and now became a “Christian” one. In a court statement the CDA argued the “Christian” settlements to be uglyspots in the otherwise so beautiful city,they portrayed the occupation of land as a criminal act of corrupt community leaders, and warned that the fast growth of the religious minority population is aserious threat to the Muslim majority of the capital. The media reacted promptly and condemned the statement. They gave voice to the workers party, whoargued Christians to have a right to the city as they wereuseful, as they cleanthe city and serve the citizens as domestic servants. The image of the “useful Christian” was heavily mobilized in the local body electionsand even materialized in a wall painting on the boundary walls of a katchiabadi.
In this whole public debate, no Christian voice was heard.

Starting from the city planning and ending with the current situation, I will explore the imaginations of the “(good) urban citizen” in Islamabad. I will thereby not only look into the hegemonic subject forms which can be identified in public discourse or city planning, but also look to subjectivation processes in “the margins”. How are low class Christians subjectified in the city/nation? How do they imagine and practice “(good) urban citizenship”? How do they deal with the exclusion in the city planning, how with current subjectivations as ugly, useful or a threat to Muslim hegemony? Which imaginations of “(urban) citizenship” do they mobilize in their struggle for space in both, the capital as well as in the nation?