Fishermen fear Pakistan’s new ‘city for elites’ will end their lifestyles

On the island of Bundal, off the coast of the Arabian Sea in Pakistan, people have gathered in thousands to pay homage to their saint Baba, Yusuf Shah, for decades.

As the sun shines on the festivals around the shrine, colorful flags flutter as the air is filled with the sound of music, singing and revelry.

But this may be the last festival organized by fishermen. Last month, the federal government issued an order seizing the twin islands of Bundle and Bodo, locally called Bhandar and Dangi, which are part of the Indus Delta, where the river flows south. It flows into the Arabian Sea in Sindh.

The Sindh government plans to build a city to cross Dubai, and attracting an investment of about 50 50 billion (37 37.5 million) will create 150,000 jobs. Imran Ismail at a news conference Last month in the Pakistani capital.

Indus Delta, Pakistan, True Color Satellite Image
These islands form part of Pakistan’s Indus Delta, which flows into the Arabian Sea near Karachi. Photographer: Universal Ages Group / Getty

The locals do not intend to leave without a fight.

“We will not leave our homeland, we have been living here for centuries,” says Muhammad Hassan Dabla, who organizes the annual festival. He is now 80 years old, and has been fishing here since he was 12 years old. The island and the shrine have given us life, culture and hope to survive.

Also included is Raheela Habib, 56, who attended the festival to offer her prayers. He accused Prime Minister Imran Khan of “acting like a king” and selling out to Pakistan’s poor. “Khan had promised to provide millions of jobs to the poor. But instead of giving him a job, he is now doing the opposite, “says Habib.” Khan is making our people jobless and destroying the hope of living and praying. “

Khan promises to put environment at the forefront of his agenda, says local Roshan Ali, and he opposes green projects, seemingly contradictory, says local Roshan Ali Yes, but the fishermen should also benefit from it. The government is so greedy, they want more, no matter how much it costs.

Flags are flying around Bundel's shrine
Flags are flying around Bundel’s shrine. Local groups have organized to protest the development on the island. Photo: Shah Mir

The island city was founded in 2006 when the Musharraf-led government signed a memorandum of understanding with Dubai-based developers to sell 16km of coastline for development. In 2013, Pakistani property tycoon Malik Riaz signed an agreement with an Abu Dhabi investor built up The tallest building in the worldOn the island town.

More recent projects have revived the same frivolous claims of leaving Dubai behind with property and projects on the Twin Islands. The government’s report notes that policies will be put in place to increase the international competitiveness of tourism and trade.

Sindhi activists have objected, saying the development only benefits the elite and harms the Delta’s unique environment. His “Save the Islands” movement gained momentum among the community, numbering more than 100,000 in the village of Ibrahim Heidi alone. According to the Sindh Livestock and Fisheries Department, there are 600,000 fishermen in the province.

Muhammad Qasim, 36, and his four brothers are fishermen. “People tell us that the sea will not disappear, so let these developments happen. The sea will not end, but it is taken away from us by force,” he says. Our livelihood has been taken from us. We are alive because of the sea. The federal government is giving us jobs but instead it is taking away our jobs.

Campaigners say Maggie will destroy the Gallelands, which the Pakistani government had previously protected and endangered. The Delta also has the world’s largest desert climate, mangrove forests.

Environmentalist Arif Hassan says: “These islands are part of a fragile ecosystem. Mangroves are swamp fish nurseries. They also have a buffer between migratory birds and the city and the sea. This buffer has saved Karachi city during many storms.

Muhammad Ali Shah, President Pakistan Fisher Folk Forum, Alleging that the government order was illegal, as it did not have the authority to occupy islands in provincial waters.

In addition, fishermen are viewed as a “security risk”. In recent months, their movement has been banned, they have been banned from Dangi Island, and those caught with their boats near the island have been chased, or even attacked. had gone.

Prayers at the bundle shrine
Controversial progress has been halted for worshipers to gather at Bundel’s shrine. Photo: Shah Mir

In September, 25-year-old Abid Aziz * joined a group of fishermen near Ghazri, now a former port and became a special marine club for the rich and military elite, when a patrol boat called them to shore.

“They didn’t ask us any questions, they just beat us,” says Aziz. “After the beating, they gave us a five-minute ultimatum to leave. They did not tell us what was wrong but strictly told us not to come back for fishing.

Salman Ali * was also among the assailants. “It’s frustrating that we can’t even fish in our own seas. We can’t say anything about it, we are poor people. He added: “We have been beaten, progress is for the elite, not for us.”

The fishermen claim that the attack was carried out by members of the Pakistani army, which provides protection to the club and its members. When contacted by the Guardian, no one was available to comment on the allegations.

* Names have been changed

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