by Zia Ur Rehman
August 22, 2015
Blood had spilled and harsh blows of batons were endured so that Frontier Colony and Pathan Colony, Karachi’s first informal Pashtun-populated settlements, could appear on the city’s map, but looking at the living conditions of their residents now, those efforts made four decades ago seem to have gone in vain.
The two adjacent colonies were regularised after Pashtun labourers had launched a massive movement for their rights in June 1972 over their fellows’ killing.
However, even now, the people who live there have to put up with piles of garbage, overflowing gutters, swarms of mosquitoes and lack of safe drinking water and electricity.
The two neighbourhoods are situated in the SITE, the country’s largest industrial area, which falls in the city’s West district. Around 30 percent area of these colonies is stretched over a hilly terrain.
Residents and activists said Frontier Colony was the largest informal settlement was founded in 1960s by Pashtuns who had migrated to the city and were working in textile mills in the area.
“In the beginning, the workers who were evicted from the hostels of the mills in SITE, had built a slum here,” said Manan Baacha, a social activist who lives in Frontier Colony.
“Then the families forcibly evicted by the Railways administration from their land in Nazimabad and City Railway Station also moved here and built makeshift mud houses,” he added.
June 1972 movement
Entering Frontier Colony from Metroville, one can see a monument built in memory of the 1972 labour movement martyrs in the “Mazdoor Shaheed” graveyard.
The Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (PILER), an independent labour rights organisation, and the Shaheed Mazdoor Yadgari Committee had built the monument three years ago and inaugurated it in a gathering held to pay homage to the workers who had laid down their lives during the movement.
Karamat Ali, the executive director of PILER, said on June 7, 1972, workers of a textile mill were protesting over a month’s delay in the payment of their salaries and other funds and police, on the behest of the mill owners, opened fire on them, killing two labourers, one of them a trade union leader, Shoaib Khan.
Khan, who was had arrived in the city from Swat and lived in Frontier Colony, was spearheading the movement in SITE under the banner of the Usman Baloch-led Muttahida Mazdoor Federation.
The next day, workers and residents of the area marched in the funeral procession from Frontier Colony to Banaras Chowk.
A police contingent, after failing to stop the procession with tear-gas shells, fired gunshots at the marchers, killing 10 people and injuring dozens, Ali told The News. The people killed in firing were all Pashtuns from Swat and Mardan districts.
The two unfortunate events on consecutive days resulted in labourers observing an effective strike in all industrial zones and factories’ production reduced to its half in 12 days.
Baacha, who was active during the movement, said the then government of the Pakistan People’s Party feared that prolonging the strike could adversely affect the party’s popularity and sent Pashtun leader and federal minister Hayat Muhammad Sherpao from Peshawar to Karachi to visit the area and address the problem
During the negotiations with the workers’ representatives, Sherpao agreed that water and electricity would be provided to Frontier Colony and also announced its regularisation.
“At that time, the city’s administration was compelled to draft a map immediately, which was compulsory for the regularisation and leasing of the area. It was then divided into two neighbourhoods – Frontier Colony and Pathan Colony,” said Baacha.
Bastion of Pashtun politics
Political analysts and activists said the June 1972 movement had influenced politics in the area and pushed its Pashtun residents to join mainstream progressive parties and trade union movements.
The involvement of Pashtun residents of the colonies increased significantly and many left-leaning groups including the Communist Party of Pakistan (CPP) received immense support from residents.
Afzal Bangash, a leader of the Mazdoor Kissan Party, also a leftist party, visited the area after the two incidents and condemned the attacks.
Baacha said CPP leaders Dr Taj Muhammad Shaheed and Arif Sarhadi were active under the banner of the Mazdoor Welfare Jirga, which still exists in the area.
“Besides the leftist group, the National Democratic Party (NDP), which previously operated as the National Awami Party before being banned, also drew massive support from the residents,” said Baacha.
Sardar Sherbaz Mazari and Begum Naseem Wali too visited the area for the residents’ support.
As most of its supporters were Pashtuns, NDP candidate Mazarai won in the area in the 1975 general elections, defeating PPP’s Mir Hazaar Khan.
To spread education in the two colonies, former leaders of the Pashtun Students Federation, including Amir Nawab and Muhammad Hanif of Charbagh, had formed the Pashtun Students Welfare Society and ran educational institutions there.
The neighbourhoods were also known for literary activities – Abdul Dayyan Afghani and other poets regularly organised literary gatherings, attended by Pashtun literary and political figures from across the city attend.
Currently, the Ittefaq Pashto Abadi Jirga, headed by Sagar Tanqeedi, is active there.
Until the year 2000, the colonies were divided into two separate constituencies – Frontier Colony was part of Pak Colony while Pathan Colony was attached with Orangi Town.
However, Baacha claimed, PPP leader Nasirullah Babar made efforts to unite the two areas and in the 2002 general polls, they became part of a single constituency, PS-93.
In the 2002 and 2008 general elections, Jamaat-e-Islam candidate Hamidullah Advocate and ANP’s Ameer Nawab won in the constituency respectively.
However, in the 2013 polls, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf candidate Syed Hafizuddin won the seat.
Frontier Colony and Pathan Colony have become infamous in the last five years because of the presence of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan militants there.
Finally, following the law enforcement agencies’ crackdown on terrorists, peace has returned in the two colonies.
The TTP Swat chapter had killed many political leaders, social activists and police personnel there.
Dr Ziauddin and Amir Sardar, two former mayors of the area and the ANP West district presidents, were also among them.
The law enforcement agencies, in their ongoing crackdown, have shattered the Taliban network in the city by killing and arresting a number of their key members.
“Now there is absolute peace in the area,” said an ANP leader.
Residents said the government was not interested in developing the two colonies.
Baacha said he had not seen any significant development projects in the area after the ones launched by the government in the post-June 1972 killings situation.
“The issue of water shortage was resolved during the tenure of Nawab as the town nazim. However, the residents of the 30 percent of the houses, built on the hills, are still facing the water supply problem,” he added.
Residents said there was no government high school for girls and boys in the two neighbourhoods. “That’s why most people don’t send their children, especially girls, to schools in other areas and they stay home,” said Akhtar Hussain, a resident. “These areas don’t even have a health centre.