Through the ordinance, the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) said that all the islands on the coasts of Balochistan and Sindh, including Bundal, would be owned by the federation and placed in Schedule-I.
In a recent development, Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan expressed his anguish over the scuttling of development of the Bundal Island by Sindh government. The statement brought to the fore the fissures between the federal and provincial governments over the ownership of the resources. The over-representation of the Punjabi populace in seats of power—especially the Army —has led to step-motherly treatment of all other provinces. While the despair in Balochistan is out in the open, it’s the state of Sindh which has lost the most since the formation of Pakistan, due to adverse policies from Islamabad.
The development of the island of Bundal, lying off the Karachi coast, has always been a bone of contention between the two seats of power. This inhabited island is an ecological paradise with rich marine life, including 29 species of sea snakes, 29 species of plants and 50 species of birds. The island is home to some of the world’s rarest green turtles and thousands of migratory birds. The dense mangrove forests act as a natural barrier for the Indus Delta, protecting Karachi and other cities against tsunami and cyclones. However, the federal government has time and again made various attempts to usurp this real estate.
The latest attempt from the Imran Khan government came in the garb of an ordinance promulgated on 31 August 2020, without consulting either the Sindh government or Parliament. Through the ordinance, the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) formulated that all the islands on the coasts of Balochistan and Sindh, including Bundal, would be owned by the federation and placed in Schedule-I. According to the ordinance, the authority would be headed by the Prime Minister of Pakistan himself.
There have been reports that this latest development is being remotely steered by the Pakistani Army itself. Pakistan Armed Forces are known for their rampant corruption and through their frontal organisations like Defence Housing Authority of the Army and the Bahria Foundation of the Navy are always on the lookout to usurp prime real estate for their private purpose. According to Ayesha Siddiqa, the Armed Forces own 12% of the country’s land, in which two-thirds of that land is in the hands of senior military officials—creating a new class of urban feudal class in Pakistan.
The Musharraf government had tried to initiate islands developmental projects in 2000 and 2006, but failed due to public opposition. Later, in 2013, the PPP government had made a similar attempt, but the Supreme Court put a ban on the construction. The latest brazen attempt to take over the islands, violating constitutional provisions and Supreme Court judgement, leads to suspicions that the Pakistan Army intends to hand over these islands to Chinese companies. Such suspicions are strengthened by the provision in the ordinance that the Development Authority, that is directly responsible to the PM, has been empowered to retain, lease, sell, exchange, rent or otherwise dispose of any land vested in it. In other words, the islands could well be sold to any private person or country, should the PM so decide. The powers of PIDA have a stark similarity to the CPEC Authority, where the Army has installed its retired officer as the chairman, thus ensuring all Chinese credit is actually channelled through the eyes of Pakistan Army leadership.
Prima facie, the ordinance is a brazen usurpation of the Constitutional rights and patrimony of Sindh to the islands and brings to fore the mala fide intent of the federal government. Fortunately, due to the intense public opposition, the ordinance was challenged in the Sindh High Court. The illegality of the ordinance and the public dissatisfaction it caused forced the federal government to repeal it for the time being, thus saving people living along the coast from an ecological disaster. Notwithstanding, considering the immense value of this island for the common populace—including for the annual Urs (anniversary celebrations) of Yusuf Shah—it is obvious that the private greed of the Pakistani Army leadership would leave no stone unturned to grab any resource of the country which could fill its personal coffers.
Ashish Singh, former group editor, strategic affairs, iTV news network, is a senior news anchor with focus on Defence and Foreign Affairs.