Karachi’s cemeteries emerge as prime real estate with 'grave theft' common

This photograph captured on Dec. 4, 2020, shows a general view of the PECHS graveyard in Karachi. (AN photo by S.A. Babar/File)
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Updated 11 January 2021

Karachi’s cemeteries emerge as prime real estate with 'grave theft' common

  • Multiple people say they were forced to pay high rates to purchase graves in cemeteries that were officially full
  • Karachi Municipal Corporation spokesman has denied such a marketplace for selling graves exists

KARACHI: In Pakistan’s overcrowded metropolis of Karachi, real estate price tags in posh areas compare to some of the highest in the region, but an underground business in the city’s cemeteries has brought to light discrepancies between the number of burials taking place versus the amount of space available at graveyards, Arab News has found.
In 2020 according to official data available with Arab News, 28,298 people were buried at Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) cemeteries-- but nearly 8,000 of them found their final resting places at burial grounds that were already at full capacity.
In 2019, a Tariq Road resident, Muhammad Zeeshan, reported what has come to be known as ‘grave theft’ to authorities when his uncle passed away.
“We went to the nearby PECHS graveyard. The response was usual: ‘There is no space for graves, but if you have a relative, we can dig their grave up for the new deceased in your family,’” he said.  
His family agreed, because Zeeshan’s grandfather, who died in 2000, was buried there as well. 
But when the family walked up to the grave, to their shock, it was no longer there.
“When we went to see the grave of my grandfather, which we had not visited for a couple of years, we saw a gravestone with a different name on it,” Zeeshan told Arab News.
“They had already resold it. Upon the threat of a police complaint, the gravediggers admitted their mistake and offered us a new grave, and that too, without any fee,” he said.
The seaside megacity of 15 million people has roughly 200 cemeteries, most of them community owned. KMC administers 48 big graveyards and at least six of them — Paposh Nagar, Yaseenabad, Model Colony, Azeempura, Shah Faisal and Qur’angi-6, have been closed for burial due to overcapacity for years, with the last valid notification in February 2017.
A gravedigger at one of the KMC-administered graveyards, who was himself convicted in 2016 for reselling a grave, told Arab News on the condition of anonymity, that a lucrative marketplace was thriving in the buying and selling of graves-- taking advantage of some of the most grief-stricken and desperate moments of loss in an individual’s life.




A child puts flowers at the grave of his relative at Sakhi Hasan graveyard in Karachi on Dec. 4, 2020. (AN photo by S.A. Babar/File)

The gravedigger alleged the business had been running for years with support from city officials, police and local intelligence. 
Arab News could not independently verify this.
“Gravediggers keep an eye on different graves and when they notice an unattended grave for a couple of years, they just break the gravestone,” he said.
“After monitoring it for another couple of months, they dig the grave up at night and cover it up,” he continued.
Then the grave is offered to a new buyer.
The practice usually goes unchecked, the gravedigger said, except for rare situations where relatives of the deceased lodge official complaints, as happened in 2016-- and landed him behind bars.
When Karachi-resident Shahnawaz Ali’s father passed away in October, he said he rushed to the Tariq Road Graveyard where he was told the cemetery was full to capacity and closed for new burials. 
Then a gravedigger suggested he return in a few hours.
When Ali came back, he was offered a grave for Rs100,000 ($623), despite official rates in the city for community graveyards at roughly Rs7,300.
Eventually, after negotiating, Ali paid Rs35,000 for his father’s grave.
“I had a reference, which worked,” he told Arab News. “One of my acquaintances got a grave at Rs90,000.”
Karachi authorities in 2018 launched two new graveyards at the northern bypass away from the main arteries of the city, but demand remains high for the city center cemeteries, ensuring the central grave-sites remain prime real estate.
KMC spokesman Ali Hassan Sajid denied such a business existed, and said authorities were monitoring graveyards closely for any violations.  
“The graveyard department of KMC ensures that no grave is sold out (resold),” Sajid told Arab News.
“The graveyard’s management is allowed to charge Rs7,300 only for a grave, if space is available. Provision of all services is covered in this fee,” he said.
Muhammad Shahid, who is in charge of the Yaseenabad graveyard where 788 people were buried during the last year despite a ban on new burials, said permission had been granted for burials only to people who already had relatives buried in the cemetery.
But people who have recently buried relatives in Yaseenabad tell a different story.
“It was a traumatic situation when my aunt died last month,” Syed Niaz Ali told Arab News on Sunday. 
“The most painful part was to arrange Rs40,000 to purchase a grave in the cemetery,” he said. “We just had no option.” 


COVID-19 cases surge in Pakistan after restrictions relaxed

Updated 05 March 2021

COVID-19 cases surge in Pakistan after restrictions relaxed

  • National Command and Operation Center on Feb. 24 relaxed most of coronavirus-related restrictions 
  • Pakistan Super League cricket series postponed after a number of players tested positive for COVID-19

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan on Friday recorded the highest daily number of new COVID-19 cases in over a month, only days after it has relaxed a number of coronavirus restrictions.
Pakistan recorded 1,579 new COVID-19 cases in the past 24 hours, health ministry data showed on Friday. The total number of infections rose to 587,014, with 13,128 deaths.
The increase comes after the National Command and Operation Center, which oversees Pakistan’s coronavirus response, on Feb. 24 eased most of the restrictions, allowing commercial activities to resume with no time limits and offices and other workplaces to function at full strength, without the 50 percent work-from-home condition.
Regular five-day classes restarted at schools from March 1.
The NCOC also allowed Pakistan Super League pool matches with 50 percent spectators. On Thursday, however, the tournament was postponed after a number of players tested positive for the coronavirus.


Election commission 'damaged' democracy by allowing secret ballot, says PM Khan

Updated 05 March 2021

Election commission 'damaged' democracy by allowing secret ballot, says PM Khan

  • The prime minister blames the regulatory body for providing space to 'criminals' by not making votes traceable during the Senate polls
  • Khan made the statement while addressing the nation after his preferred candidate lost a general seat to an opposition politician in Islamabad

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan bitterly criticized the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) during his address to the nation on Thursday, accusing it of "damaging democracy in the country" by holding Senate elections through secret ballot.

Khan and his ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party believe that lawmakers in national and provincial assemblies sold their votes ahead of the Senate polls on Wednesday.

While the PTI managed to win 25 seats in the upper house of parliament, it lost a major contest in Islamabad where Finance Minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was defeated by the joint candidate of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance.

The outcome of the election was followed by demand for the prime minister's resignation since the opposition claimed that his administration had lost its majority in the assembly.

After the government's announcement that Khan would seek vote of confidence on Saturday, he decided to address the nation in which he reminded the election commission that its foremost duty was to hold free and fair elections.

"I could not understand why you went to the [apex] court and said that Senate polls should be held through secret ballot," he said while referring to recent Supreme Court proceedings focusing on the mode of Senate elections in response to a presidential reference.

In response to the commission's argument in front of the court that it was not possible to allow open ballot under the constitution, Khan asked: "Tell me, does any constitution permits anyone to steal or bribe which has been happening [in Pakistan] for the past 30 years?"

He said that the Supreme Court had allowed the ECP to continue with secret balloting but make all votes traceable to prevent corrupt practices.

"I kept saying before the election that people were putting themselves up for sale," Khan continued. "Why couldn't you barcode 1500 ballot papers even after getting the opportunity from the Supreme Court? You gave full opportunity [to politicians] to discredit democracy in the country."

"You protected criminals through secret balloting," he added. "You have damaged our democracy. Tell me, what kind of a democracy is this where people become senators by using money?"

The prime minister also accused the ECP of "damaging the morality of the country."

Khan also told his party members that he recognized their right to say no to his leadership during the vote of confidence on Saturday, saying he would respect their decision and "sit in the opposition."


Pakistan welcomes talks with India on all issues including Kashmir — foreign office

Updated 05 March 2021

Pakistan welcomes talks with India on all issues including Kashmir — foreign office

  • The recent communication between the two countries over a military hotline was in line with Pakistan’s desire for peace, says the foreign ministry
  • Foreign policy experts believe 'third party mediation' is necessary for dialogue between Pakistan and India

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan has always believed in dialogue and diplomacy, the foreign office maintained on Thursday, adding it was imperative for the two South Asian nuclear-armed neighbors to address their differences through peaceful negotiations.

"Pakistan has always welcomed the idea of talks with India," Zahid Hafeez Chaudhri, the ministry's spokesperson, told a weekly press briefing in Islamabad. "We believe that all issues, including the Kashmir dispute, must be resolved through dialogue."

Chaudhri added the recent communication between the Indian and Pakistani director generals of military operations over a hotline "should be seen in the same context."

In rare development last week, India and Pakistan agreed on "strict observance" of all ceasefire agreements and understandings along the Line of Control separating the two sides of the disputed Kashmir region, the military's public relations wing, ISPR, said in a statement.

"The principle of negotiations states that anyone who runs away has a weak position on the negotiating table," the foreign office spokesperson said. "The way we have been articulating our position shows that we have a position of strength."

Pakistan's former high commissioner to India Abdul Basit said that "third party mediation" was important for any meaningful dialogue between the two countries. 

"Pakistan is always willing to resolve this longstanding dispute [of Kashmir] through dialogue and one hopes that India would realize that its actions [on August 5, 2019] were unconstitutional and would never be acceptable to Pakistan or the people of Kashmir," he told Arab News, adding that It was now up to India to reach out to Pakistan and amicably address all outstanding problems.

"The government has taken a position that it will not restore diplomatic relations with India until the administration in New Delhi revokes its illegal actions of August 5, 2019,” he continued. “For this, I feel that third party mediation is absolutely necessarily since there is no mutual trust between the two countries even at a very low level."


Pakistan’s finance minister has limited political options after senate defeat — experts

Updated 04 March 2021

Pakistan’s finance minister has limited political options after senate defeat — experts

  • Abdul Hafeez Shaikh was defeated by a joint opposition candidate in a major senate contest in Islamabad on Wednesday
  • Appointed under a presidential ordinance, Shaikh is required to win a parliamentary seat until June to continue as finance minister

KARACHI: Following the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party’s loss of a key senate seat in Islamabad on Wednesday, experts say Finance Minister Dr. Abdul Hafeez Shaikh, who lost to joint opposition candidate Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani, has limited options to secure his political future.
Shaikh took oath as a federal minister under a presidential ordinance in December 2020 and is required to win a parliamentary seat until June this year to continue in his post.
“The government can retain him as special adviser, a position he held earlier, but he will not be able to enjoy the privileges of a cabinet minister under that arrangement,” vice chairman of the Islamabad Bar Council Zulfiqar Ali Abbasi told Arab News on Thursday. “Otherwise, there are no alternative options available to him and he will have to go.”
The presidential ordinance to elevate Shaikh as the federal finance minister was issued following a verdict by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on including advisers and special assistants in cabinet meetings and committees.
The country’s constitution stops unelected individuals to work as ministers beyond six months, stipulating that such individuals cannot be appointed as ministers at the end of the six-month term unless they become members of parliament within that period. 
However, some experts believe that the government can still get him elected before June and such a precedent exists.
“The government can retain him either as an adviser or make someone resign from a senate or national assembly seat where it is hundred percent confident of its victory,” Dr. Ikram ul Haq, a Lahore-based legal and financial expert, told Arab News. “Musharraf got Shaukat Aziz elected from Tharparkar in the past.”
Shaikh spearheaded the Pakistani team of economic managers dealing with the International Monetary Fund (IMF), but analysts say his departure will have little impact on the fund’s $6 billion loan program.
“The IMF program will remain on track because [Governor State Bank] Dr. Reza Baqir can assume a key role as he did during the staff level agreement with the fund,” Dr. Vaqar Ahmed, joint executive director at the Sustainable Development Policy Institute, told Arab News.
However, he said there was no doubt the government was in a tough spot.
After Shaikh’s defeat in the Senate election, the Pakistan Stock Exchange plummeted by 2.2 percent on Thursday morning, its highest fall in the last three months, though it recovered some of its losses during the day.
“The decline was caused by a perception that the government’s political alliance was weakening, and the country could witness an uncertain environment in the coming days,” Mohammed Sohail, chief executive officer at Karachi’s Topline Securities, told Arab News. “The market can stabilize once again if Prime Minister Imran Khan manages to win the vote of confidence.”
A report by Arif Habib Limited on Thursday said Asad Umar and Hammad Azhar could be two potential candidates for the post of finance minister, if Shaikh did not make it. Umar is currently serving as planning minister and Azhar as minister of industrial production.


PM Khan to seek vote of confidence from parliament as opposition demands fresh polls

Updated 04 March 2021

PM Khan to seek vote of confidence from parliament as opposition demands fresh polls

  • The government is confident of securing 181 votes in the 342-member National Assembly on Saturday
  • Analysts say the prime minister will cease to hold the country’s top political office if he fails to get the required number of votes

ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Imran Khan will seek a vote of confidence from parliament on Saturday as the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement alliance calls for his resignation and demands fresh elections in the country following the defeat of finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh in a high-stakes Senate contest from Islamabad on Wednesday. 

“We are hundred percent sure that Prime Minister Imran Khan will succeed in getting the vote of confidence from the National Assembly,” Lal Chand, a parliamentary secretary for human rights, told Arab News on Thursday. 

Explaining the process, he said the confidence vote would take place in the 342-member National Assembly by counting the number of legislators for and against the motion. “This will be an open vote, and no buying of any member or horse-trading will be possible for the opposition,” Chand said. 

As per the constitution, the prime minister is required to secure at least 172 votes to retain his position. The parliamentary secretary, however, claimed that Khan would get more than 181 votes on Saturday.

Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) party won the 2018 general elections but failed to get 172 seats to form the government on its own. It cobbled together a coalition with help of smaller parliamentary parties like Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan, Balochistan Awami Party and Pakistan Muslim League. The PTI has 157 seats in the National Assembly. 

An opposition politician Yousuf Raza Gilani defeated the finance minister Abdul Hafeez Shaikh on Wednesday after securing 169 votes. Gilani’s success suggested that some ruling party lawmakers had revolted against the PTI by not voting for Shaikh, analysts said. 

“If the prime minister fails to get the vote of confidence on Saturday, he will automatically cease to hold office as per the constitution,” Muddassir Rizvi, who works with the Free and Fair Election Network, told Arab News. 

He described the government’s decision to seek the vote of confidence as a “healthy move” that would help strengthen democratic process in the country. 

Rizvi added that members of parliamentary parties who voted against the party line would face disqualification from their seat. 

“A lawmaker can contest the election again after getting disqualified under the defection clause of the constitution as this penalty doesn’t apply for life,” he explained. 

The opposition earlier in the day demanded the prime minister to resign and called for fresh elections in the country, saying that the PTI administration had lost the majority in the house. 

“New elections are the only solution to come out of the current political and economic crisis,” Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former prime minister and senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leader, said while addressing a press conference along with other opposition members. 

About the prime minister’s vote of confidence, he said: “The time for fake vote of confidence and management of the assembly through intimidation is over.” 

Rasul Bakhsh Rais, a professor of political science at LUMS, admitted that the opposition had succeeded in destabilizing the government through the Senate seat victory in Islamabad, though he added that such political setbacks were part of the democratic process. 

“It is a daring decision on part of the prime minister to seek vote of confidence from parliament, but it may lead to another setback if he fails to get the required number of votes,” he told Arab News.