We see so many news reports of Qabza groups and illegal occupation over the years but not once the root causes of such crimes are highlighted. All of these crimes happen because of weak laws. In Pakistan, the law states that anyone occupying a piece of land surrounded by at least a wall cannot be evicted. This law provides the opportunity for people to occupy land illegally or by force.

I have witnessed firsthand how the Qabza groups operate. Some years ago, my aunt’s house was attacked and we arrived with police in the middle of the operation.

The Qabza group first enters the house with weapons and push every occupant into a room, where they are held hostage. Then all the items in the rooms are emptied out to ensure no proof of the current occupants remains.

The Qabza group brings in their furniture and stuff into the cleared rooms along with women and children, who occupy the rooms and claim they have been living there for ages.

The local police are paid bribes to delay their arrival. Once the Qabza group is settled in, they release the held occupants. When the police arrive they find two families living in the house and they send the case to the courts, where it just lags on for many years, during which time the Qabza group threaten and even kill the old occupants and take over the property completely.

Therefore new laws need to be introduced where the police or local administrators would have to investigate the ownership of disputed properties within three months of receiving an illegal occupation complaint. The judiciary should also be asked to decide all illegal occupation cases within three months.

They can investigate by asking neighbours, local shops, suppliers etc. Similarly, the ownership can be investigated by checking who had been paying the utility bills over the years.

A magistrate or judge can then decide after taking statements under oath from both parties and asking them some homeownership technical questions like major repairs or constructions, garden keeping etc, after which the police would present their analysis report on ownership. The magistrate/judge can then decide the ownership based on all the data at hand.

To stop Qabza groups from occupying government-owned lands, the person responsible for checking these lands should sign and submit a statement each year, declaring that he/she has checked and ensured no illegal occupation has occurred, while satellite images can be used to identify and check all the properties by each government organisation.