The Fifth International Karachi Conference is being held from October 27 to 29 at the Arts Council.
The three-day conference aims to showcase current research and critical discourse on Karachi. It not only examines questions that define the city’s inner life today, but also global questions concerning social ecology, environment degradation and urban change.
Speaking about the event, Dr Asma Ibrahim, president of the Karachi Conference Foundation, an apolitical organisation, said, “The recent decades of Pakistan’s history have seen a time of undocumented social upheaval, unacknowledged by the dominant discourse, which is almost exclusively focused on geopolitics. Moreover, there has been a marked turnaround in the city’s fortunes in the last few years due to better security and a competitive and upbeat market. The new Karachi, undoubtedly a microcosm of the country, needs a voice.”
She said the Karachi conference aimed to be a part of that voice by celebrating one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in the world. It sought to highlight the importance of Karachi and all facets of its existence by bringing together research undertaken on the city by local and international academic institutions, scholars, development workers and social activists onto a single platform, she added.
Dr Kareemullah Lashari of the Karachi Conference Foundation, while throwing light on the historical background of the city, said Karachi was one of the largest cities in the world, and although the city was relatively young it began as a small fortified trading post in 1729.
The region has a rich cultural heritage with archaeologist remains stretching back to the Neolithic period. And the city contains Sufi shrines dating back to the 8th century, not to mention Hindu temples and Jewish and Christian graveyards.
Dr Lashari said the city has been home to many old tribes, who owned this city and preferred to be buried here, and their graves, with unique architecture, can be seen in the Chowkandi graveyard. He suggested that such sites should be preserved as they were the heritage of this region. Historically, a trading hub and a politically very active city, Karachi had relations from Balochistan to Iran.
He said that it is the unique character of this city that in thousand years of history, Karachi was never occupied by any external forces and it was due to the multicultural and multiethnic nature of this city where the bond among various tribes was very strong.
Romana Hussain, an expert on Karachi, said the fifth Karachi conference will kick off with a film festival on Friday at 3pm, showcasing the best of student films on diverse aspects of Karachi. The student filmmakers are from different parts of the city, and from various colleges and universities. The length of these films will be from three minutes to 25-30 minutes. The film shows, which have been shortlisted by a panel for this conference, will be followed by discussions by experts.
This year, important topics of discussion include solid waste management, proposed mass transit schemes and the city’s changing skyline. The conference will also look anew at the historic role of Karachi in the genesis of the country itself, both in regards to its being the first capital, and home to the founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Various new rehabilitation projects in Karachi’s historical area of Saddar will be examined, including possibilities for the Empress Market and the renovation of 100-year-old home in Amil Colony. An international scholar will also present a paper on the Amils of Sindh, one of the oldest communities of Karachi. Papers will be presented and discussed on October 28 and 29. The conference will run on both days from 10am to 6pm.
Dr Lashari further said that the conference would also deliberate upon the future of Karachi and its inhabitants and how basic human rights like health and education can be ensured to the city residents in future.
Another problem which will be highlighted in the conference is about the sewerage system of the city, which is in shambles and will have great bearing on the environmental degradation of the city in near and far future. A discussion on a permanent solution to this problem will be undertaken in the conference.
Responding to a question, Dr Lashari said that already a Sewerage Commission has been formed under the directive of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the matter is being undertaken very seriously to ensure better environment for the future generations.
For the first time, the conference includes panels that will showcase cutting-edge student research to foster a better understanding of and concern for the city and its problems among the professionals of the future. An acclaimed activist and the head of the human Rights Commission of Pakistan, IA Rehman, will be the keynote speaker on October 28.