Karachi, the financial lifeline of Pakistan, was hit by one of the worst floods in its history.
Twenty percent above average monsoon rains were forecasted for Karachi and other parts of Sindh by the Met Department.
The Sindh government came under blistering criticism from the media as well as from its political opponents for not living up to the expectations of the people of Karachi.
Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) has been governing Sindh for the past 12 years and it must share the blame for unmitigated problems faced by Sindh particularly Karachi, the most populous city of the country.
However, the flood disaster was so huge for the metropolis that the provincial government could not tackle it on its own.
A metropolis city everywhere in the world has its own civic and administrative problems.
Karachi has not been plagued by problems like traffic congestion; lack of a reliable public transport system as well as water and power shortages, but it has a long list of political, ethnic and religious problems, which could only be resolved with the involvement of all stakeholders.
Despite all its problems, the city of over two million people is the key to the economy of the country as it accounts for 20 percent of the country’s GDP.
Karachi’s importance for Pakistan cannot be overstated, but time has come for the government, political leadership and other stakeholders to join hands to take the city out of morass.
Political, ethnic and religious violence has been effectively curbed in the city in the wake of Rangers’ operation under the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government. However, those fault lines can be easily reactivated if serious efforts are not made to address the civic and administrative problems faced by the city for decades.
The daunting civic problems of Karachi are not just restricted to the sordid and low income parts of the sprawling city. During the recent floods, even posh and well off neighbourhoods of the city like DHA and cantonment areas also faced the same sorry state as their neighbours.
The sewage system of DHA Karachi is as bad as of Surjani town. That is why this time around, affluent class of the city took to the streets to lodge their protests and even threatened to stop paying taxes if their problems were not resolved.
The city has been a stronghold of Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) for nearly four decades but Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in 2018 elections made significant inroads into the city grabbing many crucial seats in the national and provincial assemblies. After coming into power, Prime Minister Imran Khan repeatedly made promises to take solid steps to address the long standing problems of the city, but hardly any concrete steps have been taken so far in this regard.
Last year, PM Khan announced a package of 162 billion rupees basically aimed to be spent on sewage and transportation systems of the city, but because of unending political disputes and inter-departmental wrangling there has not been any significant progress in this regard.
When these lines were being written, the prime minister arrived in the city to take stock of the flood situation, and also announce a hefty financial package dubbed as Karachi Reformation Plan to mitigate sufferings of the people.
But even before his visit, there was an exchange of hot words between the rival sides. Planning Minister Asad Umar mitigated the situation by emphasising that the federal and provincial governments had to work together for the uplift of the country.
A day before PM’s visit, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari said the people of Sindh were eagerly awaiting the prime minister to announce solid steps to address the sufferings of the people exacerbated by the recent floods.
The ruling party leaders should keep in mind that the recent monsoon rain spell brought miseries not just for the people of Karachi or Sindh, but also for those living in other parts of the country where they were in power. While it is unavoidable for political parties to keep their rivals under pressure for political reasons, such bickering should not create hurdles in execution of policies aimed at resolving problems of the people.
The federal and Sindh provincial governments have got a golden opportunity to genuinely address the problems of the commercial hub of the country; however, if they failed to do so, they would not be able to escape the wrath of the people.
Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) is the dominant political party of Karachi, but it sits on opposition benches in the provincial assembly. The provincial government needs to involve MQM into the decision making process for the city, and the MQM should also genuinely extend its support in this regard. Though MQM is out of the current provincial dispensation, it has been part of the provincial governments in the past and it too has to share the blame for the miseries faced by the people of Karachi.
The top priority for Karachi should be fixing its drainage and sewage as well as power supply system to mitigate the sufferings of its dwellers from the unprecedented monsoon spell.
The overhauling of other infrastructure can wait until immediate problems are resolved on war footing. The federal government is required to set right priorities for the development of Karachi through consultation with the provincial government.
Previously, hefty financial packages were announced for Karachi but they were not properly followed up through an effective monitoring and implementation system. The PM should personally supervise the implementation of this package to ensure that projects under it are properly executed.
An effective and viable local bodies system is key to the proper implementation of this package.
The local bodies in Sindh have recently completed their tenure. New local bodies should not just be properly elected through fair election, but the elected local counsellors should be duly empowered to ensure proper implementation of development schemes in their constituencies.
Revitalisation of Karachi is the key test for all stakeholders, ranging from the federal and provincial governments to political parties, security forces, businessmen and particularly its residents.
If they failed to rise to the occasion then it would take ages to revitalise the city.
The writer is a senior journalist based in Islamabad