Friday April 12, 2024

A underwhelming session featuring Mayor Wahab at KLF

By Oonib Azam
February 19, 2024

It has been observed in recent years that incumbent mayors of Karachi are rarely visible in public discourses and panel discussions due to the fear of backlash and challenging questions from the audience.

Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab speaks in a session titled Urban Dialogue: Decoding Karachis Dynamics of the 15th Karachi Literature Festival at a local hotel on February 18, 2024. — Facebook/Karachi & Islamabad Lit Fests
Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab speaks in a session titled 'Urban Dialogue: Decoding Karachi's Dynamics' of the 15th Karachi Literature Festival at a local hotel on February 18, 2024. — Facebook/Karachi & Islamabad Lit Fests

Credit is due to Karachi Mayor Murtaza Wahab for demonstrating courage by participating in a panel discussion at the Karachi Literature Festival (KLF) on Sunday. However, the panel itself fell short of generating a meaningful discourse on the session's title, 'Urban Dialogue: Decoding Karachi's Dynamics'.

Urban planner Arif Hasan, known for his lifelong activism in support of low-income communities, sharing a stage for a panel discussion with a mayor from the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), was expected to spark an interesting dialogue on the city's development policies, but that did not happen. It was a smooth sail for Wahab who is responsible for a city having a plethora of problems that were conveniently ignored by his party during its consecutive 15-year rule in the province for the mere fact that it did not rely on Karachi’s vote bank for coming into power in the province.

The session started with the moderator, Masood Lohar, who is the founder and director of Clifton Urban Forest, sharing a brief history of Karachi’s rivers and creeks.

Hasan spoke on the change that had taken place in the city in the last 20 years in the use of public spaces. He pointed out that the development projects undertaken by various local governments in the city had resulted in displacing over 2,000 families, a crime he deemed unparalleled to any other crime inflicted on the city.

Additionally, he highlighted that more than 100,000 students had lost their schools due to these initiatives.

Expressing concern over what he termed the prevalent anti-poor bias in planning and policymaking, the urban planner alleged there was a collective complicity of all the stakeholders in that. Surprisingly, during the session, there were no questions directed at the mayor about how the actions of the government controlled by his party had left hundreds homeless in the name of rehabilitating the city's rainwater drains. This could have been an opportune moment for the mayor himself to present his case to the public.

Wahab expressed his conviction that a city capable of running Pakistan should also be able to manage itself. He echoed the long-standing concerns of previous mayors, highlighting the chaos and confusion created by multiple landowning jurisdictions in the city.

According to Wahab, the solution to the city's challenges lied in 'pulling up socks and starting to own the city'. He said the absence of urban dialogue had led to the growing urban divide.

Looking ahead to his next 3.5 years as the mayor, he spoke about his priorities that included addressing multiple territorial jurisdictions, solid waste management and master plan issues. But again, there was a lack of policy-oriented questions, let alone a debate, regarding how he planned to resolve these chronic issues.

The mayor said that it was his commitment to be remembered as someone who resolved the water issues of Karachi after his tenure ended.

One audience member spoke on real estate and land reclamation across Sea View and asked what the beach looked like in the master plan. To this, architect Tariq Alexander Qaider said that by 2050, all the real estate development on reclaimed land across the Sea View beach would have sunk down.

Wahab responded that the question did not pertain to him as the port development in the area was done by the Karachi Port Trust and they did not take the mayor on board. He added that real estate development in the area was done by the cantonment board. The mayor invited experts to hold the next urban dialogue at the KMC’s City Council hall.

Speaking on the interference of the judiciary in the city’s affairs, the mayor said that if one wanted the government to be held accountable for enforcing or not enforcing its decisions, the government should be allowed to act in the first place. He stressed that the executive authority had been completely compromised in the city.

To many in attendance, the session was a disappointment. One of them was a young journalist, Hunain Ameen, who said the mayor’s session at the KLF had so much potential to get him on record on a number of policies, projects and prospects so the people present would know how and if the city could be restored to its better version. “But it seemed like Murtaza Wahab, a very important public office holder, found great comradeship among the panellists who instead of asking him the right questions, remained grateful and loyal to him,” he said.

Another journalist Hawwa Fazal said the session’s title ‘Urban Dialogue’ was palpably missing. What was discussed in the session was the importance of mangroves in the city and how they could be made better. “Karachi is way beyond the mangroves,” she said, adding that there was a superficial governance discourse, which everyone already knew. “It was just the panellists telling their version of Karachi and showing what Karachi looked like then and now,” she said, adding that there was no counter-discussion.