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November 13, 2016

Karachi’s peace linked to change in state’s policies


November 13, 2016

Speakers shed light on how violence is orchestrated in the metropolis as well as on its haphazard planning and bad governance

As the city sees a new wave of violence, the time seemed ripe to hold a peace conference as Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler) organised a session titled ‘Social Dialogue for Peace: Deliberations for an Inclusive Karachi’ at a hotel on Saturday morning.

Karamat Ali, the executive director of Piler, opened the session by pointing out that Karachi was a city at war and thinking otherwise would not be prudent because of to its recent history of ethnic cleansing and sectarian violence. He also said labourers had more rights before the Partition as compared with the situation now in an independent state.

“There are 30 articles in accordance with the Human Rights Declaration and all of them are defied in this city because of State policies. The State can only be loyal to its citizens if violence and inequality are absent," he added.

Taking a glance at the challenges to peace, Gul Hassan Kalmati spoke about Karachi’s communities and how they were led to an orchestrated violence: “In the beginning when there were fewer communities including Christians, Sindhi Hindus and Parsis, the migrants who came after British including Marvari, Gujrati, Madrasis, didn’t come with the intention to rob the resources rather they settled within their own communities with the idea of an abode,” he noted.

However, in the local elections in the 1930s, the communities realised that it would lead to a feud so they nominated one person from each community for a year, irrespective of religion which led to diversity, he explained.

Referring to an incident of blasphemy before Partition, he said that one Hindu was killed by a Kashmiri but while the people were emotionally charged, the violence could not be compared to recent episodes of hatred.  Kalmati nevertheless held politicians accountable for the current state of Karachi as the city was suffering because of haphazard planning and bad governance. 

Shedding light on the dynamics of violence in the city, Faizullah Korejo, the SSP investigation (South), said mass migration was the major cause of violence. He observed that the police department was in a dire need of resources as 50,000 personnel were needed as currently there were around 33,000 cops serving a population of more than 0.3 million:

“Three years ago, we saw how the law and order situation collapsed and three issues emerged out of it namely, the Lyari gang war, emergence of Taliban and sectarianism. But with the passage of times and help of Rangers personnel, the situation has been brought under control and even street crime is now low.”

But like many other speakers have pointed out in the past, Korejo felt that the problem was a pressing one because nobody was willing to take ownership of the city. It was an odd moment when he said being a mega city, Karachi could not have a traditional policing system because even though SHOs were aware of everything that went on in their areas, people from across the country and the world entered and settled in the city every day and were kept in check by its communities.

Answering a question, he assured that “we keep a tab on all the activities in the city and know the reasons behind issues unknown to the common public”. 

In an attempt to provide a solution, Korejo said police could only flourish if the justice system stood on parallel grounds.

“Justice delayed is justice denied so how can we expect people to trust us when a case continues till 18 years instead of a shorter period of time.”

Farhan Anwer, the executive director of Sustainable Initiatives, said the failure of the Karachi Development Authority and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation played a huge role in creating a vacuum which was filled by private organisations in the fields of health and education: “While the city economically holds reins of the country, it is unable to generate its own funds. Plus with a breach in provincial and local government, it’s the system which has been crippled in the process.”


Local bodies 

Moving on to the role of political parties as a unifying force, the session saw the speakers MNA Dr Shahida Rehmani of the Pakistan People’s Party, Dr Arif Alvi of the Pakistan Tehreek e Insaaf, MPA Moin Peerzada of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement and activist Jibran Nasir, starting off with how difficult it was to manage a city which had many layers.

Dr Shahida said that it was important to engage the youth which had fallen prey to drugs and arms through rehabilitation with education. But Peerzada felt that instead of focusing on the future, she should throw some light on the present, to which she ironically named a few NGOs which were supported by the government. 

Stressing on the importance of the local bodies system, Peerzada said that the institution could only succeed if it was entrusted with power. Alvi on the other hand said that while education was indeed important, it was pertinent to see how the people were still caught up in basic problems and it was futile to expect an overnight transformation. 

“As we have said time and again, we need to get rid of this corrupt electoral process because a candidate who is not interested in local issues would intentionally endorse laws with loopholes to get the maximum benefit from lawlessness,” he added. 

Endorsing Peerzada, he said that the beauty of local bodies was that they can envelop the ugliness of the larger picture on the national level.

Referring to the rising extremism in the city, Nasir said with higher authorities unwilling to take action, civil society activists could only do so much like raise their voices on platforms and file petitions.

He added that it was important to see that the people were unaware of their rights and it was the State’s duty to inform them instead of creating confusion.

He mentioned the names of the banned outfit Ahle Sunnat Wal Jamaat’s representatives who had participated in local government elections and questioned the writ of the State over the matter.

Coming to solutions, Nasir said political parties needed to make room for the effects of climate change in their mandates because this was indeed an impending problem. Alvi said policies especially house schemes favouring the upper strata of the society should be checked and the impoverished sector must also receive lands to build their homes. He also noted that alternate dispute resolutions should be adopted to solve smaller matters so courts could focus on more pressing concerns.


Union councils

Architect and activist Arif Hasan, speaking at the event, said in the absence of an effective local government system, it was impossible to resolve complicated and multidimensional issues of diverse communities residing in a huge city like Karachi, which has been run without a well-designed administration setup as per the needs and requirements of the metropolis.

He added that the local communities, however, had a vital responsibility to come together to create a larger impact in the struggle to press authorities to introduce strategies for city planning at the level of union councils.

Hasan recommended that five new departments should be immediately set up to improve the local government system. “We need to set up units for research planning, physical planning, implementation, maintenance and coordination for ensuring proper functioning of the local government system.”

Discussing the transport issues of Karachi, Hasan said the government had announced five bus rapid transit routes but it seemed that only two of them would be built because of financial problems.

He said the relevant authorities must be held accountable for every year’s budget lapse in the transport sector.

Speaking on the occasion, Supreme Court Bar Association president Rasheed A Rizvi said there was a need to keep a check on the law enforcement agencies to ensure they did not exceed their jurisdictions.

He lamented the deadly attacks and terrorist activities in the city including the May 12, 2007 violence, the Tahir Plaza arson attack and the Baldia factory fire. Rizvi said he would soon launch a movement against corruption and malpractices in the government sector.

Mohammad Ali Shah of the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum said citizens must be informed before launching development projects as many people in Karachi were dislocated from their areas without their consent.

He said elected representatives must live in their constituency because it was not possible to relate to the everyday problems of the communities if their representatives shifted to other localities.

Senior journalist Afia Salam said those communities flourished more where women participated in the decision-making and planning processes rather than those where decisions were imposed on women. She said citizens should take innovative steps to create space for dialogues as a lack of space for discussion had become a grave problem for society.

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