Thursday December 02, 2021

Chaos in Karachi

September 04, 2020

Disaster preparedness historically has been very weak in Pakistan – mainly because of decaying institutions, ageing infrastructure and dangerous loopholes in the regulatory framework.

Since 1985 major crimes against citizens and different ethnic groups have gone unpunished. For decades, with political patronage, armed gangs have operated in different parts of the city under the nose of the security forces with full impunity, the provincial capital becoming a victim of political expediency.

With absence of rule of law, the city has been used by powerful interest groups and real estate property tycoons. A chaotic order has been allowed to remain intact as long as it worked for the political engineering project.

With seaports and as the key industrial base of the country, Karachi saw a major influx of population from other parts of the country. This is why the city has been called a ‘mini-Pakistan’ because it truly reflects Pakistan’s diverse ethno culture, languages and values. The city has never been hostile to any migrant community – until the 1990s. Days-long violent protest strikes, followed by occasional curfews and scary strikes took away the peaceful standing that Karachi had enjoyed since 1935.

These days amid tensions, crises and unaddressed problems, the city has become a volcano. Everyone is angry, whether Sindhis, Mohajirs, Baloch or Pakhtuns – almost as though the city has given nothing to anyone. And the outraged are not the poor who live on the edges of the city, but the privileged who have better access to educational, business and job opportunities.

It is true that managing a city like Karachi is a big challenge given the scarce resources, corrupt bureaucracy and inefficient and incompetent politicians. It is not hard to see how every institution has been politicized, something that can be laid at the door of the two main ruling parties in the city and in the province. Decades long distrust and bitter experiences and rivalry between the PPP and the MQM have resulted in fleeting moments of political and economic stability.

What really has made matters worse in the city is the center’s frequent attempts to interfere in the city’s affairs by means of political control. In the beginning, the PTI’s rise in popularity in Karachi was seen in a very positive light. However, that role did not last long; with their government in the center, the party has fueled tensions in Karachi.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s unwise remarks, analysis and policy options do not seem to be helping the city. And the federal government’s arbitrary whims to overpower a provincial government has been seen as a clear message to the PPP-led Sindh government that the center does not recognize the provincial government’s legitimate constitutional powers. This is not the case with any other provincial capital.

Why then is Karachi an exception? Is it just because people from other provinces are settled in the city? Because there has been an influx of population over the decades. How, under any logic and laws, does that give space to the central government to frequently interfere in the affairs of the city? From sending the NDMA, while bypassing the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA), to threats of taking over the city under federal control, such actions only end up alarming the people of Sindh.

Karachi has been the capital of Sindh before even Pakistan was created; how can anyone even think of that taking away from Sindh under any pretext? Sindh is not a colony. In fact, it was the first state under British colonial rule that passed a resolution in favour of Pakistan. Sindh joined Pakistan as a federating unity, it was not occupied.

Any attempts and threats to take Karachi under federal control would be a disaster for the federation. Such an unconstitutional move would create not just disharmony and distrust but would also demolish the trust that the people of Sindh have in the state.

Thus, it is unwise and wrong to try to say that “people from Sehwan (reference to Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah) rule Karachi”. What kind of argument is this? And what interest does it serve other than creating divisions in Sindh and in the country? Above all, it is an unconstitutional argument since it clearly defies the concept of a provincial constitutional government. The way anyone living in Punjab could be elected provincial chief minister with a majority in the provincial assembly, the same holds true for KP and Balochistan.

One could ask the federal government how much financial resources it allocated for the development of Karachi in its last two federal budgets. The federal government spent hundreds of billions in the federal development budget. Could it not have spent a meager 10 percent of the budget in the city? If the federal Planning Commission cannot come up with development projects for a key city in the country, then one is right to ask: what is its role and for whom?

Residents in Karachi frequently face severe water shortages, but when the Water Accord of 1991 was being signed there was no allocation for the drinking water needs for a mega city. If the city police are unable to dismantle illegal water hydrants, why can’t the federal security forces act against this mafia, which on the one hand steals water and on the other sells it on its own asking prices to residents of Karachi?

A visionary leadership would extend a helping hand and resources to a province where their own party does not rule so as to refute any impression that their governance is uneven handed.

Karachi is not a wounded city. It is a dynamic city which has serious problems that can be addressed, provided there is honest will and resource availability along with a real plan.


Twitter @mushrajpar