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September 9, 2020

Competitions that will shape KTP

Opinion

September 9, 2020

The writer is an analyst and commentator.

The Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) is an impressive allocation of financial resources and top-line political will in favour of a transformed Karachi.

But very much like Pakistan’s Covid-19 miracle, it may not be achievable without divine intervention. This does not mean Pakistanis should not be optimistic about its chances for success. It does mean that we should all be prepared for what is coming.

Let’s first acknowledge the laudable aspects of the KTP. Rs1,100 billion is not small change, it is over $6.5 billion. This is a remarkable financial envelope to commit to one city in the midst of a long-term economic crisis and a global system still reeling from Covid-19. The image of CM Murad Ali Shah sitting with PM Imran Khan to announce the KTP is also quite significant. Unity of purpose is vital to all major national projects. Perhaps most significant is that the KTP is the most publicly visible and high stakes adoption of the NCOC model of national coordination and coherence, since the original NCOC was conceived earlier this year.

Pakistani experiments or innovation in governance are rare. Rarer still are attempts to apply the lessons from such innovations to other problems. The whole-of-national-power approach to the KTP that combines federal government will, with provincial government authority, with the military’s discipline and prestige is an important development. Pakistan needs more experimentation and innovation in how it attempts to tackle problems, not less. PM Khan, CM Shah, Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa, DG ISI Lieutenant General Faiz Hameed and Planning Minister Asad Umar should be congratulated for the ambition and responsiveness that the KTP represents.

Every act of ambition is defined by the odds stacked up against it. The KTP is audacious because of the kinds of challenge that the pursuit of ‘transformation’ now creates for the Pakistani system. To understand these challenges we must examine the politics that has produced present-day Karachi. This politics is shaped by seven contests or competitions. The KTP will need all of these competitions to be managed carefully, gently, and wisely.

The first is PTI v PPP. This is a more substantive competition than the accusations and counter accusations between party leaders. The PPP was once the PTI, in almost every way. The PPP voter in Punjab has ditched the red, black and green ‘teer’ in favour of the Naraa-e-Tabdeeli. The burden of dashed hopes among the non-Sindh PPP voter is intergenerational and is tainted with the relative recent memory of the 2008-2013. Knowing that there is little the PPP can do to reclaim Punjab, the PPP is happy to recede into the depths of its Sindhi heartland. There, the PTI knows it can’t grow beyond the DHAs, Cliftons and small sprinklings in Gulshan, Nazimabad and FB Area. The resulting stalemate is foundational.

The PPP may want to fix Karachi, but it will not do so at any cost to its ability to market itself as the ultimate protector and defender of the abandoned Sindhi of the rural areas of that province. Never mind that everyone outside Sindh (and in the DHAs and Cantts, especially) believes that it is the PPP that has abandoned the Sindhi. What matters is what the Sindhi believes. And though she may be convinced to be sceptical about the PPP sometimes, she doesn’t believe the PTI or its backers one bit.

The second is the system v the Mohajir. The dismantling of Altaf Hussain’s MQM, though long overdue, has created a major political vacuum in Karachi. There is no alternative political centre of gravity to take charge of the political representation of the city’s largest and most important ethnic group. The Farooq Sattar national press conference meltdowns, the Mustafa Kamal-led PSP’s limited success, and the continued constraints faced by the younger, educated MQM stalwarts (like Haider Abbas Rizvi, Faisal Subzwari, Khawaja Izhar ul Hassan etc) combined to bury the chances of a legacy post Altaf MQM.

Karachi’s Mohajir is a political orphan. The midst of a 21st century global pandemic is no time for a long-drawn out paternity testing exercise for a city of Karachi’s size. Beware of the kind of disorganized crime and extreme narratives that emerge from the wreckage of such cities.

The third is the FBR v the trader. Karachi is the beating heart of the Pakistani economy. Pakistan’s perennial problem of taxing mid to high range individuals and business is rooted (partly) in every major so-called reform being attempted during a down cycle: when the cost and relative burden of documentation and taxation pinches a lot more than when business is booming. A broken and dysfunctional Karachi is a twin fiscal problem. How do you extract revenue out of an already bleeding carcass, and how do you pay for the expensive things that you need to stop the bleeding, all at the same time?

The fourth is the provinces v the federation. This is a natural and important tension that helps shape the federal system of governance in the country. The challenge is how this competition (for resources and political credit) is contained to the domain of boardroom meetings and election campaigns. In short, how does the system prevent the contamination of day to day governance with this competition?

Where this matters most is in administrative issues that are the executive domain of the province, but where the federation believes it has a role to play. Remember the fight over the posting of AD Khowaja as IG Sindh? It doesn’t help matters that the tenth NFC has been recently formed, or that this government has brought with it an alarmingly high number of kite flyers in the public domain: as five decade-old settled debates about presidential versus parliamentary and central versus federal re-emerge out of the blue. It is easy to allocate funds from the PSDP, ADPs, or multilateral projects on paper. A little harder to ensure timely releases, especially across discordant administrative domains.

The fifth is the city v the village. There is a reason why so much noise comes out of the Lahore Metro or the Peshawar BRT. They represent decades overdue investment in urban infrastructure. But they are extraordinary. Pakistani governance is framed on the colonial blueprint of extracting revenue and maintenance of public order: in villages. There is no constitutional or legal framework for modern urban management. The municipal corporations across the country are a wasteland of fourth tier bureaucratic talent, fifth tier financing, and the mass rent seeking that comes with such low standards and stakes. The KTP is a bypass for the city versus the village competition. A lot rides on this bypass. Perhaps too much?

The sixth is competence v status quo. Pakistan suffers from a massive vacuum of technical, non-entrenched skills in the public sector. When housing and urban development is dealt with by the same people that manage livestock, finance, climate change, planning, roads and highways, and filing systems: you get what you have. Federal and provincial civil servants are heroes for tolerating the working conditions they are saddled with. But their heroism does not entitle them to a monopoly over public service. If the KTP is restricted to being owned and operated by the bureaucracy, failure is a predestined and guaranteed outcome. To deliver the KTP will require the insertion of urban planners, architects, engineers, startup gurus, technologists and environmentalists from outside the bureaucracy.

Finally, the seventh vital competition is civil society versus the mafias. Karachi’s many governance vacuums have been filled by criminal gangs and mafias that extract a high economic, social and political price on the city. Brave citizens have taken on these mafias and gangs at great personal cost. The ghosts of Hakim Said, Parveen Rehman, or Sabeen Mehmud may or may not haunt their murderers. But they should not be ignored as the national rescue of Karachi begins. A city that cannot protect its heroes will fall victim to its villains.

May Allah bless the heroes, and vanquish the villains.