Monday October 18, 2021

What is the best solution for Karachi?

What is the best solution for the city under the circumstances as Prime Minister Imran Khan would be briefed during his visit today

September 27, 2021
A representative image.
A representative image.

One of the biggest dilemmas of Karachi has been its ‘ownership’ as over decades no government, civilian or military, was ready to empower the country’s economic hub and recognised it as a ‘Metropolitan City’ like other cities around the world such as New York, Mumbai, Istanbul or Tokyo. As a result, the city, which once was the federal capital, has become the victim of narrow political approach and is today ungovernable and unmanageable.

So, what is the best solution for the city under the circumstances as Prime Minister Imran Khan would be briefed during his visit today about some of the very ambitious mega projects, including much discussed and debated Karachi Circular Railways and Karachi coastline.

We still need to know the exact population of Karachi and it is good that a new census is due before the next general elections. But will it be free and fair? It needs to be looked at as the city can’t be planned until and unless you know the city’s exact population. It is already a complete mess with over six million people living in ‘katchi abadis’ and increasing crime rate, which no one wants to address. No wonder why the ‘city of crime’ never has a proper Safe City Project due to the alleged nexus between crime, police and politics.

In the 1980s, a Japanese firm had proposed 5,000 large size buses for Karachi and no autos or mini-buses kind of system beside improved and expansion in the then Circular Railways system. But the successive rulers and the city government’s corrupt bureaucracy divided the city on ethnic, sectarian and political lines and the people of Karachi lost nearly 100,000 people in violence from 1984 onward as the city become the hub for all kinds of terror networks and mafias.

It is also a myth that Karachi never had any Master Plan. It has been made more than once but never enforced by the planners who altered it all. Thus, from Karachi Mass Transit to K-IV, all kinds of mega projects failed when it came to enforcement. There are dozens of such projects in which billions and billions of rupees went into the pockets of politicians or the rulers, civilian or non-civilian officials and bureaucrats. Karachi’s bridges, underpasses and roads are the classical example of highly incompetent engineers.

At present, it's good to see a race between the Centre and Sindh to ‘win over’ the city. But what is the hindrance in making the local bodies empowered and autonomous bodies as conceived in the 18th Amendment?

Karachi must come under one umbrella as the ‘tripartite approach’ between the federal government, the Sindh government and the city government had failed. Direct control of Karachi, either by the Centre or by the provincial government, had also failed and as such the city today is practically divided into multiple civic agencies which only added to complications.

It is high time that both federal and Sindh governments should agree on making Karachi a ‘Metropolitan City’ with complete financial and administrative powers like in any other such metropolis around the world. It should have its own police and powerful commissioner. It should collect all the relevant taxes.

It would go into the credit of both if they agreed on it as the Karachi issue is not only administrative but political as well. The city is divided into multiple civic agencies – some come under federal government, some under provincial governments beside six cantonment boards and DHA. Thus, for all practical purposes KMC jurisdiction is only 34 to 35 per cent.

One of the dilemmas of Pakistan’s mainstream political parties over the years had been their approach towards the local bodies system and their reluctance to hold LB polls. The fact remains that most of the LB polls in the country were held in the Martial Law regimes. The last one was held under the PML (N) government in 2015.

Sindh has suffered the most because of ‘urban-rural’ divide with different political approaches. On the one hand, it was Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) which first came into power in 1972 and at that time its political rivals were Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP).

Jamaat-e-Islami thrice got its mayor elected in 1979, 1983 and 2001 while the MQM got its mayor in 1987, 2005 and in 2015. Thus, they too have to share the blame for the ongoing mess.

For the first time in country’s political history, Karachi in 2018 elections voted for the party which got majority seats from Karachi and also formed the government at the Centre i.e. Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) with 14 MNAs out of 21 from the city and nearly 23 MPAs. Their performance in the last three years had not been up to mark. As a result, they are feeling the pressure particularly after the last by-election in Baldia on the seat vacated by its MNA Faisal Vawda. The party faced huge embarrassment as they were not even third in the race.

All the projects are welcome but the history shows that either they never got completed or took too much time for completion. As a result, the problem multiplied. For instance, what happened to nearly 40 years old Karachi Mass Transit Project? Had it been implemented, Karachi would have been a different city today.

Prime Minister Imran Khan has a responsibility as the chief executive of the country and Syed Murad Ali Shah as Chief Minister of the province. Can’t they sit together along with some of the former mayors and planners to decide the fate of this city, which for decades giving 70 per cent of revenue to Pakistan and in return gets no water or electricity, no sewerage and no transport. They have all put the ‘city of lights’ into ‘city of darkness’ by only making themselves rich and the city poor.

The writer is a columnist and analyst of Geo, The News and Jang