Getting a grip on Karachi

August 23, 2020

The city of over 15 million people has for years been facing various municipal problems, which experts say, have their roots in its complicated governance system

A family makes its way through a street flooded by monsoon rain.

Uncertainty around the reports about the formation of a special committee comprising the three major political parties in a series of three-party meetings to resolve Karachi’s civic issues goes on.

Intervention from the highest levels of the Establishment has yielded positive results as the three principal stakeholders — the Pakistan Peoples Party, the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan — have been persuaded to sit together and take joint measures for the welfare of the country’s commercial capital.

In Karachi’s complex division of power, the PTI has won the majority of National and Provincial Assembly seats. The provincial assembly, however, is dominated by the PPP, which also rules the province. The MQM-P, meanwhile, runs the Karachi city government and four out of six districts.

The meetings in question were held in Islamabad and Karachi. Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Governor Imran Ismail, Sindh Ministers Nasir Hussain Shah and Saeed Ghani, Federal Ministers Asad Umar and Ali Haider Zaidi, Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar, and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) Chairperson Lt Gen Muhammad Afzal were in attendance.

It was decided that special committees comprising members of the three political parties be formed to ensure that Karachi’s major development projects, including K-IV water project, Bus Rapid Transit projects, lifting of trash, cleanliness of the drains, and roads and local governments make desirable progress.

In background interviews, leaders of the three political parties who are familiar with the developments told The News on Sunday that against the backdrop of the Chief Justice of Pakistan’s recent remarks about failure of government in resolving the issues Karachi faces and “interference of the powers that be”, the meeting between the PPP, the PTI and the MQM-P was organised to resolve the major issues.

The city of over 15 million people has for years been facing various municipal problems, which experts say, have their roots in its complicated governance system.

The Supreme Court of Pakistan, while hearing the storm drains encroachment case, had expressed disappointment at the dismal situation of cleanliness in Karachi, stating that the Sindh government had failed in its duty. Heading the bench, Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmad told the Sindh advocate general that the provincial government had “turned the entire Karachi into a goth (village)”.

“The entire city is filled with filth and sewerage water,” said the chief justice angrily. “Mosquitoes, flies, and germs are everywhere. People are walking on stones [to cross ponded sewerage water].”

During the hearing, the attorney general told the court that the federal government was considering various constitutional options to improve the situation in Karachi.

“The formation of the committee on Karachi is the second step. Representatives from all three parties would be included in it,” said a key PTI leader in Karachi.

However, a few days later, Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah said on August 17 that the only discussion had been with the political parties in Karachi. He said no committee had been formed and no agreement reached with the Centre with regard to the metropolis. “Executive work belongs to the government, not to the political parties,” he said. “Let me make it clear that the administrative and governmental powers of Sindh will not be shared with anyone.”

For a while the statement created uncertainty with regard to the formation of the committee and the political consensus stated to have been reached among the stakeholders in Karachi appeared to be eroding.

The MQM-P was quick to accuse the chief minister of “sabotaging” the recent efforts to form the three-party committee to find a solution to Karachi’s civic and infrastructure problems.

“It is beyond our comprehension why the chief minister made cleanliness in Karachi a matter of his ego. He [CM] is the head of the solid waste department. They cannot even lift garbage from the city. They have deliberately destroyed the local government system in Karachi,” said Khawaja Izharul Hasan, the MQM-P MPA and a coordination committee member.

“The alliance of the provincial government and the Karachi municipality seems to be part of the plan to open a front against the Supreme Court that has scolded both layers of the government for their failure in resolving the city’s civic issues,” says Sardar Abdul Rahim, a GDA spokesperson.

He said the MQM-P believed that the mere formation of committees was not a solution to Karachi’s problems. The only permanent solution only in an empowered local government system under Article 140-A of the Constitution, he said.

The PTI, which won most of the National and Provincial Assembly seats from Karachi, says that the party’s top leadership had taken a difficult decision to sit down with the provincial government for the sake of development and welfare of Karachi.

“The PTI cares for the people of Karachi because residents of the metropolis have given it their mandate,” says Khurrum Sher Zaman, the PTI Karachi president and an MPA. “It is our responsibility to fix the problems of Karachi.”

For its part, the Grand Democratic Alliance, a coalition partner of the PTI in the Centre, has voiced concern over reports of the formation of the committee for resolving the city’s issues.

“The alliance between the provincial government and the Karachi municipality seems to be part of a plan to open a front against the Supreme Court that has scolded both layers of the government for their failure in resolving the city’s civic issues,” says Sardar Abdul Rahim, a GDA spokesperson.

However, on August 19, CM Shah flew to Islamabad again and a consensus was reached on forming a committee to deal with Karachi’s development. According to media reports, the chief minister, Provincial Ministers Nasir Hussain Shah and Saeed Ghani will be the committee members from the PPP; Federal Ministers Asad Umar and Ali Zaidi will represent the PTI-led federal government. Syed Aminul Haq, another federal minister, will represent the MQM-P in the committee.

Another challenge the committee will face will present itself when the local governments are dissolved at the end of August and administrators are appointed to take charge till the next elections. The committee will have to agree on a suitable person for the post of the administrator for Karachi.

Also, before the local government polls, delimitation of constituencies would be carried out, as per orders of the Election Commission of Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Jamaat-i-Islami says that the only solution to Karachi’s issues is a fairly elected local body leadership and effective law-making at the local government level.

“Civic issues of Karachi cannot be resolved by taking cosmetic measures and division in government department functionaries,” says Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman, the JI Karachi chief.

He suggests that the city should be governed in consultation with all stakeholders instead of leaving it to an administrator. “The political parties [represented in the committee] have no plan to resolve city problems. If they had such plans then why did they not resolve the issues while wielding power for so many years,” he says.

Similar committees for Karachi have been formed in the past. In late 2018, the federal government set up a high-level committee -The Karachi Infrastructure Development Company Limited - for the development of Karachi; the main aim was to make it more effective in executing projects. There were complaints that the funds given for the development of Karachi were not properly utilised.

The PPP, which won PA seats mainly from rural Sindh, had reacted by showing its dismay over the plans, calling it a violation of provincial autonomy on the part of the federal government.

Analysts believe that Karachi’s mismanaged urbanisation over the last thirty years is partly a result of the conflict between the PPP and the MQM. “With the MQM no longer in a dominant position after this election, the new political landscape could certainly prove beneficial for the city,” says Mashail Malik, a PhD candidate at Stanford University, researching ethnic politics in the city.

“In the past, the federal government under Musharraf provided funds for local actors (the JI under the mayorship of Naimatullah Khan, and the MQM under the mayorship of Mustafa Kamal).”

The writer is a The News staffer. Email: [email protected] and Twitter: @zalmayzia

Getting a grip on Karachi