Editorial Periscope: Karachi, a Metropolis Betrayed

Why the Prime Minister's "Karachi Transformation Package" is a good initiative, but may not be enough for Pakistan's troubled metropolis. Can there be a real solution in Karachi as long as Sindhi elite fail to realize that this city of 25 million denizens must self-govern itself in the interest of Pakistan, and Sindh. Editors examine.


We write these lines with mixed feelings of pain, hope and anxiety. “Karachi A Metropolis Betrayed” is one of our main themes in this month’s issue. Businessmen and common citizens alike repeatedly call us from Pakistan’s largest city and assert that “you must raise voice to save Karachi from a sure slow death”.

It is in this background that we had delayed the publication to understand the Karachi Transformation Package which PM Khan had promised and while a commitment of Rs. 1.1 trillion rupees, from both centre and Sindh, is encouraging the ensuing squabbling on it has resurrected our fears.

Karachi has changed names, forms and political masters throughout history; at different points in time and space, it had been Krokola, Barbarikon, Nawa Nar, Rambagh, Kurruck, Karak Bander, Auranga Bandar, Minnagara, Kalachi, Morontobara, Kalachi-jo-Goth, Banbhore, Debal, Barbarice and Kurrachee.

Debal is an interesting reference because it finds mention in the saga of Raja Dahir and Mohammad Bin Qasim in Muslim history, but the fact remains that Karachi was still a small fishing village when a group of traders moved there in the early 18th century from the decaying port of Kharak Bandar nearby.

And it kept changing its masters, affiliations and classifications; Talpura Amīrs had once obtained Karachi from the Khan of Kalāt in 1795, it was seized by East India Company before Napier conquered Sindh and along with Sindh it had remained part of Bombay Presidency, from 1947 till practically 1969 it was Pakistan’s political and financial capital – because though capital had shifted to Rawalpindi in 1959, the real shift to Islamabad from Karachi took another decade.

Karachi grew when it became an army headquarters for the British, with rail and telegraph it began to develop from a fishing village into the principal port for the Indus River region. It got a real boost with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as it suddenly became a full-fledged seaport.

By 1873, it’s now a thriving cosmopolitan business community of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Parsees was proud of an efficient and well-managed harbour. Then it again took off when Punjab emerged as the granary of India in the 1890s and Karachi became the region’s principal outlet towards east.

By 1914 it had become the largest grain exporting port of the British Empire. Industry flourished, and by 1924 an aerodrome had been built, and Karachi became the main airport of entry to India. The city became the provincial capital of Sindh in 1936.

But despite all this, at the eve of partition in 1947, it was still a modest town with barely a population of 200,000 or little more living mostly in the underdeveloped part of “Black or Desi town” in the north-west accommodating the burgeoning Indian mercantile population concentrated in the Old Town, Napier Market and Bunder, while the ‘white’ town in the southeast comprised the Staff lines, Frere Hall, Masonic lodge, Sindh Club, Governor House and the Collectors Kutchery. Lahore – to which many today make comparisons – even then was more than 700,000 citizens with South Asia’s best urban structure.

Karachi’s real rise came with the creation of Pakistan when it became not only the capital and premier port of the new country but also a centre for industry, business, and administration – and its only port. With a steady stream of migrant labour from all over Pakistan and former British India, it started to double and triple in population and geographical size.

However, it remained a model city in Asia till the late sixties bustling with Jews, Zoroastrians, new settlers from Iran and pleasure seekers chasing its casinos from what is now called GCC – it was a kind of Dubai with its nightlife, and wild parties of sailors and airline crews. In 1965, South Koreans borrowed its “Five Year city plans”, and it was often called the city of lights.

Unstoppable migration and exploding size had to eventually take a toll upon Karachi’s infrastructure, civic facilities and law and order but all of that became more complex because of its political troubles and Sindhi elite’s insatiable desire to claim it back into Sindh once it was not the federal capital.

Though Karachi’s initial political troubles began with Anti-Ayub riots in 1965, however, the real fault lines emerged with the 1972 language riots when Sindh assembly under Mumtaz Bhutto tried making Sindhi compulsory language for children in schools. Though PM Bhutto found a compromise solution, the dye was cast – and Karachi never recovered from the inner conflict that was set into motion. The subsequent rise of MQM cannot be understood without the feelings of 1972.

Sindhi elite’s argument of Karachi being Sindh is true – but only in a limited legal or constitutional sense. For all practical purposes the Karachi, the betrayed metropolis of Pakistan, is a new political and human entity, a commercial and industrial beast, a world of its own that has grown in its unique way over the past two hundred years.

While passing through the crucible of time and ages – Napier, Suez Canal, Bombay Presidency, Capital of Pakistan, language riots, the violence of 1990s and again the street terror of 2009-13 – it is not the innocent fishing village which Talpurs had once obtained from Khan of Kalat; it is a metropolis of 25 million-plus residents who want to define their lives and to their lives, needs and ambitions it belongs.

PM Khan’s “Karachi Transformation Package”, if successful, may help temporarily in fixing some aspects of drinking water, drainage, waste disposal and urban transport but to sustain this unique city – one of the largest in the world – the only real solution is “self-governance”, Karachi can be an independent state, a new province or an autonomous city government like Dubai, Singapore, or Hong Kong -or a political system like New Delhi with its assembly, CM and Lieutenant Government. Giving it a fully empowered “Mayor” is the least of the best solutions – and yet that is not happening.

PPP and Sindhi elite sticking to 2013 Local Govt Act have to understand this process of history for the good of Karachi, of Sindh and all of us. This issue thus offers a detailed discussion with Waseem Akhtar, the outgoing Mayor of Karachi whose time in office helps understand everything that is wrong with Karachi followed by an analytical overview of “Karachi Transformation Package” by a prominent public policy expert, Hasaan Khawar.

Moving from Karachi to national politics, this issue brings different perspectives onto PTI’s two-year government. Dr Miftah Ismail, PML-N’s economic guru and its one-time de facto finance minister, under PM Shahid Khakkan Abbassi argues in an in-depth discussion with one of us (Najma Minhas) that Imran Khan’s govt has made Pakistanis poor through incompetence and bad policies.

A different view is offered by ex-banker and current policymaker, Javed Hassan who explains in a hard-hitting piece that how PTI government is trying to set Pakistan back onto the track of rational, well-meaning governance after ten years of mismanagement by PPP and PMLN (from 2008 till 2018) that saw politically pompous projects and rise of import driven growth.

Maleeha Hashmi, a prominent V-blogger and increasingly popular political commentator argue that rise of the middle class in Pakistan has created a demand for political transparency and accountability, Imran Khan and PTI are merely responding to the country’s new political consciousness and that current failures of NAB and collusion between elements of “Ancien regime” – in media, bureaucracy, judiciary, the legal community and political elite – will not be able to reverse the new political culture of transparency and accountability. Yousaf Nazar, a lifelong investment banker, builds the case that the only way forward for Pakistan is through 3 Ds: Deregulation, Digitalization and Devolution.

September also reminds us of Indian Attacks on Lahore and Sialkot, of Major. Aziz Bhatti and his regiments that fought gallantly to stop the Indian onslaught and the Pakistani infantry stopping Indian war machine near Sialkot. However, media claims of an unprovoked Indian assault – the school textbook narrative in the country – is not true.

We wanted Dr Farooq Bajwa, author of “From Kutch to Tashkent” to write and examine why Ayub Khan did not engage India in 1962 when after the defeat in Ladakh Indian military was its weakest and why it chose to engage India through Operation Gibraltor in Kashmir when India had recovered and rearmed itself.

But due to a last-minute family emergency, he could not write his analysis. We have however added a detailed account – written by a brilliant young researcher, Ammad Usman– of Indo-Pakistan tank battle, “Battle of Chawinda” that was then the biggest tank since WWII.

Looking forward to your feedback!


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