Karachi: A generous city that always betrayed

A city of the founder of Pakistan, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, embraced everyone, indiscriminately. From labourers to businessmen; students to professionals or visitors to migrants, Karachi welcomed everyone. Today, it holds 140 million people came from various parts of Pakistan. It feeds the entire country. Both seaports of Karachi deal with 90% of imports and exports of Pakistan. It earns 60% revenue of the state yet Karachi has never been given the status it deserved.

The multicultural city of Karachi is a symbol of ethnic diversity of Pakistan. The people from every town and city of Pakistan can be seen here making money to feed their families back home. Almost every political leader of Pakistan exploited this generous land to flourish their political streams. Its parks, playgrounds and road have been used for anti-government movements and in marketing the political manifestos and religious demonstrations. Yet, Karachi behaves everyone like a mother who always opens her arms for their children generously and indiscriminately doesn’t matter how children treat her.

Located at the Arabian coastline, Karachi, that was declared the capital of the state upon creation of Pakistan, used to be neat, clean, quite and a place of interest for tourists. There was a time when the downtown of Karachi like Sadar, Tower and then Bohri Bazar reflected a wonderful image of an international city as the market places were found to be busy with foreign tourists. Even Iranis, Bahais, Chinese and Afghanis were running the businesses side by side with locals. The environment, transport, roads and other basic necessities were incredible. The neat and clean parks, dirt-free water, uninterrupted electricity, wide gleaming roads, excellent public transport facilities like trams, beautifully decorated buggies, old style American & European taxis, colourful double-decker buses had kept this city at par with any modern city in the world. The friendly and pleasant shop-keepers, drivers and workers communicating in local and English languages found serving locals and tourists in a well professional manner. Even weather used to be cloudy like Europe. No political fighting, no ethnic violence, no sectarian killings, no bomb blasts, no looting and shooting. Thus, Karachi used to be a best and beautiful place to live in Asia.

I never forget my childhood days when I used to visit Karachi with my mother from Hyderabad (Sindh) to spend school holidays. That was a golden time when I with my cousins used to walk around Sadar, Cantt Station, Ferier Road and Bohri Bazaar spending hours on the roads, at the parks and shopping areas without any fear. The beaches, Clifton, Ferrier Hall and Cantt areas were the best places for people for outings and picnics. People used to spend hours with their families in the evening watching movies on the big television and film screens placed in public parks by the local authorities and private companies.

Many foreigners could also be seen mixing and gossiping with locals at the public places especially at parks, restaurants and shopping areas. Frequent theatres, beautiful cinemas and social clubs kept people busy in night activities. The people were very cultured, friendly and helpful.

As the time passed by; the other metro and cosmopolitan cities in the region like Bangkok, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur – which at one stage following Karachi are now far ahead of Karachi. Today, these cities possess all sorts of modern facilities for their citizens and visitors are the central attraction for local and foreign investors and are the symbols of pride for their respective states, whereas Karachi instead of moving forward went backward. The city which supposed to be the most modern and advanced city is the most apprehensive city to live or visit. The negligence, mismanagement and corruption have ruined almost every institution as well as the social environment of Karachi. Smoke discharging transport, population, undrinkable water, missing electricity, boiling gutters, busted roads and bizarre law and order situation transformed Karachi into an unreliable place to live.

Today, Karachi possesses a depressing disposition in the world. No international celebrity, artists or players willing to visit Karachi. A city that produced world-class superstar cricketers like Hanif brothers, Asif Iqbal, Zaheer Abbas, Javed Miadad, Mohsin Khan is now thrusting to have a single game. Most of the Western teams refuse to play in Karachi.

In the last 40 years almost every politician and religious leader used Karachi as a campaign ground for anti-government and other political and religious movements.

In 1960s, Gohar Ayub a national celebrity, today, spent a rakish life in Karachi. Surrounded by model girls, he was involved in disgraceful activities during his father Ayub Khan’s rule. His unavoidable acts eventually resulted with a bloody Mohajir-Pathan ethnic conflict in early 1960s. Many innocent people were killed in that first ethnic violence in Karachi. Then Ayub Khan rewarded Karachi by shifting the capital from Karachi to Islamabad.

In 1970s, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his buddies inflamed Sindhi Mohajir issue by trying to implement Sindhi as an official provincial language in Sindh and then quota system was also introduced by his government. In fact, Quota System was the first step in dividing Sindh in Sindh-Urban and Sindh-Rural which actually reflected as the division of Sindh between Sindhi-speaking and Urdu-speaking. The people of Sindh which had been living peacefully since the creation of Pakistan and gradually accommodating and absorbing each other were divided. Replacing merit in the government jobs and admissions in professional colleges by quota system brought a discrimination and hatred between two strong ethnic identities of Sindh. Quota system provided opportunities for underserved students possessing lowest marks to get admissions in highly reputed professional colleges. Since then the educational level in Karachi particularly in professional fields which used to be the best in Pakistan started falling and eventually and regrettably reached to its worst. The admissions based on quota system and favourism also brought the political, anti-Pakistan nationalist violent elements in the educational professional colleges and Universities. The healthy and productive social and union activities of students became the centre for confrontations, demonstrations, bloody clashes and other un-civilised activities. Karachi was again the centre of anti-government agitations. Singhi-Mohajir ethnic violence and ongoing strikes again badly affected the businesses of Karachi and Karachi was again pushed behind. Most of the senior ministers of Bhutto government found involved in corrupting the major institutes of Karachi. The then Minister for Communication, Mumtaz Ali Bhutto, a senior minister and cousin of Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, bungled the National Shipping Corporation which used to be one of the most profitable and financially strong department in Karachi. Most of the highly reputed and major institutes like Ministry of communication, Karachi Port Trust, Shipyard, Custom, Fisheries, Pakistan Steel Mill, Pakistan International Airlines which were the backbone of Karachi were damaged by corruption, bribery and incompetent appointments and promotions. The religious cum political parties formed national alliance against Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto in 1977. This anti-Bhutto campaign was also launched and operated from Karachi which costed many hundred lives and industrial losses by everyday strikes jamming almost entire industry of Karachi including seaports and airport.

In 1980s, another military ruler Zia ul Haque helped in flourishing Mohajir Quomi Movement (MQM) under the leadership of Altaf Hussain in Karachi to crash Pakistan Peoples Party and the Sindhi nationalist groups in Sindh. During more a decade era of Altaf Hussain in Karachi, everyday agitation, strikes and devastating ethnic violence again destroyed almost every institution of Karachi. The industry collapsed. The industries were moved to other parts of Pakistan by industrialists. Unemployment reached to its peak. Every day closure of educational institutes also obliterated the education in Karachi.

In 1990, bloody army operations in Karachi against MQM by Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif governments transformed Karachi into a battle field. Many thousand young people lost their lives during that black era of Karachi. The people of Karachi who were known as an educated community were changed into a community of gun-culture. Open firings, lootings, kidnapping and indiscriminate killing were the everyday activities in Karachi. In addition to the loss of many hundreds people an entire generation helplessly out of education, jobs and businesses.

The current ruler of Pakistan President General Pervez Musharraf in fact belongs to this unfortunate city. So, one expects that President Musharraf would understand and would be aware of all sorts of ignorance, misconducts and problems this city has seen in the last 4 decades.

I never blame the people of Karachi. It does not matter which race or culture they belong to, what language they speak or how long they have been living in Karachi or which part of the world they came from to Karachi as history tells us that the people of Karachi used to be very generous, friendly and highly civilised. They had been living harmoniously even with non-Muslims like Parsis, Bahais, Chinese, Hindus and Buddhists for a long time.

No government ever showed interest in fulfilling the genuine and increasing needs of this city. Being a commercial and industrial land, Karachi was required a master plan for another 50 years since it became a part of Pakistan. The best transport system, communication, roads, water, electricity and environment control were the main areas where long-term projects were required to be launched.

The root cause of today’s frequent violence, frustrations and angriness among the people of Karachi is the lack of basic facilities in this mega city. The city is expanding without any planning and direction. Mismanagement, administrative injustices, shortage of water & electricity, pollution, open rubbish depositories and lack of public transport are the basic reasons which have changed the attitude of the Karachi residents. And these are the problems which have been cashed by the political gurus for their own vested interest.

Sadly, new and new residential schemes are announced and built without any consideration of increasing existing demands in the basic infrastructure. There may hardly be any area in Karachi where the residents could get uninterrupted water, power and efficient sewerage system.

During my last visit to Karachi in last November in regard to the launch of my new book, I heard the President Musharraf announced Rs.29 billion for the construction of roads and flyovers. No doubt, better roads and flyovers are the needs of today’s increasing volume of the traffic. Nevertheless, can anyone imagine without enough power and efficient sewerage & cleaning system any new or existing roads can be maintained efficiently.

In fact, I saw the construction work was going on major roads and few flyovers were under construction. Ready-made palm trees were also planted on the roundabouts. One should generally appreciate the efforts of the administration and I also don’t have any intention to criticise just for the sake of criticism. However, one must also realise that things never pay if you do not do it in a systematic and prioritised manner.

I also noticed that either underneath of every fly-over or at the corners or on the side of the roads there were open rubbish storage allocated by public. I asked one person with the intention to stop him from dumping the rubbish he was dumping underneath the Nipa Chourangi flyer-over. He very defiantly resisted and replied, ‘where should we throw our garbage… you provide us the garage bins we would be happy to put in there…, the government prohibits us not to throw the rubbish on the roads but the council never bother to provide the people rubbish bins like in most of the other cities… they want to follow other countries in building flyovers and wide roads but they never bother to provide better system of cleaning…we know there is need of flyover now in Karachi but there are also other things which are more important and must be done before building roads and flyovers… and so on’ . I did not have any answer to this person for his frustrated arguments. As a matter of fact, his arguments had sense and logic. Full sizes Palm trees are being imported and planted by KMC on the roundabouts but they don’t feel the necessity of having the proper system of maintaining the cleaning system in every area and providing enough water to the residents which are far more important for the people.

Karachi has been ruled either by Jamat-e-Islami or MQM in the last few decades. Both are now the part of the administration of Karachi with the present government. At present, the Mayor (or Nazim) belongs to Jamat-e-Islami while Governor of Sindh is from MQM with provincial government is a share power of MQM and PML. In the past, these parties always blamed the government on the problems of Karachi, now who should these political factions blame to?

Now the point is; is President Musharraf really sincere with Karachi’s problems and the development packages he announced are the genuine intention to help Karachi and not political carrots to gain the support of those who are controlling this city. If the answer is ‘yes’ then President Musharraf must also know that Karachi needs an implementation of a master plan in different areas at the same time keeping in consideration not only the needs of the present time but at least for the next 20 to 30 years. Water, Power, Sanitary, Sewerage, Roads, Public transport and Pollution control are the immediate areas to be worked on. And of course, corruption-free and threat-free administration and enforceable law & order are also essential parameters to implement any project successfully.