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Karachi’s daily battles

The recent murder of innocent members of the Ismaili community in Karachi was an act directed by the militants not just against a peaceful community settled in the city forever, but also against Pakistan. Karachi has been correctly referred to as ‘mini Pakistan’ due to the demographic diversity the city represents; it is home to all faiths, ethnicities and sects.

During the last few decades the population of the city has multiplied due to an influx of people from the rest of the country. Karachi provides everyone with the opportunity to earn a livelihood which for many adds to the allure of this metropolitan city. What the people of financial capital of Pakistan, who contribute 53pc of the total revenue collected by the Federal Board of Revenue and more than 20pc of the national output, expect to see is certainly not people queuing up to fill a can of water in the scorching heat.

Being the primary port city of Pakistan, what happens in Karachi has a direct connection with various activities across the country, ranging from security-related issues to the economy and even the way we are perceived in the rest of the world. So how does the world see Karachi? Well, on a day-to-day basis what the people of Karachi live through is the murder of people on the basis of sect or ethnicity and businesses selling adulterated food to customers regardless of the consequences; we see people hanging from buses to reach their workplaces and children struggling to attend school by using public transport which should not be on the road. Karachi appears to us in the midst of a total collapse of governance making life for ordinary citizens a nightmare.

Development in the city has not been able to keep pace with the needs of a growing populace. Over the years some private individuals and companies have added a few high-end shopping malls, providing world class cuisine and entertainment, some international fast food chains as well as some top notch educational institutions and healthcare facilities that cater exclusively to the privileged classes.

In the public sector, successive governments have been unable to add any new schools, colleges and hospitals or recreational facilities for the increasing number of Karachiites. We see a few universities but no new schools for the growing numbers of school-going children, no new hospital like the Jinnah Post Graduate Medical Centre, one (underutilised) international cricket stadium and for a city of some 25 million people, just one zoo.

During the last three decades, development in the city has not been able to keep pace with the requirements of a growing populace by any measure. We have been hearing for decades that the city is to have a circular railway with the assistance of a foreign donor, but there has been little progress on the project in a long time. The prime minister announced that a metro bus service similar to the one in Lahore is to be started in the city; however no one knows when it will begin or even who is in fact responsible for the implementation of this great project.

A much needed clean-up operation is under way in Karachi to make it a peaceful city once again where people belonging to any region, sect or religion can live in harmony and contribute to the development of the country. The expectation that this is possible without a healing touch is not only naïve but also unrealistic. The support of the people to the ongoing operation is imperative to its success and will only be forthcoming if those in positions of authority ensure that all citizens are provided access to at least the basic amenities of life. Most people living in Karachi find that access to basic services, which are the responsibility of the state, is near impossible.

Sanitation conditions for the people are far from satisfactory, clean drinking water is a luxury, and electricity is available for only a small percentage of the population. These everyday battles make communities vulnerable, sick and tired as they are of their arduous daily routine; these people can then be used by forces out to sabotage civil and military efforts to cleanse the city. A frustrated and unhappy citizenry is the most lethal weapon for both internal and external forces that would like see to Pakistan fail in its pursuit of becoming a peaceful nation.

We must understand that realising the government’s three-pronged agenda of eliminating extremism, reviving the economy and overcoming the electricity crisis has everything to do with restoring peace and harmony in Karachi. Though the authorities have shown resolve to restore peace and are sparing no efforts to bring the city back to normal, these efforts cannot be viewed separately from the quality of life afforded to the citizens of this sprawling city. The people of Karachi must truly feel that the authorities are sensitive to their needs and will look after them fairly and impartially. The best way to ensure ownership of the operation is to make sure that those who have a stake in Karachi express confidence in the ongoing efforts.

One way to gain back public trust would be to immediately initiate some large public interest projects in Karachi such as a big health project, mass transit for areas where the general public really needs it, new schools in underprivileged areas of the city or even access to clean water. Investing in the city would help create lot of goodwill and ownership for the clean-up operation amongst the people of Karachi. If the government’s dream of realising the implementation of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor anytime soon is to be made possible we must ensure that Mini Pakistan is given the full attention of the authorities to address its multiple problems. For a long time the city has been looking after all the people of Pakistan; it is about time that it is looked after by those who are keen to see Pakistan on the road to prosperity and development.

The writer is a former cabinet secretary.

Nargis Sethi, "Karachi’s daily battles," Dawn. 2015-05-22.
Keywords: Social sciences , Social aspects , Social needs , Religious issues , Religious aspects , Healthcare services , Ismaili community , Democracy , Extremism , Schools , Karachi , Pakistan , Lahore