Fayes T Kantawala thinks about administrative priorities in Pakistan

One of the things I never understood about Karachi was that in order to have running water someone has to pay a private water company to physically drive over and fill up their tank. To me, that’s insane. Entire civilizations have died out because of water mismanagement. That the residents of the largest city in Pakistan - and one of the largest in the world - couldn’t depend on something as basic as water to come through their taps for decades, but still exist, seems nearly impossible. Any interrogation was met with the same rote responses: lack of development, poor infrastructure, massive unplanned urban sprawls, the sea, etc. But these are true of many other places in Pakistan. When pressed, most would whisper words like water mafias or corruption, but still without any hope of change.

I don’t blame Karachiwalas for adapting to survive in a city that is, even by Pakistani standards, difficult to endure. The roads are gutted, the infrastructure crumbling and there is little to no public space given the population. The town is divided between congested sprawls and elite bubbles – self contained ecosystems used to a state that cannot support them. It’s normal to factor in larceny when planning a day trip to the beach, and though the incessant sectarian violence has (somewhat) cooled since the hellfire of the 1990s, it is never far away.

Nowhere is the contrast more stark than with Lahore. I’m ashamed to say my home city is as much a monument to Punjabi exceptionalism as it is to its history. The city has taken more than its share of the nations resources. The roads are policed and comparatively cleaner, the security presence meant that at the height of terrorist attacks in the country, Lahore was given hundreds of check-posts, most of which became permanent. Karachi had less than 3.

It’s always deserved more, deserved better.

The scenes coming out of Karachi this week have made international headlines as evidence of the increasing cost we will all pay for global warming. Harsher floods, heavier rains, fiercer storms, drier droughts, longer famines. They are also evidence of how bereft the city is of any pubic services that could even begin to deal with these issues. Part of the water shortage, for example, is not simply because Karachi is too big and there isn’t enough water. The problem is also that of the 550 million gallons of water a day (MGD) fed into the city’s main pumping station: a mind-bending 43% of it is stolen before it even arrives at the city. The reason the water crisis - and it has always been a crisis - has not been fixed is also because a number of people make a great deal of money from its dysfunction. According to Al Jazeera’s examination, private tankers in Karachi generate Rs 150,000,000 in revenue every single day. For context, thats $1.43 million, every day. Do the math, and you’ll see that stealing water in Karachi is an industry worth more than half a billion dollars per year.


This apathy is not unique to the thieves of Karachi, because the truth is Pakistan - like its largest city - is strongly ruled, but weakly governed.

For years our country has been bled dry by generations of power brokers invested solely in their own wealth creation at the expense of state development. Why, just this week Pakistanis were given a startling piece of investigative journalism that laid out in clear, exact words the alleged extent of Gen. Asim Bajwa’s family wealth. It highlights the hypocrisy of a national conversation around corruption that always, always focus only on allegations of civilian corruption, as if the very idea of unelected power centres engaging in such practices would be unthinkable.

That most of us have been bullied or brainwashed into not thinking about the corruption of others doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. But I doubt an investigative article (in English) gives the Powers That Be much grief.

After all, in the middle of such a scandal and urban flooding, we still think that dating apps are Pakistan’s biggest problems (much like we hated Youtube more than OBL).

This week the PTA issued a statement saying they had sent notices to five dating apps - Tinder, Grindr, Scout, SayHI, and Tagged - telling them to adapt to Pakistan’s draconian and ill-defined morality, or else.

Makes perfect sense. Public officials allegedly ammass millions of dollars in offshore investments run by family? Move along. The largest city in the country is under six feet of water? Don’t look. But people with smartphones are getting laid? Bring in the cavalry.

For some reason Pakistan also chose this week to announce the government will be using hemp products (derived from the marijuana plant). And aside from my very real disillusionment with the state of the state, I am deeply grateful that the phrase “stoned to death” no longer just refers to a Taliban rock shower.

Write to thekantawala@gmail.com