PPP's Karachi Challenge

Despite enjoying complete political authority and access to resources to develop the city, the PPP only made minor improvements, such as a few new buses and road refurbishments. Will PPP's fourth consecutive term prove to be different for Karachi?

PPP's Karachi Challenge

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) has once again secured its position in Sindh, marking a fourth consecutive term in government. Recently, ten cabinet ministers took their oath of office, followed by three advisors to Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, who is serving as the provincial chief minister for a third consecutive term. The party's decision to maintain Shah's leadership and reappoint ministers like Sharjeel Memon, Nasir Ali Shah, and Saeed Ghani for the third time suggests a certain level of satisfaction within the party with their progress.

During his electoral campaign in Lahore this year, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari promised to prioritise Lahore's development, similar to Karachi's. He stressed the need for greater development of Lahore than any other city in Pakistan. While such slogans and statements are common during elections, when you compare the basic facilities available in both cities, the reality appears to be quite different. Notably, Lahore has had centralised emergency services such as Rescue 1122 since 2006, whereas Karachi got its first centralised rescue service in mid-2022. The Lahore Metro bus service began in 2013, whereas Karachi's Green Line bus project, initiated by the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) led federal government, rolled onto the roads in 2021. Additionally, buses on the Red Line in Karachi have only recently taken to the roads. Karachi still lacks a project akin to Lahore's Orange Line train, which has been operational since 2020. 

Once known as the "city of lights," Karachi still grapples with high crime rates. In 2023, 90,000 incidents of street crime were reported, up from the 80,000 reported in 2022. While the Safe City Project in Karachi started in 2023, it has yet to be fully implemented. By comparison, Punjab's Safe City Project installed cameras across Lahore as early as 2015.

If Bilawal Bhutto Zardari's claims about Karachi's development are accurate, one would anticipate a visible sense of satisfaction among its residents. While protests for basic rights are rare in Lahore, Karachi's streets often become venues for expressing dissatisfaction with the city's development. To substantiate this claim, I recently conducted a comprehensive survey to ascertain the grievances of Karachi's citizens and gain insight into their sentiments and expectations. The survey was distributed across the city's districts and targeted individuals aged 20 to 60. Most of those surveyed belonged to the working class, and around 80% surveyed were members of the Urdu-speaking community.

Despite this ambitious charter, PPP faces the challenge of finding credible faces capable of rallying all stakeholders towards this shared vision

When asked what they thought the city's main problem was, a whopping 89.8% identified law and order as their primary concern. This was followed by 71% mentioning the city's crumbling infrastructure, 59% citing water and sanitation issues, and 31% highlighting traffic congestion. Additionally, 72% expressed dissatisfaction with living conditions.

When asked if they feel safe in the city, only 13% of citizens responded positively. Interestingly, these 13% were among the 20% of respondents who reside in posh areas such as DHA or Karsaz. This stark irony highlights the widespread distrust towards the provincial government in Karachi. Despite enjoying complete political authority and access to resources and funds to develop the city, the PPP has only made minor improvements, such as a few new buses and some road refurbishments, as progress.

Another question in the survey probed whether citizens perceive public services as being fairly distributed amongst Karachi's residents. Alarmingly, 88% expressed dissatisfaction, highlighting the profound sense of marginalisation they felt, even though the city contributed over half of Sindh's population and generated 94% of its revenue.

Realising a growing vacuum in the city's political leadership, there was a notable shift beyond the typical appeal for votes. For the first time, the PPP launched a seven-point [Charter of Karachi] during their election campaign, a document endorsed by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari. The charter, "One Voice, One City, One Authority, and One Karachi," promises to celebrate Karachi's diversity. However, for genuine transformation of the megapolis, it stressed that all stakeholders must unite beyond political and other vested interests. PPP's plan for Karachi pledges to be inclusive, inviting all to contribute and serve the city, not merely in the name of Karachi, but for its sake. 

Despite this ambitious charter, PPP faces the challenge of finding credible faces capable of rallying all stakeholders towards this shared vision. The recent cabinet appointments, however, lack such representation, raising the crucial question: Who will lead this charter in its true spirit?

Nonetheless, the PPP continues to hold sway in Sindh, securing its government for a fourth consecutive term. Moreover, with the recent election of President Asif Ali Zardari, a seasoned veteran renowned as a master craftsman in Pakistan's politics, the PPP has a prominent figure at the helm. The party also boasts its mayorship in Karachi and support from the federal government. While the PPP has long coveted a crown where it was represented at all levels of governance, from the city to provincial government and all the way to the federal government, the onus is now on the PPP to buckle up and demonstrate it can deliver unstoppable progress in line with the pledges laid out in their Charter of Karachi.

The people of Karachi can forgive, understanding that the city has long been deprived of development and the fulfilment of their basic needs. The vacuum of leadership in the city is so significant that whoever steps up to deliver genuine progress will undoubtedly earn the support of its citizens. The PPP should seize this opportunity and recognise the scepticism surrounding their ability and intent to deliver. While chances of witnessing meaningful progress remain uncertain, the party must navigate the complexities of Karachi's challenges with humility and diligence to earn the trust and support of its residents.