What Ails Karachi?

What Ails Karachi?
The Pakistan Peoples’ Party, a political group ever so apologetic of its Sindhi identity, recently ran its local governments election campaign under the slogan of “Karachi for all”. A nice slogan it may be, but it embodies exactly the problem with the city.

What happens when a wrong blood type is forcibly transfused into a body? Or, a kidney is transplanted into a body with a dissimilar tissue type?

The answer is obvious.

That is exactly what has been happening to Karachi for the last 75 years. And, that is the root cause of Karachi’s illness.

After Charles Napier pronounced in early 1840’s “Karachi, you will yet be the glory of the East! Would that I could come alive again to see you, Karachi, in your grandeur”, the city remained on track to achieving that promised glory for about a hundred years.

Then the world changed in 1947.

The city, which was being built on the sweat, blood and pure love of its children, under the benign leadership of foreign rulers, suddenly saw a new set of masters, perhaps unmindful of – and uninterested in – its history, culture and ethos.

The original inhabitants, Hindus, Parsis, Christians, and even Muslim, who, with the help of their colonizers, had raised the foundations of the city from scratch and converted a shanty little fishermen’s village into Karachi, building such beautiful monuments and institutions as KPT, Empress Market, NED College, Sindh Madrassatul Islam, DJ College, Napier Hall, Merewether Tower, etc., saw themselves relegated to minority status. The Capital of Sindh now suddenly became the capital of the new country, where locals had little place to live.

To the newcomer, the city and the province he had moved to was less a home with a history, culture and a rich language, and more a piece of land – even, to some, a conquered territory. Since they came from outside, they felt little affinity towards the people or the place.

The City’s new leadership, mostly politicians from UP, CP and other parts of India, needed electoral constituencies and as long as the pre-Partition population were a majority in the city, they stood little chance of winning any elections. Something had to be done.

Even though the Partition did not set out any clear provisions for the transfer of populations, the flood gates were left wide open for refugees from India to pour in and subsequently change the demographic balance of the city, creating electoral constituencies for the new leaders.

The Province of Sindh, which had never seen communal violence in its history, saw its first ever religion-based riots in 1948, caused, not by a sudden incitement or a provocation, but a planned effort, purely to deprive the rich minority of its wealth and property and drive them out of the city, as well as frighten the rest.

Professor Hamida Khuhro’s book, Mohammed Ayub Khuhro: A Life of Courage in Politics, vividly describes how her father, Muhammad Ayoub Khuhro, the then Chief Minister of Sindh, was threatened of dire consequences by the highest authority when he tried to stop the violence.

This was just the beginning.

In the September of 1948, the government of Mr. Liaquat Ali Khan introduced a highly lopsided quota system for employment, where 42% of jobs went to Bengal, 24% to Punjab, a 17% for rest of the Pakistan, including, Sindh, Baluchistan, NWFP, and the State of Khairpur. The same percentage, a whopping 17% was set aside for the tiny population of migrants and Karachi (read, migrants)! For the record, Bhutto, as is commonly asserted to malign him, did not introduce the quota system. It was started by the first government of Pakistan. Bhutto’s government only rationalized it after the secession of East Pakistan.

Karachi was the most developed city and the capital of the province. With a new quota in force, white and blue-collar Sindhis who looked to Karachi as the main source of their livelihood, suddenly lost their share of jobs in their capital city.

Unlike other provinces in India, the colonial masters had not built any institution of higher learning in Sindh. All educational institutions, such as NJV School, DJ College, NED College of Engineering, which the citizens had built themselves for their children, were snatched away from them. The Sindhi language was banished from the city. According to one report, 1,600 Sindhi medium schools were shut down or converted to Urdu medium schools. Sindh University was made to move out of Karachi.

Anything Sindhi became anathema to the new masters controlling the city.

When the elders of the city, G M Syed, Hashim Gazdar, and some Parsi leaders met with Prime Minister Liaquat Ali Khan, complaining about the attempts at artificially altering the culture of the city, the then Prime Minister is on record as mockingly retorting “do camel-herders have a culture?”

The Establishment of that time, comprising of the civil and military administration, had appointed Syed Hashim Raza as the Commissioner and his brother Syed Qasim Raza, as Superintendent of Police of the city -- both from UP – to facilitate demographic change, and with senior generals like Sher Ali Pataudi and others readily available to support the Prime Minister’s argument, the delegation of Sindhis saw no scope for any further discussion and returned empty handed.

Sindhi representation in the ruling elite, civil and military bureaucracy was almost nonexistent at that time. A vast majority of Sindhi ICS officers were Hindus, and they had opted to move to India. The one Hindu Sindhi ICS officer, Kripalani, a federal secretary, who had opted to stay in Pakistan on the personal request of Quaid-i-Azam, was made to leave the country when his family’s palatial bungalow in Karachi was forcibly acquired and would not be returned despite Kriplani’s high bureaucratic position in the government, and despite his pleas to the high and mighty. With a broken heart, he left the country at the advice of Mr. Khuhro, who told him that he would not be able to protect him under the prevailing circumstances.

The sway of immigrants from India over the city remained unchallenged until General Ayub’s electoral defeat, in January 1965, against Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah in East Pakistan and Karachi. Ayub managed to win the elections generally, though. Bengalis and the Indian immigrant community, who had challenged him however, became a threat to the Establishment’s authority. They needed to be sorted out.

The attempts of the masters to change the DNA of East Pakistanis failed. The Bengalis were just too numerous to overwhelm, and were soon shown the door. Now it was Karachi’s turn.

The answer was to outnumber the troublemakers. Soon a flood of refugees from north started pouring into the city to preemptively counter-balance against any future threat to The Establishment’s influence.

The wheels of artificial infusion of outsiders into the city, which started at the inception of the country, continues unabated to this day.

The unchecked influx of different peoples over the decades and then accommodating and arming the favorites to control the city, depending upon who is in power, is what is killing Karachi.

The result of the uncontrolled population flow is not just the high crime rate and nonexistent civic facilities, but also a war for territory and communal disharmony.

The wrong blood type infused in the city has developed a reaction now. The antibodies developed with time are resisting alien blood types. Unmatching cells are now fighting with each other, eating away the body from the inside - bit by bit.

Karachi is in a quack’s control, who is more interested in changing its DNA, rather than treating the city’s malaise. The only cure for Karachi lies in wresting it out from clutches of the Establishment, who is more intent upon serving its own vicious interests rather than saving the ailing city.

One wonders why Karachi cannot have a metro train like Lahore. Why can Karachi not be a clean city like other civilized cities in the world? One sees hordes of undocumented and illegal Afghans, roaming the streets, buying properties, committing crimes and harassing local citizens, and wonders who is going to stop this. Because something that belongs to all, really belongs to none.

This approach – Karachi for all – has been hurting the city. Karachi should only be as much ‘for all‘ as any other city, for example, Lahore, or, Peshawar, for all. ‘Karachi for all’ should not mean ‘Karachi free-for-all.’ Everyone trying to control the city has resulted in no one controlling it.

Everyone, including the Establishment, must realize that if Karachi has to prosper, the ownership and control of the city must be returned to its rightful owner - the province of Sindh. Period.

The writer is an independent political observer based in the USA.