STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

Karachi is in ICU. It is not the first time; it has suffered multiple ailments before brought on by different regimes. This time it is different. There is a clear and present danger of suffocation and possibly drowning Karachi. Watching the relentless downpour and flooding even from a distance is hair raising.

My heart goes out to Karachiites. These extremely resilient and strong spirited people have suffered incessantly. Each time they land on their feet, dust themselves, nurse their wounds and get back to normal believing in a better tomorrow.

Karachi is a jewel in Pakistan’s crown as a truly cosmopolitan city. Home to people from around the country, it is the engine of Pakistan’s economy. It provides a lifeline for the entire country. It has absorbed newcomers into its bosom who move here for a better future.

Truly multi cultural, it was home to our leader Mohammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s first capital and nursery of our mother tongue, Urdu. Muslim migrants from Urdu speaking areas chose Karachi as their new home. They brought their rich traditions and cultural heritage to this organized well-run quiet harbor and fishing town.

Karachi in 1950 was 1.2 million and Sindh’s urban centre. It attracted visitors and residents seeking a new experience. As seat of Federal Government it was the nerve centre of the nascent bureaucracy. It also became the manufacturing base of young Pakistan providing new opportunities.

The evolution of Karachi can only be appreciated by those who lived the experience. As it expanded, it blossomed as a flower attracting bees. I vividly recollect living in Abbottabad, Hazarawals rushing to Karachi for greener pastures. They would display their new found affluence during Eid holidays.

My first visit to Karachi was in early 70’s with a bunch of friends from Punjab University. It was an exhilarating experience. Rashid Butt was part of the team. He had an uncle in Karachi. His cousin became our chauffeur and guide. This smart, young and good looking guide chaperoned us, the uninitiated country cousins.

Metropole Hotel was in the heart of Karachi. Unaffordable to stay but through a friendly connection we adopted their restaurant as our camp office. Karachi during that period was a fun place.  It attracted tourists from all over as a thriving business center and a bustling city.

The first cracks appeared during Bhutto’s regime when he put a wedge between Sindis and Non-Sindhis. He passed a legislation making Sindhi the official language of Sindh. There was rioting and violence sowing seeds of discord. It was downhill thereafter. The Language Bill got watered down but a sense of disenfranchisement spread in Urdu speaking communities. Karachi’s electoral seats were held by religious parties who were unable to highlight local issues.

Events took a turn when General Zia seized power. Bhutto was tried and hung. Urban Sindh united under PPP banner like never before. Zia was determined to dismantle PPP at all costs. Muhajir unease and Zia’s hatred converged into a common cause. In 1978 Muhajir youth organized themselves as All Pakistan Muhajir Student Organisation. It challenged Islami Jamaiat Tulba’s hold in educational institutions and eventually prevailed.

Altaf Hussain and his team were Jamiat trained. They deployed these abilities for APMSO which spread like wild fire. In March 1984 it morphed into Muhajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) as a political party. It was fully backed by intellectuals and businessmen. MQM chapters sprung up in all Urdu speaking areas. By then Karachi had more than 5 million residents.

Till 2016 Karachi was totally dominated by MQM, changing to Mutthida from Muhajir. A clear divide emerged between urban and rural Sindh controlled by PPP despite some manipulated breaks. By then population had increased to 16 million and the City boundaries expanded drastically. But no attention was paid to the basic necessities and infrastructure.

Karachi today is without drinking water, sewage system, electricity, garbage disposal and has a crumbling infrastructure. In fact even the natural drains are choked with garbage or sold off to the highest bidder.

MQM turned into a fascist organization. They tolerated no opponents or dissent. They were killed or disappeared. That paved the way for militant factions of PPP and other ethnic organizations. Industrialists and businesses, MQM’s original supporters, were now victims of shakedown and extortion by all groups. Many closed shop and left. PPP’s Zardari competed at national level with Sharifs for loot and plunder. In his backyard, Sindh, bribery and corruption peaked between him and MQM.

All this while Karachi was being stripped to the bone. Karachiites lived under horrifying conditions being moved to ICU multiple times. Short respites were provided by Rangers. The population is nearing 20 million now. Karachi is a hellhole with its garbage pile up, no sewage or drainage, electricity breakdowns, water extortion and anemic law and order.

On top of it Zardari and Nawaz gifted themselves with the 18th Amendment. Control of national resources shifted from Federation to Provinces. To be used to fill personal coffers of Zardari and his coterie.

In 2018 the Karachiites finally spoke through their vote. They gave PTI a chance. But under the existing framework, Center is helpless. PPP is unwilling to move a finger and the local Government is toothless without resources.

The present calamity drowning Karachi should bring all stakeholders to their senses. One of the largest cities in the world is without a functional government. This has to change for the sake of Pakistan. A duly empowered local Government needs to be elected. It has to deal with the mega issues before Karachi turns into an uncontrollable urban jungle.

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