This seaside megacity has a population of more than 25 million and no urban mass transit. Access to potable water is a privilege, sanitation and drainage are in a mess, and the civic infrastructure is rotten to the core. This is Karachi.
Salute to the resilience of Karachiites – they still believe that something good is in store for them. They somehow continue to buy the tall claims and generous promises of their political leaders. Ironically, it is a common observation that all other metropolitan cities of Pakistan, except Karachi, had seen a level of progress and development in the last three decades. Lahore, Rawalpindi Islamabad, Faisalabad, Sialkot, and Peshawar are cases in point.
But no one knows for sure what has kept Karachi, the home city of the Father of the Nation and 70 percent revenue generator for the country, in tatters. The slow and infructuous implementation of PKR 1.1-trillion Karachi Transformation Package is an obvious footnote.
Perhaps it is because no one owns Karachi. A host of political parties, who cash political capital on Karachiites votes, have taken them for a ride. The obliviousness of the Peoples’ Party, the erstwhile draconian rule of the MQM and now the time-buying modus operandi of PTI paints a horrifying picture.
The only exceptional development that Karachi saw was under the regime of President Ayub Khan – though he had no political or personal stakes in it. The initiation of Karachi Development Authority, a host of other autonomous civic bodies of water and sewerage; as well as the massive industrialization that Karachi witnessed was its glorious episode.
The next to grace it with colours in the municipality domain was the era of Jamaat-e-Islami’s Mayor, Abdus Sattar Afghani. Then onwards Karachi saw an unending era of scammers and extortionists. To count the only development minds in the MQM were its first Mayor Dr Farooq Sattar and Dr Mustafa Kamal. They tried their best. But they couldn’t deliver to the best of their ability and sincerity – for obvious inherent political reasons!
So what and where is the future of Karachi, and its dwellers? Does anyone care for them? The simple and candid answer is: No. The Supreme Court of Pakistan is on record having observed: “There is no ownership of Karachi – and no one cares for it”.
No political stakeholder knows for sure as to when the gigantic PKR 1,100 billion developmental project shall stand realised. Irrespective of the fact that a very high-powered six member committee comprising senior federal and provincial nominees, under Sindh Chief Minister’s supervision, is working to see the light of the day; there are a host of inherent loopholes and lacunas.
One of the prime obstacles is the turf wars between various departments such as the Railways and Public Works; the Municipality and the Revenue department; and last but not least the tug-of-war between the elected representatives and the bureaucracy.
The PKR 1.1-trilion developmental project, dubbed as the ‘Marshal Plan’ for the Karachiites, often reverberates in the apex court. The Supreme Court of Pakistan’s Karachi Registry is seized with the issue under a suo moto notice, and minutely monitors its implementation.
At many of the proceedings, it was a common observation of the Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, Justice Gulzar Ahmed that the “so-called representatives and officials had failed Karachi.” Many a times, the top judge lamented the lack of coordination and falsification of notes shared by the stakeholders, including senior government officers and the Commissioner Karachi.
They stood reprimanded with their heads hanging in shame. Likewise, at times, the apex court was magnanimous enough to spare contempt proceedings against the chief minister and his cabinet members, as well as the all-powerful bureaucracy, over their defiance in complying with the court orders on removing encroachments; and subsequently implementing the Karachi Plan. So much so for good governance!
For all practical reasons, the package unfortunately seems to have hit snags. Announced in September 2020, it took more than five months to get a nod from the Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet, apparently owing to monetary constraints.
Out of the PKR 1.1 trillion, the federal government has promised to contribute PKR 739 billion and the remaining PKR 372 billion will be generated by the Sindh government. The span of the programme is three years. But Sindh’s Adviser to CM on Law Murtaza Wahab claims the provincial government is the “biggest feeder” for the package, and shall be generating around PKR 800 billion.
Likewise, Sindh Provincial Minister for Information Syed Nasir Hussain Shah, who closely monitors Karachi Package as well as other developmental issues of the province, is at loggerheads in realising a working equation with the federal government. Recently, he was in full swing reprimanding the Water Board officials, as well as by making few heads roll in the municipality, as public grievances took an upbeat turn. “The Sindh government is doing everything to make life easy for
Karachiites, as we are an equal stakeholder,” he remarked, and castigated the federal government for penalizing the province by withholding funds.
Inside queries made off the record revealed that no one knows how this money will be generated, as there is hardly any developmental purse with the exchequer.
The bottom line is that millions of office-goers, students and commoners have to hang on to either the Qingchi (rickshaws) or depend on the scary private-rides. Taxis are off the road; and one is justified in asking where the 40,000-plus Yellow and Black Cabs disappeared?
The funny Circular Railway is tantamount to the poem of the kids: “Merry, merry go round and round – all through the town”– a classic example of wasting money with no proper route and passengers.
Karachiites, likewise, spend millions on purchasing water from the hydrants. It is common knowledge that wheelers-and-dealers in the provincial bureaucracy, as well as the erstwhile Karachi Water and Sewerage Board officials, are hand-in-glove in putting monkey-wrenches and delaying the Greater Karachi Water Supply Scheme, also called K-IV, to this day. The project is an indispensable lifeline for 30 million people in Karachi and its adjoining peripheries.
A stock-taking of vibes from the political mosaic revealed that all have a tale to tell. All differ in their synopsis of development for the dilapidated city! And all uphold their political brief at the behest of Karachiites ‘common’ future!
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement, which literally ruled the city for more than three decades, is busy pointing fingers at the so-called powers-that-be, or the invisible coterie, that it says is responsible for the plight of the city.
In one single statement, former Mayor Waseem Akhtar says, “The MQM never had power to exercise its writ.” This closes the argument, and there is hardly any rationale in further asking what the MQM did at the zenith of its power.
Likewise, Faisal Sabzwari, MPA, says that Karachi’s biggest enigma is that it never had a powerful local government, as enshrined in the Constitution. “Our coalition partners never shared power with us.” He was obviously referring to the Sindh government, which controls the purse and developmental allocations through a provincial ministry.
The MQM similarly has been constantly complaining that it was “not taken on board”, while chalking out the Karachi Package by the PTI government. MQM’s federal Minister for Information & Technology, Syed Aminul Haq had placed similar reservations before the cabinet, too.
The MQM stalwarts confided that they are “surprised that the federal government chose to implement the PKR 1,100 billion plan” through the “corrupt provincial government”, rather than putting the local government at the vanguard. This notion has put the MQM in a gridlock with the Sindh government, as well as in deep reservations with the federal government – of which it is an ally.
“The federation should have invested through us, as we know the city,” MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, who is part of the federal cabinet, pointed out.
Not different is the narrative of Jamaat-e-Islami. Though the party is politically rated as a “spent force” by many in Karachi, it is still one of the most proactive grassroots forces in Karachi. It keeps reminding the citizens how badly Karachi has been failed by their elected representatives.
Jamaat, nonetheless, has a 360 degree angle to boast. Jamaat Karachi chief Hafiz Naeem-ur-Rehman quipped, “It is not Balochistan but Karachi, which is the most neglected part of Pakistan.” He was slandering the MQM, of course, for allegedly failing to deliver despite ruling the city.
He said, “People who cannot count numbers – a reference to the controversial Census – are unfortunately the stakeholders of Karachi”. Jamaat these days is in a crusade to pressurize the federal government to hold Census afresh in Karachi, as it believes Karachi’s population has been cut down to size ‘under a conspiracy’.
Asked about the Karachi Package, Rehman pointed out that the “Green Line project and the Orange Line project are in tatters because the province and centre do not have a priority for Karachi.” He lamented that the provision of water and power, damaged infrastructure and sewerage haunts the biggest revenue-generation city.
There is, however, some plain talking from the federal government’s point man on Karachi’s ambitious package. Federal Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar assures that “at least two mega transport projects— the PKR 300 billion Karachi Circular Railway and the PKR 25 billion Green Line Bus Rapid Transport — shall be completed by year-end.”
But MQM, despite being a coalition partner, is not convinced. It says the gigantic developmental plan is “financially handicapped,” as allocations are in a dried up pipeline.
Sindh Governor Imran Ismail, who acts as the eyes and ears for realising the Karachi Transformation Package, is often seen meddling between various governmental bodies, in order to make sure that PTI’s tall claims on Karachi are dispensed in all sincerity. He, at times, is under severe pressure from the PTI comrades who rightly believe that there isn’t any “walk the talk”, as far as ushering in a new sense of development and prosperity in the City of Lights, from where it has 14 out of 21 MNAs.
Last but not least, there is another horrendous side on the path of Karachi’s development. There isn’t any developmental fund released for Karachi through its representatives for the last two fiscal years (apart from the PKR 1.1 trillion promised package). This has given rise to voices of dissent from the PTI too. PTI MNA Aslam Khan from NA-254 says, “Stoppage of development funds to elected legislators is unbecoming. What will we do, and how will we perform before our electorate?”
MQM’s Aminul Haque joins the bandwagon as he says, “the federal government’s promise to release PKR 150 million per constituency still hangs in balance.” Under the policy directive, no funds will go directly to the elected representatives but to the Pakistan Public Works Department (Pak-PWD). But that too is in limbo.
Karachi is in need of not merely a bailout, but also a sail-out from the quagmire in which it is in. Prime Minister Imran Khan shoulders a personal responsibility to bless Karachi a facelift of modernity -in its infrastructure and civic amenities. Karachiites still believe in his vision and honesty. It’s time to win the hearts.