By Khalid Hashmani
As relationship between Pakistan and the USA moves downwards, Washington DC is once again seeing a flurry of seminars, discussions and briefings organized by various Think-tank and academic institutions. One such event was focused on astonishing expansion of Karachi. The event was inspired by a recent book called “Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi” written by Steve Inskeep of NPR’s Morning Edition. Using this book as a backdrop, Global Economy and Development and Metropolitan Policy at Brookings Institution organized a discussion on November 29 with Steve Inskeep. Other panelists included Stephen Cohen, Alan Berube, and Shuja Nawaz. Johannes Linn moderated the discussion. One highlight of the discussion was a rebuttal by a Sindhi-American that “Karachi is the heart of Sindh and Sindhis will never allow separation of Karachi from Sindh” when panelist Shuja Nawaz stated that a proposal to make Karachi as a separate province along with creating other provinces. (Full audio and details at http://www.brookings.edu/events/2011/1129_instant_city.aspx).
Karachi could lead growth of Pakistan
Steve Inskeep, a reporter for more than twenty years has been a frequent visitor to Karachi and other parts of South Asia. His interest in Karachi intensified after he attended the trial of killers of journalist Daniel Pearl in the city. In 1947, Karachi’s population was only 400,000 lived in Karachi; most of who proudly identified themselves as Sindhis. The UN population figures show Karachi’s population to be around 13.1 million. The population growth has been astonishingly high with migrants coming from other provinces and neighboring countries. Every imaginable problem of instant urbanization can be seen in Karachi. Steve gave an example of person who migrated from Swat some years ago. Originally, he came to Karachi for better education but ended up opening an import-export wholesale business. The rampant corruption touches every aspect of life. A place where already rich politicians, political parties, military and civilian officials, and gangsters become super rich by using their influence to take over large pieces of land including parks, schools, playgrounds, or any land or condemned building and then sell the land in small parcels at huge profits. A city that has become as ungovernable as the central government and sees constant interference from Pakistan’s military and other semi-organized groups. Unlike other mega cities in India like Mumbai where economic growth is impressive, Karachi remains stagnated under the weight of unhealthy competitive interests, ethnic rivalries, and religious differences. In concluding his presentation, Steve said if there is a way that Pakistan could get back to the path of economic growth, Karachi will lead the way that growth. In an answer to a question, Steve talked about Karachi could follow the footsteps of Hong Kong and become a big commercial center in South Asia if Pakistan gets its act together and manages its relationship with India more cooperatively.
In some ways Karachi-Sindh is like Los Angles and New York
Alan Berube said that in many ways, Karachi is like Los Angles and New York, where immigrants come from all over. Los Angles has grown 3-4 times in the last 35 years, where Karachi has seen far more increase in its population. Like LA and New York, Karachi is a port city and every one is trying to achieve a degree of economic progress. He remarked that in many ways the challenges of both Pakistan and Karachi are the same – harmony, innovation and improving quality of life.
In other ways Karachi is similar to Kolkata
Stephen Cohen compared Karachi to the “City of Joy – Kolkata” and said where as Kolkata has slowly steered itself toward economic growth and peace, both Karachi and Pakistan are headed in wrong direction. He quickly added “I don’t see any rapid transformation of that kind in Pakistan”. One reason of Pakistan’s dismal economic performance is that it is trying to do too much limited resources at its disposal. This has created an enormous gap between state priorities and needs of people. He also compared Karachi to old Chicago with political intrigues and ethnic divisions – Sindhis, Mohajirs, and Pashtuns vying to secure control over the city.
Karachi exemplifies the problems of Pakistan
Shuja Nawaz said that it seems that at the present time neither Karachi is governable nor is Pakistan. Karachi exemplifies the problems of Pakistan. Karachi has more Pashtuns living than any other city in the world and the population mix is fast changing in Karachi. Sindhis, who were once a majority, have become a minority in Karachi. Although, some initial steps for undertaking the 10-year census have been taken, the current central government and its partners are not keen to complete the census before the next elections. They fear that new census would result in the creation of additional constituencies for Pashtuns in provincial and national assemblies of Pakistan. Where as the political strangulation in Karachi has substantially stopped its growth, some areas of Punjab are experiencing non-stop development. He praised the current government for changing the formula for NFC Award or National Finance Commission Award that now allocates more funds to less-developed provinces such as Balochistan at the expense of Punjab, which has more population. He suggested that separation of Karachi from Sindh province might help Karachi.
In general, there were many references to the past of Karachi at the discussion, particularly in the context of its ethnic and religious diversity and have a great environment for business in pre-partition days. Also mentioned was the rise of MQM and Sindhi language bill that was passed by Sindh Assembly in 1972.
Where are all parks gone from Karachi and Hyderabad?
A Sindhi member of audience commented on how the quality of life has suffered in cities of Sindh after partition. Citing an example of Hyderabad in Sindh province, where he lived his first 24 years of life, he said there were several parks within f5-10 minutes of walking distance from his home. One large part opposite the Hyderabad Railway station that was designed on the pattern of famous Shalimar Gardens in Lahore became home to scores of refugee families, who migrated from India after partition. Another garden about five minutes walk became a shoe market. A small and beautiful park that people of the neighborhood called beautiful “Tekundo Park” or Triangle Park became a traffic island because the local municipal government could not maintain it. A good-sized park in front of the Hyderabad Government High School that was of perfect round shape was called “Gol Bagh” (Round Park”). This park too was taken over by commercial interests became “Gol Building“. The saddest loss was that of famous “Prem Park“. The park was build by a Hindu Sindhi philanthropist in the memory of his wife was taken over by Pakistani Army, used to create some residential plots for military officers and a very large commercial center. He summed up that Sindh has suffered an immeasurable loss in the quality of life for those who now live in Karachi and Hyderabad.
The writer can be reached at KHashmani@hotmail.com