Karachi revisited | Pakistan Today

Karachi revisited

  • It is a complicated city

Recently, a report published by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) surfaced, labelling Karachi one of the ten least liveable cities in the world. While the ranking should have alarmed the people, the 7th least liveable city status has fallen on deaf ears.

The ranking on the Global Liveability Index scoring is done on the basis of security, affordability, education, healthcare, urban lifestyle and infrastructure. The fact that Karachi has fared up badly on all these parameters highlights the adversarial condition in which the business hub of the economy is thriving.

Shahbaz Shairf, the name taken synonymously for Punjab’s (read: parts of Lahore) development promised that if elected from Karachi, he would establish the metropolis on the same pattern as Lahore. The newly-elected government of Pakistan Tehreek Insaf (PTI) took a similar stance while campaigning in Karachi; saying it would bring uniform development in all major cities, especially Karachi. While this served as a direct blow to Sharifs’ biasness of focusing solely on Lahore, the PTI would now have to deliver on what it has promised people.

Understanding Karachi is a complicated process, graphing why and how the city has come about, is tracing decades of history and rapid sporadic urbanisation against which the real development has been left behind. While the world chokes on plastic, Karachi gasps through thick, humid ‘air’ that engulfs the city. The Clifton beach that has always been the go-to place for people looking to spend a good Sunday, spews sewage water that is inordinately drained into the sea. Some would say that this is no way to treat a sea, but this is no way to treat a city either.

The encroached land, in terms of slums, will cause a public outcry if and when removed. With limited funds, there is only so much housing that the new government can provide

Being the only developed port city at the time of partition, a large number of people decided to settle here. Over the years, this pattern has persisted and the city which was thought of holding a large number of muhajirs (people who migrated to Pakistan from Lucknow and Delhi) have fallen short of a large number of Pakhtuns, Balochis and Bengalis who have settled here, in search of jobs. A large number of Parsis, Jews and Ismalilis, giving the city its idiosyncratic, multicultural ethnicity initially, however, have fled the city following years of marginalisation. This is a concern for anyone wishing to understand how the city’s demographics have changed.

Where Karachi’s skyline, thwarted by multi-floored buildings is an indication of the ever-increasing need for housing people, the ubiquitous ethno-religious slums point towards a deep-seated political marginalisation which would take decades to be mainstreamed. However, some have taken the Tabdeeli as a chance for the city’s better future. From these it is understood that the city suffers from a multi-dimensional problem with trash, which would have to be dealt with in terms of its constituent problems.

Stemming from this is the argument that the city’s problem of garbage disposal is a matter of awareness, and the consensual need to clean up the city. Some would argue that this clean up is a matter of politicisation after all, of creating a sphere of influence where garbage can’t be disposed off without the approval of a higher power. Either way, the waste that surrounds us, the sewerage water that drowns the city and the fetid breeze that is hazardous to health; needs a comprehensive course of action.

The encroached land, in terms of slums, will cause a public outcry if and when removed. With limited funds, there is only so much housing that the new government can provide, and that too would take a lot of time. With the city outstretching towards Hyderabad, another populated city, there’s only so much land to dispose off the cities’ garbage. With Eid-ul-Adha’s remains and light drizzle, the unavailability of land for landfill sites is brought to focus in the most repulsive of ways, which makes one question the mere necessity of holy sacrifice in a city where perhaps people have lost their civic sense and the authorities have failed to address the problem. And who can blame the people when they’ve to wrestle with the inevitability of targeted killing on their way to work, stand in long queues to get a bucket or two of water and give in to coercive means to let their businesses prosper.

With Karachi alone, the new government has its work cut out for itself. The trash can’t be disposed off without its people, sewerage water can’t be drained without the supply of clean water, and the ethno-religious slums can’t be divulged with delimitation alone. However, one thing is for certain, the city can’t go on the way it is. It’s about time steps are taken to rid the city off of the old ways and more opportunities are created elsewhere in the country where people can migrate to. Mapping and chalking, creating and ridding are just a part of the way in which the city can be made more liveable. But of course, all of this will loom under the unsaid danger of religious fundamentalism or perhaps religious marginalisation which requires an all-out nationalist strategy.

Remshay Ahmed

Remshay Ahmed is a Lahore-based freelance journalist and a published author of Foreign Policy of Pakistan (2000-2016): A Game Theory Analysis. She can be reached at [email protected]