Oct 31, 2010

For all the wrong reasons

Karachi needs a right prescription for its ills

By Alauddin Masood

This is alarming. Some 1,233 persons have been killed in Karachi during the last 10 months. This was disclosed in a talk show by a private TV channel on October 21, 2010. To assure citizens about the government’s seriousness in putting an end to the killings, the interior minister lands in Karachi.

His statements that the writ of the state will be maintained at all cost have lost their meaning because, before his return to his seat in Islamabad, the killings overtook Karachi once again.

Till the mid-1970s, Karachi used to be a peaceful city where one came across people of different nationalities in streets, bazaars, restaurants, clubs, cinema halls, etc. Karachi University also used to have a sizeable number of foreign students and an exclusive hostel for their boarding and lodging. The peaceful environment offered an ideal opportunity for trade, commerce and gainful employment, both to citizens and foreigners.

The scribe has met scores of foreigners who were either educated in Karachi or visited it frequently for business or had lived there in connection with jobs. A couple of shops and restaurants remained open even at night to cater to the visitors. Hill Park and Clifton beach hummed with life till early morning.

Now a peaceful Karachi looks like a distant dream. Even mere mention of Karachi now instills one with fear, bringing to one’s mind target killings and shooting incidents. Now, even upcountry visitors to the metropolis restrict their movements to the places of their actual business. The situation had started deteriorating in Karachi in the 1980s. While referring to violence in the mega city in the 1980s and 1990s, at page 213 in his book, Jinnah, Pakistan and Islamic Identity, Akbar S. Ahmad writes, "Jinnah’s city has become a hell on earth." Now, things have gone from bad to worse.

But Karachi is Pakistan’s gateway. The law and order in the mega city has adversely affected foreign investments in Pakistan because foreigners view Karachi as Pakistan’s window. American, European, Japanese and South Korean investors have set up factories in a number of Afro-Asian countries to benefit from the cheap labour and proximity to the areas of demand. But, their presence in Pakistan is very thin as compared with countries where there is peace.

What to talk of foreign investments, even some of Pakistani businessmen are relocating abroad owing to poor law and order situation in Karachi. After Shanghai and Mumbai, Karachi is the third most populous city on the globe. It has all the problems which are usually associated with the big cities. Like Shanghai and Mumbai, it also has criminal gangs. But, in the case of former cities, the political leadership has the capability and capacity to check and counter the power of mafia groups.

With 12 million unlicensed weapons, globally Karachi has emerged at the top of cities with illicit weapons. If the population of Karachi is 18 million, it means, for every three residents — whether child, young or old, there are two illicit weapons. The number of licensed weapons in the city is also not very mean. It stands around 1.1 million.

What was known to citizens since decades seems to have come to Interior Minister Rehman Malik’s knowledge only recently. He said on October 21. Several extortion groups work in various areas of Karachi that have divided areas amongst themselves to extort money and that the law enforcement agencies have found lists from the arrested hands of elements involved in extortion.

When the authorities fail to provide justice, personal security and economic security to its constituents, benefitting from the law of necessity, non-state actors are bound to move in to fill the gap. But Karachi is Pakistan economic hub. The federal board of revenue collects some 53 percent of revenues from Karachi. About 30 percent of Pakistan’s manufacturing sector is located here and it generates some 20 percent of Pakistan’s GDP. This hub of commerce and industry now remains paralysed for many days every year.

Stabilising Karachi, therefore, needs to be given the foremost consideration. This would require a strong political will and determination; and granting political representation to major ethnic communities inhabiting Karachi in keeping with their demographic proportions followed by de-weaponisation and a crackdown on mafia groups, irrespective of their affiliations or patronage.

If we have a look at Karachi’s population, at 4-6 million Pashtuns constitute some 25 percent of the city’s population and around 15 percent population of the entire Sindh whereas Urdu-speaking mohajirs or MQM number around 7-9 million and thus account for some 45 percent of the residents of the metropolis and around 23 percent of the entire Sindh. Out of 168 seats in the Sindh Assembly, ANP has only 2, MQM 50, NPP 3, PML-F 8, PML-Q 11 and PPP 93.

Until political power remains out of sync with demographic realities, Karachi would continue to simmer with tensions and conflicts. To cater to demographic realities, suitable changes would have to be made in the election system to ensure election of people belonging to each major ethnic group to the provincial assembly and the local government tiers. To begin with, say 25 to 33 percent of the total number of seats could be contested on the basis of demographic patterns through the system of proportionate representation and the rest on the basis of existing first past the post system.

A bleeding Karachi continues to send wrong signals to the world, adversely impacting prospects for growth of trade and industry in Pakistan. Therefore, the government needs to move swiftly, and call a meeting of all stakeholders and assure them of a share in the political governance of the city on the basis of demographic strength. Simultaneously, the authorities need to build the capacity of law enforcements agencies and organisations to deal with mafia gangs.

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