There is no ownership of Karachi, and that is why it has now become ungovernable and unmanageable. The City government only controls 34 per cent of the megacity. For the better functioning of Karachi, it should not only be under one strong authority but also there should be coordination among federal and provincial governments and the city government.
These were the views expressed by renowned journalist and political analyst Mazhar Abbas, who was speaking in a seminar, entitled, ‘Karachi’s political landscape’, organized by the Department of International Relations, University of Karachi, under Graduate Studies’ Discussion Forum which was established in 1996.
The speaker started the session by highlighting the lack of ownership of Karachi that no one is ready to take ownership of Karachi either it is the federal, provincial, or local government even though Karachi is contributing a major share to the economy of Pakistan.
He highlighted the budget allocated for the city is half of its need because the population of Karachi is more than 35 million. However, he mentioned, according to the census of 2017 the city’s population was 16.1 million. As a result, the city has been witnessing growing infrastructure problems, increasing criminal activities, and other social issues.
While tracing the political history of Karachi, Abbas said that the migrants who came to Karachi from India at the time of the Partition in 1947 had a right-wing tilt. As a result, the political culture of the city had remained Muslim Leagui. But after Muslim League’s decline, the influence of religious conservative political parties, such as Jama’at-e-Islami and Jamiat Ulema-e-Pakistan (JUP) was enhanced.
According to him, Karachi has also remained a city of opposition whether it was the student movements or Fatima Jinnah’s, or even Bhutto’s anti-Ayub movements. He also opined that a new era in the politics of Karachi began after 1972 when the city witnessed riots as a result of the Bhutto government’s policies of implementing quota system and language bill. He was also of the opinion that the Muttahida Qaumi Movement was the by-product of those riots.
Abbas also sketched out a brief note on how the major regional events including the Iranian Revolution and Afghan war in 1979 had impacted Karachi in terms of sectarian and ethnic violence. Moreover, the city also felt the brunt of the Kalashnikov, and drug cultures were imported into the city and then different mafias and underworld groups emerged who started controlling the politics of the city.
Mazhar Abbas emphasized a dire need for a strong and empowered local body system that should be free from any type of political influence and intervention. He observed that the mayor should be empowered and given full authority of the city and its institutions.
He informed the audience that according to the current situation, the mayor has authority over just 34 percent of Karachi while the rest is being controlled by the cantonment boards, Defense Housing Authority, and the railways.
Finally, he argued that there should be a consensus among all the stakeholders of Karachi and they should be taken on board in all decision-making processes related to Karachi. He also emphasized the development of civic institutions under a strong local body system. He believed that coordination between federal, provincial, and local governments could solve Karachi’s problems.