KARACHI: ENGINE OF GROWTH

FROM KHALID BUTT, LAHORE
Mar 06 - 12, 2006

As I sit back to contemplate on Karachi, its past, present and future, my mind automatically goes into the time tunnel. The process is set off in view of my long, long association with the mega city.

The memories come vivid and fast like a torrent as it happened only yesterday. I recall my first arrival as wide-eyed youngster to cast a look at what was the then country's first capital. The present generation may not even comprehend what it looked like then in the early days. A port city, a bustling trading centre and boasting a busy international airport served by almost all reputable world airlines, Karachi had retained its reputation of being one of the cleanest and best run cities in the sub-continent. The city was full of foreign tourists, transiting sailors and airline crew members and a diverse mix of ethnic population all co-existing in a harmonious way. It had a large Parsi population quite dominant in trading, shipping and other spheres. Another community so eminently visible were the Goans and Anglo-Pakistanis, all with their distinct life-style and concentration in some city areas. Even there was a sizeable community of Jews of local origin, complete with a synagogue located in the heart of Saddar. So were Ismailis, the followers of Aga Khan, Bohras, and many other communities making it a most rich and colourful mix.

Add to it the Gujratis, Memons, Pathans, Punjabis and people from all parts of the country to make it a rare montage. But of course being the capital of Sindh it was also a predominant Sindhi city with its rich culture, history and traditions making it as central to all other influences. Despite large scale migration, it was in Karachi and Sindh that largest number of non-Muslims notably Hindus had stayed back. However, the city was under a severe and unbearable strain from the unending stream of refugees from across the Indian border.

Parts of city, especially the Drigh Road had developed large slums on both sides of refugees to make traffic movements, hazardous. Some sort of refugee concentration of "Kachi Abadis" or "camps" were to be seen mushrooming all over the city. The city and its people somehow had managed to take this pressure with a big heart without any upheavals in those early days.

During my stay of few weeks, I had sampled the delights of this wonderful city along with the developing refugee problems reaching out to the limits.

Then came my second visit few years later, as a young journalist to have a more professional and deeper look at the city. Some of the refugee slums had been cleared, by shifting the inhabitants, to other and planner areas. Pir Elahi Bakhsh Colony, Nazimabad, Korangi, and even PECHS in its elementary shape had sprung up. The city was still much smaller and within manageable proportions than like a behemoth it was to become later. What is more the process of rapid industrialisation, development had begun on all sides to make the capital a more liveable and manageable.

Then came the Ayub era and shifting of the capital to Islamabad. But despite initial fears and moaning of Karachiites, the move became a blessing of sort. It did not hamper the growth. Rather it helped to let the city find its true role as the financial and industrial capital. The city has never stopped growing ever since. As I returned to city in the mid-sixties on an assignment which was supposed to be of six months little did I know that it would be endemic lasting over 33 years.

I saw the various phases of its development to make its growth defy all calculations and planning. A master plan prepared in early sixties which I had studied in depth proved as to be quite off the mark. All estimates of experts and planners were to prove wrong and by a big margin. The population which was being forecast at the turn of century (2000) had been overtaken over a decade earlier. It was only during the regime of ZAB that city saw some conscious steps taken to cope with the rising problems of unexpected growth. The network of main city roads and arteries, along with the process of modernisation owes it to the timely initiations of ZAB who gave it high personal priority. It is quite a coincidence, that some of the leftover projects or important additions to the catch up with urgent related requirement, materialised only during the two subsequent periods his daughter, Benazir Bhutto, was at the helm as the PM.

The city too had suffered some temporary setbacks when due to worsening law and order situation in the 90's, a lot of industries shut down or shifted their activity upcountry. It is to be said that all this has been largely rectified during the current government which has been able to restore order to large extent. With the confidence restored some of the shifted capital is back and the city seems to be breathing once again as it used to in normal times. For this change one can commend the efforts of the provincial government and notably its Governor for his untiring efforts.

It can now be reasonably assumed that another era of its growth and prosperity is at hand to attract foreign investment and entrepreneurs to take advantage of the vast potential available. However, despite the city possessing the most extensive and improved road network, its infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the rising demands. Whether it is power supply, water, gas or other requirements like other problems of local commuters of this mega city it is crying out loud for urgent remedies. The city presently is almost choking with the congestion and would require some emergency measures to bale out the city from its present predicament. That is the price one has to pay for lack of planning and an uncontrolled growth which in the past we have so carelessly allowed to blight us in such a serious way as we look at future. This aspect is therefore a big ask for the provincial government and especially for the young and dynamic leadership currently running the affairs of the Metropolitan City.