COST OF UNREST IN KARACHI
THE CITY IS BEING TARGETED TO WEAKEN PAKISTAN ECONOMICALLY.
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Apr 30 - May 6, 2012
Karachi generates nearly 75 per cent tax revenue in Pakistan. Therefore, those aiming at ultimately disintegrating the country are hitting the city that is the commercial and financial hub of economic activities.
Any attempt to bring economic activities to a grinding halt causes up to Rs10 billion a day depending on how powerfully a lull prevails. As a first step, public transport is forced to remain off road and any attempt to violate the instruction can lead to pyromania. Petrol pumps and CNG stations are also forced to shut operations or put on canopies on entry and exit. Attendance in schools, offices, and industrial units remains very low. Activities at airport and seaports are suspended affecting clearance of import/export consignments resulting in huge demurrage and delay of export shipments.
The worst incident in the history of Karachi was killing and torching of vehicles, public, and private properties on the eve of assassination of Benazir Bhutto in 2007. Total losses were estimated around Rs200 billion mostly originating from burning of vehicles, petrol pumps, commercial buildings, particularly bank branches. It was the day perpetrators realized that if Pakistan has to be weakened economically, Karachi has to be disturbed by killing sprees followed by strikes and taking transport off the roads.
To complicate the issue, political leaders and activists and even religious scholars and academicians are killed. The objective is to create an impression that neither Karachi nor Pakistan is a safe place to live or undertake commercial and industrial activities. This has been going on in the city since 1986 but losses, both human and economic, have increased tremendously in recent past.
Some cynics say that federal capital was shifted from Karachi to Islamabad to undermine the importance of Sindh, the driving engine of Pakistan's economy. However, importance of Karachi didn't eclipse. On the contrary, those investors who invested in new industrial zones offering lofty incentives came back to their hometown after having incurred huge losses.
Estimating the losses when Karachi is shut down should not be difficult. The city has the largest international airport in the country, two seaports, the largest export processing zone, thousands of industrial units and a steel mill operating.
A score of pharmaceutical companies and automotive assemblers, head offices of top local and international companies, and bustling capital market are also located in the city. Workforce runs into millions as the total population of city is estimated above 20 million now. Many of the people work on daily wages and if one-hour closure is faced, total loss of man-hour runs into millions of rupees.
Killing of nearly a dozen people on daily basis often leads to closure of industrial and commercial units, public transports, bazaars, petrol pumps, and CNG stations.
One can still recall that in the past up to 500 people were killed on monthly basis. The number was even higher when compared with war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. Now killing has gone beyond 'targeted' killing to armed clashes even with police and rangers. The general perception is that criminals have far superior intelligence network, arsenal at their disposal and above all well trained mercenaries.
In the past some pockets were identified where these mercenaries have created safe sanctuaries. Car lifting, mobile snatching and kidnapping for ransom is the money minting business of the organized outfits. Drug traffickers and suppliers of weapons also support these groups.
Some analysts say that drugs and arms are sold openly in certain localities and the clashes are staged to divert the public and government attention.
If Punjab is suffering due to outages of electricity and gas, Karachi is suffering the most in the hands of plunderers and killers. It is often said that Rs300 billion is being collected from operators of transport alone. To some people the number may sound exaggerated. However, when number of buses, trucks, and trawlers, tankers, minibuses, taxis, rickshaws and dumpers is added up, the figure can get credence.
This could best be understood by the fact that nearly a total of 2,000 trucks, oil tankers and intercity buses depart for upcountry on daily basis. The booty collectors include traffic police, driving license department, authority issuing fitness certificate to public transport and motor registration wing. The appetite of booty collectors can be gauged from the fact that if official fee is Rs100, the bribe demanded is as high as Rs5,000.
One can calculate monetary losses but living under constant state of stress is causing serious ailments among the residents. The common sicknesses include hypertension, respiratory and digestive system ailments and above all every one is becoming so edgy that people get into fight on a petty issue. Costs of maintaining private guards, installation of anti burglary gadgets, and installing extra grills in shops and residential units are drain on personal resources.
The adverse impact of booty collection can also be best understood by traffic jams on roads. A distance that can be covered in ten minutes takes up to ninety minutes. This is only because of encroachments on roads unquestionably under the patronage.
When hundreds and thousands of vehicles are stuck in traffic jams, they burn tons of fuels. The law enforcers are so greedy that for their smaller amounts, millions of dollars are wasted and the city suffers from the worst air pollution.
It is no secret that the city also bears an acute shortage of housing units. While the government has stopped auctioning plots, thousands of acres are being encroached annually and adding to slums. Most of these encroached lands are regularized after payment of bribes. Cars are parked on roads by multistory buildings do not have enough parking space or have been also encroached by the builders to make more money.
It may not be wrong to say that mayhem is Karachi is because of the infighting among the booty collectors as well as those who wish to disintegrate Pakistan. It is feared that if corrective steps are not taken immediately, maintaining law and order situation will become a daunting task.