Javed Jabbar’s article, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ (April 2021), presented perhaps the most appropriate way to conceptualise the problems of Karachi. The contrasts between the two Karachis are indicative of the economic, social, and spatial gaps between its residents. While Karachi is Pakistan’s most diverse city, it is also it’s most divided, along lines of class, ethnicity, religion, and caste. The economic divisions are arguably more evident than ever before as the gap between rich and poor has grown into a chasm of inequality.
This does not bode well for the future of Karachi, as a business and political elite detached from the problems and circumstances of the poor will not retain its legitimacy for long. Extremist political and religious movements often thrive on this dynamic, attracting followers among those classes who feel they have been left behind and forgotten by the elites. Eventually, the growing alienation among the poorer segments of Karachi, particularly young men, has the potential to end Karachi’s hard-won peace as the city reverts to its previous state of ever-present political and sectarian violence.
Health in Jeopardy
This is with reference to the article ‘Health is Wealth’ by Dr. Shershah Syed. The writer rightly points out the appalling standards in many of the private and public hospitals in Karachi. However, this is not only a problem in Karachi, it can be applied to all of Pakistan in general. This is highly ironic as becoming a doctor or working in a medicine related field is one of the most prized professions in the country. The government needs to do more to ensure good standards in private and public hospitals. The unchecked growth in private medical colleges without any thought as to the standard of education that they offer needs to be stopped.
As long as the medical system is used as a profit-making machine, the standards of our hospitals will not improve and Pakistan will continue to lag behind the region and the world in terms of public health.
A Cold Peace
Though many are well-versed in the concept of a Cold War, most are unfamiliar with the term ‘Cold Peace.’ This refers to a situation in which there is a peace treaty between two states; however, one or both parties regularly express reservations about the treaty and there is deep mistrust between their governments and populations. I think this is the state that relations between India and Pakistan are moving towards. The recent back-channel talks, sponsored by the US and its allies in the Gulf, may prevent future violent conflict between India and Pakistan but relations will continue to remain tense and ties between the countries will remain limited.
Unfortunately, Kashmiris are the victims in this process. The international community has shown no appetite to challenge the Modi regime’s fascist hold over the territory, while the Pakistani government’s recent statements have undermined confidence in their commitment to bring about an end to the Indian occupation.
The Third Wave
As the latest wave of the COVID-19 pandemic ravages the country, one must question why we are yet again at a point where lockdowns are being reimposed despite the arrival of several vaccines. Pakistan’s vaccination campaign is proceeding at a snail’s pace; two-and-a-half months into the campaign and less than a million Pakistanis have been vaccinated out of a population of over 200 million. In addition, to call the implementation of SOPs lacklustre would be extremely generous. From what one can observe, the arrival of the vaccines and declining infection rates earlier in the year have convinced the masses that it is alright to let their guard down. The state has done little to convince them otherwise.
Instead, our leaders have done nothing but set the wrong example for the public. As pointed out in the article ‘Leading by Example?’ (April 2021), the Prime Minister took an extremely irresponsible decision by choosing to hold an in-person meeting despite being Covid positive. The opposition shares the blame as well, as their leaders can be seen holding large gatherings sans masks and social distancing. Over 17,000 Pakistanis have died due to Covid at the time of writing. How many more must perish before we as a country decide to confront this crisis with the seriousness that it requires?
The End of the PDM
This letter refers to the article ‘An Unlikely Hero?’ (April 2021). With the PPP’s refusal to follow their supposed PDM allies’ call to resign from their seats the opposition alliance is well and truly in tatters. The rifts in the PDM ranks appear to be growing wider by the day, as the PPP seeks to distance itself from the rest of the opposition and strengthen its position within the current set up. This is a welcome development in our national politics. Although the PDM protests never really threatened the current government, they diverted attention away from more serious problems.
With their rivals’ ambitions now in ruins, Prime Minister Imran Khan and the PTI government must seize the initiative and earnestly pursue the implementation of their agenda. While the PDM’s time may have passed, nature abhors a vacuum and new challenges to the PTI’s rule will eventually surface. The government must immediately address issues such as the Covid pandemic and skyrocketing inflation in order to recover its credibility with the masses, which has taken a beating in the last year or so. Three years ago, ordinary Pakistanis entrusted the PTI with building a better future for them. It is now time to live up to that promise.
This letter is in response to Mehtab Karim’s article ‘Growing Disaster,’ where he pins Karachi’s municipal and governance problems on its rapid population growth. In my opinion, this is the wrong way of looking at the problem. According to the article, between 1998 and 2021, Karachi’s population, unofficially, grew by around 15 million from 11.2 to 26.2 million people. While this may appear to be an unsustainable pace, it is not unusual for a megapolis. Within the same period (1998-2021) Shanghai’s population increased by around the same, from 12.8 to 27.7 million, and yet, the quality of governance and civic amenities improved.
This difference can, arguably, be attributed to superior management of resources and greater investment in human capital to allow the poor to seek higher paying jobs. In Karachi we have the exact opposite, resources such as land and water are grossly mismanaged, while investment in human capital is non-existent, preventing the poor from climbing up the economic ladder. In addition, a large portion of the financial revenues generated by Karachi are not even spent on the city itself. Karachi’s problem is not its population, rather it is the mismanagement and theft of its resources.
The Blame Game
The deteriorating situation in Karachi was the main focus of the previous issue of Narratives. In this regard, a series of interviews of a number of prominent politicians, including former mayors and serving provincial and federal ministers, was featured. In these interviews, the subject unfailingly had someone else to blame for the problems of Karachi. This is a familiar pattern for those who have been observing Karachi, and Pakistani politics in general over the years.
The local government shifts blame to the province, which in turn, passes the buck to the federal government and the latter throws the ball right back to the provinces and local government. This attitude is disappointing. Karachi, being the business capital, has multiple stakeholders, all of whom would need to work collaboratively for the city to prosper. In addition, a city as large and complex as Karachi cannot be managed by a single entity alone. While it is true that an empowered local government would help improve Karachi’s lot, it would need the active support of the provincial and federal governments to do its job successfully. Without a joint plan of action that includes all the different stakeholders, any plan is doomed to fail no matter how many trillions of rupees it includes. Spending vast sums without the proper direction would be a waste and only add to Karachi’s problems.
A Time to Reflect
With Ramazan well under way, it is time to reflect on the lives that we have lost in the past year and what we can do to support those who have lost family members and friends. The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on our social fabric. Many families have lost their livelihoods to the lockdowns while others have had their breadwinner/s snatched away from them. Though what is lost can never be returned, it is up to us, in this month of charity and giving, to do our utmost to support those most affected by the pandemic.
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