Alert Sign Dear reader, online ads enable us to deliver the journalism you value. Please support us by taking a moment to turn off Adblock on

Alert Sign Dear reader, please upgrade to the latest version of IE to have a better reading experience


Karachi's woes

February 13, 2005


When Shaukat Aziz last year was made prime minister of this nation of some 160 million individuals, the majority moving swiftly on a downward mobile path, some of us (such as me) heaved a sigh of relief at having shed the Chaudhry of Gujrat and at the installation of a presumably wordly-wise and reasonable man, neither feudal nor industrialist.

A further presumption was that he would roll up his sleeves and get down to work so as to do something about President Musharraf's programme of poverty alleviation, his intent to improve the law and order situation, and generally clean up the national mess. We did not expect him to travel around the country wearing funny hats, inaugurating this that and the other, laying foundation stones for irrelevant projects, presenting plastic plaques to the unworthy, and in the process inconveniencing the citizens of the major cities of the country with the inefficient security arrangements with which he is surrounded.

And we certainly did not expect this man of finance to do as others do and rob the exchequer by going off to perform Umra accompanied by 49 freeloaders, who like him are all perfectly capable of paying their own way rather than sponging off the country.

General Pervez Musharraf has decided, for good reason, that the government of Sindh and the administrators of Karachi will be run and motivated by the MQM, the party of British citizen Altaf Hussain who calls all the shots.

In a book launched last week amidst much fanfare, one in our series of 'Histories of Pakistan', the autobiography of politician and the sole woman shipbreaker of the world, Salma Ahmed, entitled 'Cutting Free', I came across a picturesque paragraph describing Altaf in the days of Ziaul Haq and his prime minister, Mohammed Khan Junejo :

"Altaf Husain became the uncrowned king of Karachi and acted as such. He had an aura of great power and splendour about him and was surrounded by Kalashnikov-bearing guards. Elitists were dwarfed and the sway of this leader was so great that they, including myself, stood for hours waiting for the 'great' man to grant an audience - be it for his birthday or a festival. He revelled in his new-found glory and his ego was pampered no end by finding millionaires at his doorstep waiting patently to get a glimpse of him. It gratified him to see those who had shunned him being made to stand or sit on the ground awaiting his pleasure, and those who had helped him in lean times having to crawl to get near him. 'Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world like a Colossus' - and a Colossus he had become."

We who were born in and live in Karachi continue to lament its fate. How much can this city endure, how much abuse and degradation can a piece of earth suffer? Since the demise, many years ago, of Town Planner Ahmed Ali, the city has had no qualified master or town planner. For years Karachi was at the mercy of a plunderer of the KDA, Z A Nizami, until one fine day the then governor of Sindh, General Rahimuddin, realizing that enough was enough, sacked the man. We thought that was the end of him, that we were rid of him for good.

But no, lo and behold (as all good Sindhis exclaim) Nizami has re-emerged on the scene as chancellor of Sir Syed University of Engineering. [One of his victims has been none other than Herr Professor Doctor Atta-ur-Rahman, chairman of the Higher Education Commission, a scientist, who was awarded a Ph.D from Cambridge in 1968, for his thesis on 'Synthetic Studies in the Indole Alkaloid Field' by Dr J Harley Mason. In 1987 Atta earned his D.Sc, also from Cambridge, and then in 2003 Nizami induced him to nosedive and accept an honorary D.Sc. from his university.]

After Nizami's departure from the KDA, Karachi's planning somewhat stabilized. In Musharraf's early days, Brigadier Zahid Malik, an engineer, officer and gentleman, was appointed Chief Controller of Buildings. He allowed transparency and good planning to prevail and encouraged the working of statutory watchdog committees. This good man died in office and was replaced by another retired army brigadier, but this time neither town planner nor engineer nor architect, Brigadier Ahmadullah Sharif Nasir.

His present term as CCOB expires on March 10 2005. On January 15, 2005, he submitted a summary for the chief minister of Sindh and an application requesting him "to kindly consider my extension by one more year ..... The requested extension will help me in earning my livelihood. Please grant me one year extension till 10, March, 2006. I will be obliged."

The summary will go first to his boss, the City Nazim, CDGK, Niamatullah Khan, from where it will trickle down to the ACS, Local Government, the Adviser to the chief minister on local government, the chief secretary, and finally to the CM.

Niamatullah apparently does not approve of Nasir as he has openly declared that he has had to 'bow' to heavy 'pressure' from the MQM and the Governor's House. The governor has also pressured ACS Salim Khan into saying 'yes' and MQM's Adviser Waseem Akhtar will also toe the line - as far as our city is concerned, disaster. Now, to borrow President Musharraf's words, to the core issue - the site for the construction of a new consulate-general for the United States of America. The consul-general in Karachi is not Douglas Archer as some of our newspapers have it, nor does he wear a white solar 'topi'. He is Douglas Rohn. He is not an 'ugly American'. He is a much harried normal and reasonable man.

He has a wife and children, and he is concerned about the children of other parents. He has dogs and cats at home, and my dogs whose instincts are far better than mine like him a lot and accept him as their good friend. This says much for the man.

Of the plots offered, Doug has opted for an open space, designated as a park and playground (squash courts) surrounded by various schools, some of them built illegally. Concerned citizens have protested and intend to continue to actively protest. This will be of no help at all. Their only option is the law, which, amazingly, as it stands is on the side of parks and open spaces. They should go to the Sindh High Court and seek a stay order. As the system works, by the time the matter is decided in the Supreme Court many circumstances will have changed.

As long as the majority of our administrators are philistines, the remaining parks and playgrounds of Karachi will continue to be grabbed and gobbled up. Half of the designated open spaces of Karachi, despite laws, rules and regulations, have disappeared. Some of us have protested, most of us have slept.

To quote one protester, Kunwar Idris writing on 16/8/97 in Dawn on 'Karachi's vanishing parks':

"Assertive and immune, the clergy has occupied at least 44 parks. Following the pattern set in the 105-year-old Jehangir Park of Saddar, a seminary followed a mosque. Shops follow to sustain both. The hazard of being damned is too great for the custodians of the parks or the laymen to intervene. Khan Bahadur Byramji Jehangir Rajkotwala's gift to Karachi, and for 50 years the site of pentagular cricket tournaments (teams : Hindus, Muslims, Parsis, Europeans, the Rest) is now put to a use the philanthropist never intended."

And myself in this newspaper on 21/1/94 :

"As far as I see it, for years and years to come we will have nothing but marauding governments working for their own good, purely to the detriment of our country and its people. The only recourse we have is our high courts and the Supreme Court. To the people of Karachi who object to the swift and steady disappearance of open spaces that still remain, I say, go to the high court. If help is needed, I am sure that two of our highly public-spirited barristers, Naim-ur-Rahman and Makhdoom Ali Khan, will give their advice gratis."