Karachi experiencing a demographic earthquake, moot told

Published December 21, 2014
Urban planner Arif Hasan speaking at the conference.
Urban planner Arif Hasan speaking at the conference.

KARACHI: Carving out new provinces is not a solution to the administrative issues faced by Sindh, speakers said on the first day of a two-day peace conference held here on Saturday.

The conference titled ‘Exploring peace and reconciliation alternatives: towards a Karachi for all,’ is being held by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler).

With a variety of noted speakers for the day having three sessions, the opening speech and introduction to the conference was given by executive director of Piler Karamat Ali. He said the aim of the conference was to bring together people from various fields and classes to speak and debate about ideas they felt closest to them.

He spoke at length about the initial migration in the city, how it further developed when people started inviting more people to work here and how the situation deteriorated over the years, making labourers one of the most vulnerable groups in the city at present.

“We need to remember while shunning another person on the basis of ethnicity that they are willing to do the work that we look down upon. We need each other,” Mr Ali said.

Next in the line was Dr Kaiser Bengali, senior economist and adviser to the chief minister of Balochistan. In his presentation on ‘Karachi: a city in transition’, Dr Bengali raised pertinent points about the present demography of the city, the growing differences between various ethnicities inhabiting it and its solutions. Presenting statistics, he said, starting from a Sindhi city to a Mohajir city, Karachi was now in the middle of what he described as a “demographic earthquake” and on its way to become a Pakhtun city in the future.

“Its reason is that there is an exodus of Pakhtuns from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa due to a high birth rate, increase in household size (meaning number of people per home) and lack of employment in that province, which means that by 2045, Karachi will be dominated by the Pakhtun population.”

He pointed out that the Seraiki-speaking population was also increasing in the city, mostly migrating from south Punjab. “In the future, the Seraiki speakers with their almost 80 per cent population will be the next in line to demand their rights and an electoral seat,” he added.

Explaining further, he said: “This demographic earthquake is bound to create a conflict in the city and our job should be to manage the conflict. Creating a province does not seem like a solution to counter the conflict, but one that might further complicate the situation.”

From there, Dr Bengali focused on the recent demands for a Mohajir province. He noted that the Urdu-speaking population in the city, whether in Karachi or Hyderabad, was reduced to the status of a minority. “With the continuing migration of various ethnicities to the city, the real danger is not demographic, but electoral. Shrinking space for Mohajir votes in the city means the Muttahida Qaumi Movement will continue to lose seats — thus insecurity and violence. This demand for a separate province seems more like a political statement than a need-based demand,” he added.

Suggesting a solution to the conflict, he said those who were coming to work in the city should not be stopped “but the right to vote and participate in elections should be given to those who have lived in the city for around 18 to 20 years”.

He said that in most cases people had a domicile of another city and would run elections for a seat in another. “This should end as it will reduce legitimate worries of the city population over their interests being trampled on.”

Taking a cue from Dr Bengali, the next speaker, Dr Zahid Shahab, assistant professor at the National University of Sciences and Technology, presented his paper on the ‘Culture of violence and challenges of co-existence’.

He said that there was a need to replace the word tolerance and in its place re-introduce the word ‘respect’. He said the biggest fight at the moment was to work towards peace. “In our country’s context, ignorance is not bliss. It is dangerous. To kill violence through violence should not be a priority, as I believe, that just like violence, peace can be taught too, and it is time we start focusing on that and unlearn some of the attitudes we have,” he said.

Giving an example of countries such as Denmark, Iceland and New Zealand, who usually top the list of peaceful countries, he asked the audience whether they had ever thought of why these countries topped the list most of the time. What were they doing different. It was recently reported in the New York Times that rather than incarceration or treating as potential terrorists, the Jihadists returning to Aarhus, Denmark, after their recruitments by the Islamic State in Syria, were provided with counselling and job placements by the government, he said.

Dr Zahid pointed out that de-radicalisation was the first way to treat the root cause. Education as a way for peace and democratic participation were some of his suggestions to deal with violence slowly gaining acceptance as a culture.

Next session was focused on ‘Demography, governance and urban planning’. Moderated by Zulfiqar Shah, joint director at Piler, the first topic to be discussed was ‘Divided spaces: elite versus common citizenry’ by architect and founder chairman of the Urban Resource Centre Arif Hasan.

Beginning the presentation, he said: “Estimates circulating about Karachi’s population put it around 22 million. I agree with that. The population of the city has increased manifold since the census of 1998. Evidence of it is also available through the Google Earth.”

Focusing on housing, transport and employment, he said: “If we are to take the example of Nawa Lane in Lyari, the population there was used to be 620 persons per hectare. In 2007 it was 4,800 persons per hectare.”

Explaining the nature of the change in the city, he said many people were renting out homes as the income had reduced. Issues that came up during multiple surveys over the years by him showed that increase in the household size, overcrowding, lack of public spaces, old people not stepping out of their homes, and most importantly, lack of toilets were among the main problems.

“I must add that those who live in a rented home in cities are the most vulnerable as renting out a flat is an informal arrangement so they can be thrown out anytime,” he added.

Speaking about transport facilities, he said there were 7,000 Qingqis and 1,700,000 registered motorbikes in Karachi because of failed attempts by the government to introduce a proper transportation system.

Speaking to women at a bus stop during a survey revealed that 56 per cent of them preferred scooters than bus. “When I asked them if they’ll be fine with it, some of them who had ridden a bike in the city said, men used to whistle in the beginning but it eventually it ends.”At the same time 62 per cent of the women said that due to issues in getting a proper transport they either preferred not to work at all, or worked at a place not appropriate for their talent.

Speaking about the issue of land, he said that de-commoditisation of land was the only way to solve the housing problem of the city.

He pointed out that land value had over the years increased where there was an ethnic segregation. “There are four cities within Karachi. One is the Commercial City, having the main markets, the Inner City, where mostly Urdu speaking people are living with pockets of Sindhi speaking population around it, the Outer City, with a sizeable population of Pakhtuns. And the fourth is the Defence Housing Authority.”

Executive director of Sustainable Initiatives Farhan Anwar said that the city government in Karachi needed to be empowered which would solve a plethora of problems.

He said that powers and functions within the mandate of the city government were wielded by the provincial government. “The city which generates 70 per cent of the revenue for the state cannot generate revenue for itself and has to wait for the federal funds.”

In such a situation, where a city lacked operational and financial autonomy, formation of another province could not be considered as a part of solution, he said.

Published in Dawn December 21th , 2014



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