July 2018 witnessed an unprecedented euphoria amongst the masses in Karachi. With utmost certainty and assurance, folks were found rallying around the green and red banners of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI).
A casual conversation with many on the street would turn into a passionate debate with hope and optimism at the centre.
“Yes, the captain will win and shall be our new prime minister. He shall end all our miseries, especially poor governance, dilapidated urban services, lack of representation in the main echelons of power, lawlessness and insecurity, rampant corruption and all the ills that exist in Karachi,” a young lady in a university department beamingly remarked.
She was surrounded by many young girls who had affectionately painted the PTI flag on their faces a day before the elections.
The sentiments of the middle-aged and elderly were also not different:
“You will see. He will reform this city like no one else had done before….like the way he led his team to lift the Cricket World cup in 1992,” an elderly gentleman at a newspaper stall replied to my question as to whether he believed in Imran Khan’s leadership with special reference to Karachi.
I tried to start an argument by laying down some of the stark realities related to the structure of our administrative system, allocation of powers and resources amongst the various tiers of government, and more serious and factual stuff.
No one was interested to go into details. When he will win, he will find a way!
And indeed, the sentiments translated into electoral reality. Out of a total of 21 national assembly seats, the PTI won 14.
It has also emerged as the second-largest party in the Sindh assembly with 23 seats.
The hitch in PTI’s game plan
But the present reality of our administration and governance is such that most matters related to everyday life of common citizens are managed by the provincial government.
Some residual services and tasks are also dealt by local government institutions.
For instance, water supply and sewerage in Karachi is under the control of Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) — which is directly placed under the Local Government Minister of Sindh. The Sindh Solid Waste Management Board is also under the same provincial minister.
Construction activity, development of residences and other physical facilities are regulated by the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA).
Development works are done by Karachi, Lyari and Malir Development Authorities, all under government of Sindh.
Healthcare, management of environment, police, schools, colleges and public universities, fisheries, housing and women welfare, social development and population welfare, heritage and culture, labour and livelihood, land allocation and control, and many other sectors of performance are under the control of Sindh government.
Interestingly, the elected local governments bodies in Karachi function under the close tutelage of the provincial government. And the provincial government in Sindh is where no change has appeared.
With 77 seats from a total tally of 130 general seats, the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) is all set to continue its third consecutive term since 2008.
Two questions arise: how will the Karachi voters — who overwhelmingly voted the PTI into an effective position to form government at the centre — benefit from their choice?
And how the much needed development, governance and representation needs of the metropolis shall be addressed, given the fact the Sindh administration may continue with its water-tight control on decision making and financial allocation prerogatives?
Karachi’s many woes
Let us first look at some of the most pressing needs of the city. A comprehensive road repair and maintenance project is a foremost priority.
Daily experience of commuting shows that various categories of roads have been damaged to a serious extent.
Whether Nishtar Road, Shahrah-i-Pakistan, Shahrah-i-Noor Jehan or major roads in Orangi, Baldia and Qasba colony, the destruction is to the extent where even stronger vehicles get damaged to a non-functional level.
Lack of periodic maintenance, poor design and quality of construction, frequent road cutting and adjustments for other forms of buried infrastructure, overlapping of new development schemes such as ongoing Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project and frequent spills of fresh and sewage water have been some causes that led to the present dilapidated conditions.
Despite the Supreme Court-mandated judicial commission on water and sanitation issues in Sindh, the status of trash collection in the city is far from satisfactory.
Physicians and health care professionals inform that the scale and intensity of infectious diseases has increased manifolds during the past few years.
Karachi produces more than 12,000 tonnes of solid waste every day. The weight and volume is rising due to growing consumerism.
A tiny fraction of this waste is lifted and disposed away in an unscientific manner. The remaining portion of this vast volume is either left unattended or burnt from time to time — causing more health hazards.
Sindh Solid Waste Management Board, the provincial body for this task under Sindh government, has been severely criticised for its less than desirable performance.
Karachi requires many simple but firm strategic interventions. The increase in the number of CNG-fuelled green buses on city arterial roads can facilitate commuters to a great extent.
About 450 million gallons of untreated sewage per day is discharged into the sea. Development of small and medium-scale sewage treatment plants at the discharging ends of city nallahs can safeguard marine environment.
This enterprise shall also help produce recycled water for horticulture and irrigating public landscape.
Water management must be improved to enhance efficiency and control theft and wastage. A water loss reduction project is desperately needed by city dwellers.
It is common knowledge that many of our water mains have completed their designed life and are impacted by water leakage and organised theft.
Proper fixing of the leaks shall help Karachiites benefit more from the already available water.
Rehabilitation of footpaths all along the major thoroughfares is a key intervention that must be done without delay.
Education and health care facilities, especially in the public sector, need complete overhaul.
The list can go on and on.
But almost all the tasks mentioned above fall under the control of the Sindh government, which shall act on its own accord, not at the behest of PTI legislators.
Healing the rift between Karachi and Sindh government
Will it mean that the entire frenzy and enthusiasm of PTI buffs shall go to waste?
A lot shall depend upon the political equation that evolves between the incoming federal government under Imran Khan, his affiliates and cronies and the Sindh government, aka the PPP leadership.
Many possibilities remain open to the PTI legislators from Karachi to make their presence felt in Sindh and Karachi affairs.
It may be worthwhile to study what their predecessors in the federal government — the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz administration — did in Karachi.
The spearheading of the Karachi operation in 2013 with political consensus of all the parties in the province was perhaps the most important initiative by the Nawaz administration.
Ably supported by the armed forces and the provincial government, the operation was able to efface extortionists, terror outfits and a hoard of criminal gangs — within and outside the ranks of many a political party.
While law and order was the top problem of Karachi in 2013, water supply and urban transportation are two significant woes faced by all and sundry in the metropolis.
The PTI will do well if it negotiates the timely operation and management of ongoing initiatives such as the BRT along with all its connecting and feeder services, the Circular Railway with extensions to designated neighbourhoods and construction of intercity bus terminals on the Super and National Highways.
But if the PTI legislators and their party are sincere to resolve Karachi’s issues, they must bear in mind that it cannot be done without a strong working relationship with the incoming Sindh government.
If these politicians are able to articulate their own bargaining points, it shall prove to be useful to establish this bond.
As the PTI is perceived to enjoy better links with the establishment and its leader is on a high horse through this cumulative advantage, it can serve as a useful bargaining asset when they sit down to crease their relations with the PPP-led Sindh government.
While a mutually beneficial, cooperative spirit could serve everyone well, including Karachi, any condescending attempt to preponderate the PPP leadership in Sindh may prove futile and ineffective.
Besides, the presently muted Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan mayor and his local government tier must also be kept on board in all such interventions.
Khan has been talking about directly-elected mayors for large cities during his political discourse.
Whereas some of the more drastic measures may prove difficult, the PTI can consider becoming a bridge between the Sindh and local government.
The metropolis and its hapless citizens cannot afford any further divisive politics for sure.
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