Don’t kill the golden goose

September 14, 2019


The writer is a former editor of Dawn.
The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

ANYONE would be pained at the sight of a broken Karachi resembling one big rubbish dump and you’d be in agony, if you count yourself among Karachiites, over the ugly picture of neglect, apathy and the worst in politics that your city has now come to represent.

Normally such situations would warrant a ‘who is to blame’ question, but in the case of the sprawling urban jungle with a collapsed (and in many parts nonexistent) system of public service and civic amenities, the more pertinent question would be who is not to blame?

Frankly, everyone is to blame. Every single player is the culprit. Political parties, ethnic groups, the establishment, land grabbers, developers, you and me. It has long represented a battleground where the spoils have belonged to the victor with the multitudes of its citizens the losers.

So, anyone who helps focus attention on Karachi, and tries to work towards a solution to its ‘bijli, paani, kachra, gutter, transport’ issues just to name a few, should be welcomed. However, if someone still attempts to play the pettiest of politics then that person should be stopped dead in his/her tracks.

At a time when India has annexed occupied Kashmir for all practical purposes and only the determination of the valiant Kashmiris stand in Delhi’s path, and the US-Afghan Taliban peace talks are imperilled, with Pakistan once again having to face the fallout in the event of a total collapse of negotiations, it would be senseless to raise divisive issues in the country.

Law Minister Farogh Nasim is lauded by many for his legal expertise and nous. His threat that he’d be asking the centre to assume control of Karachi under Article 149 of the Constitution suggested his acumen has been grossly overrated and that he was bereft of political sense.

The law minister’s threat that he’d be asking the centre to assume control of Karachi suggested his acumen has been grossly overrated and that he was bereft of political sense.

The statement seemed so inflammatory that one keen political commentator told me that he saw it as part of a conspiracy to damage the PTI government: “With elections nowhere in sight, why else would this outrageous statement, which is normally reserved for vote gathering, come at this stage?”

Mr Naseem cut his political teeth under Gen Pervez Musharraf. His critics say that he represented the MQM less and Musharraf’s institution more — reminiscent of Sharifuddin Pirzada, that legal and constitutional maverick devoted entirely to justifying every whim of the autocrats.

Whether or not this was fair criticism perhaps only a trained legal mind can tell. But to students of Pakistani politics, such as this columnist, his suggestion seemed aimed at biting a chunk off the autonomy granted to the federating units, that works as a glue to hold the country together.

Gratefully, TV anchor Asma Shirazi asked President Arif Alvi’s view on the law minister’s proposed move. He was categorical in pouring water over the suggestion and underlined that Sindh needed to be handled with considerable care and every party representing the province needed to be on board in the quest for solutions.

“Only he can tell why he raised the issue … I was president of Sindh PTI and know we need to take great care when talking of the deprivation of Karachi as the rest of Sindh too has had very little of the funds spent on it and also feels deprived,” President Alvi told Asma Shirazi.

Soon, Geo TV was quoting Minister Ali Mohammad Khan as saying that the need to invoke Article 149 for Karachi may have been the law minister’s personal opinion but was not government policy. To be fair to the law minister he had also said that it was his opinion and that the decision would be the prime minister’s.

The law minister’s statement had not come in isolation. He had been named to head a committee formed by Prime Minister Imran Khan with equal representation of the PML-N and its coalition partner the MQM. This committee excluded the PPP, Sindh’s governing party. While the party attacked the PTI for this omission, the minister’s views drew harsh condemnation from its leader Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari.

It was intriguing that even the PTI’s own Sindh GDA allies were not in the loop. Hence, it was not a surprise that Pir Pagaro was also critical of the law minister’s statement and termed it needless and useless as such an exercise would achieve nothing.

None of what has been said here absolves either the PPP or the MQM, the two major representatives of the people of the province for many decades, of their share of responsibility as somehow both have seen Karachi as the goose that lays the golden egg and have nearly ripped it apart in the endeavour to find all the golden eggs in one go.

Apart from paying lip service, the PTI itself has done very little, despite being firmly ensconced in its power perch at the centre. The Sindh government sources complain of the province not getting its share from the federal divisible pool and use this as a cause for not doing much to address the issues of Karachi.

One of the pitfalls of writing a weekly column is that many readers write in criticising the columnist for pointing out problems and not offering suggestions/solutions. So, here is mine if all parties are sincere in sorting out the mess Karachi has become:

Appoint a committee of experts headed by someone with the urban planning expertise, commitment and integrity of Arif Hasan; empower these experts to develop both a short-term and a long-term, fully costed plan for the revival of the city of lights. Once every ‘stakeholder’ has signed onto the plan, the committee should be given the powers to supervise its implementation. This is not to sideline elected politicians, but to strengthen their hands by offering them the required expertise to assist in the delivery of their manifesto goals.

Are there any takers?

The writer is a former editor of Dawn.

Published in Dawn, September 14th, 2019