ON the face of it, the PPP-led Sindh government’s move on Thursday to carve a seventh district out of Karachi seems like a harmless administrative decision. But scratch the surface and listen to the opposition’s clamour and one realises that something deeper, more sinister is afoot. The provincial cabinet has sought to create Keamari district, as well as more potential new districts in Sindh, “for the convenience of local people”, as the chief minister put it. If this really leads to better governance and service delivery, then there should be nothing to worry about. However, if these moves — specifically administrative changes in Karachi — are designed to ‘improve’ the chances of the PPP grabbing a few more seats in the metropolis, especially when local government elections are due, then such political ploys can only be condemned as gerrymandering. At this point, all evidence points to the fact that the PPP has performed an administrative sleight of hand by creating Keamari district.

Practically all major political players with stakes in Karachi — the MQM, PTI, Jamaat-i-Islami and PSP — have slammed the provincial government’s decision. Some parties say the move will add to the ethnic divide in the metropolis, while others assert that the PPP is trying to engineer a victory in LG polls. Indeed, the decision came suddenly, with no debate either in the Sindh Assembly or the KMC’s City Council. This adds credence to accusations that Sindh’s ruling party is trying to ‘create’ a power base for itself in Karachi through administrative jugglery. Interestingly, the PPP claims that more districts will make it easier to govern Sindh. However, under Pervez Musharraf’s LG system, Karachi was administratively divided into 18 towns and though that system had its flaws, it arguably worked much better than the set-up the PPP introduced under the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013. For Karachi, the latter law has been a total disaster, with the provincial government hogging almost all civic powers and creating a practically toothless KMC. The PPP considers itself the champion of devolution, accusing — often with good reason — the centre of grabbing powers that belong to the provinces. But when it comes to empowering the districts and local bodies in Sindh, the PPP wants to micromanage the entire province, particularly Karachi.

Instead of making cosmetic changes by carving out new districts, let the PPP introduce a new LG law in the Sindh Assembly with the consensus of all parties. In particular, water, sewerage, solid waste and other key civic functions of Karachi, Hyderabad, Larkana and Sukkur should be the responsibility of elected mayors of these cities. If the PPP genuinely wants to win the hearts and votes of the people of Karachi, let it serve the city by giving it an elected, empowered municipality, instead of trying to control the metropolis through dicey measures.

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2020

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