THE acrimony that has marred the centre-Sindh relationship during the PTI government’s tenure will likely not be overcome with one conciliatory statement, but Prime Minister Imran Khan has made a welcome overture befitting of his office.
If the Sindh government reciprocates, which it should, there can be a more substantial engagement on Karachi to the benefit of its long-suffering citizens. The premier extended the olive branch, so to speak, during the groundbreaking ceremony of the Karachi Circular Railway on Monday for which he made a daylong visit to the city. He said the federal and Sindh governments would have to set aside their political differences and work together for the sake of the people living in the metropolis, which in turn would benefit the province and the country. Highlighting Karachi’s central role in Pakistan’s overall prosperity, he said: “We can’t do anything without the full cooperation of the provincial government, and there are several things the provincial government can’t do without the federal government.”
In a refreshing departure from the past, Mr Khan desisted from excoriating the Sindh government in his trademark rough-and-ready style. Moreover, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah was present at the groundbreaking ceremony, unlike on the premier’s other recent visits to Karachi when he was pointedly excluded from Mr Khan’s engagements, even those pertaining to development projects in the city.
Such an approach created suspicions within Sindh — already touchy about its place in the federal pecking order due to historical reasons — that the centre intended to rule the province by fiat, thereby undermining the spirit of the 18th Amendment. The tussle over the administration of three key hospitals in Karachi has still not been fully resolved and remains a bone of contention between both sides. The different approaches by Sindh and the centre towards the handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, particularly in its early days, also led to friction that unnecessarily politicised the issue.
There appears to be some realisation in Islamabad that an adversarial relationship with the province whose principal urban centre generates the lion’s share of federal tax revenue, is a self-defeating strategy — especially with an economic crisis at hand. Last year as well, after unprecedented monsoon downpour and urban flooding in Karachi, Mr Khan had said he would work with the Sindh government to address the metropolis’ multiple problems.
However, that effort too — accompanied by the announcement of a “historic” Rs1.1tr package for the city’s uplift — has largely fallen victim to the mutual antipathy. The atmosphere of mistrust that has been festering since long will not dissipate easily but it is high time to establish a more productive relationship. Both sides must keep their lines of communication open, steer clear of impolitic speech against each other and work together to help Karachi achieve its potential as the financial and industrial heart of a prosperous Pakistan.
Published in Dawn, September 29th, 2021