Pakistan’s biggest metropolis, with a population of over 1.6 crore, is drowning in a sea of neglect – both literally and metaphorically. Various parts of Karachi have been affected by the monsoon system, with some areas submerged in rainwater. The storms have already claimed a number of lives. But to believe that flooding is Karachi’s only problem would be doing grave injustice to the matter.
It does not even scratch the surface of all that has gone wrong within this sprawling, beastly, beautiful city.
Karachi’s story is a turbulent one: not for the faint-hearted. Seven long decades ago, Karachi went from being a rough and tumble port village to the glorious capital city of newly born Pakistan. It wasn’t necessarily prepared for this grand transition. But it grew and grew, beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. What happened to Karachi – who built it, hurt it, and finally, destroyed it?
The year 1960 could be cited as the year when Karachi was deliberately pushed to the sidelines: when Ayub Khan wrenched away its status as proud capital of the young nation. But Karachi had many years of buoyancy left in it; its downfall did not start there. It fought to stay on top. But it had too many enemies. Migration into the slowly growing metropolis from interior Sindh, East Pakistan, KPK, and ultimately Afghanistan was perhaps more than Karachi could handle. This diversification had two sides. It increased labour force and business activities, thus helping Karachi reign supreme from an economic standpoint. However, it also led to Mohajir-Pashtun riots and later on, militancy and terrorism as remnants of violent Afghan influence began to seep in during the 80s.
Ethnic divides, a widening wealth gap, and unstable political conditions gradually turned Karachi into a festering urban mass of resentment and lost potential. But Karachi was always a juxtaposition within and of itself. It could not stay angry, because it had so much to do and so much to be.
Karachi became home to the infamous gangs of Lyari. In 1980, heroin addiction hit a wild and unprecedented peak in the city. The city had a lust for life that could not be ignored; Bhutto had allowed Saddar to develop into a vibrant hotspot lined with restaurants, casinos, and clubs where all manner of people came to bask in life and love. Karachi laughed, danced, drank. But Zia’s regime wiped away all traces of that period.
Where did Karachi’s downfall start? Was it perhaps that moment when it was deemed not worthy enough to represent Pakistan? Now, as the people of Karachi beg for just one extra minute of electricity, one gushing stream of clean water, streets free of sewage and rainwater, the most important question is not what went wrong and when.
Karachi is not a helpless, broken thing. It is worthy and good enough. The question is: who will help turn it into the bastion of modern urbanity and elegance it already possesses the potential to become?