Karachi: Now and then

Karachiites express discontent with Sindh rulers for not adequately developing Karachi and Sindh compared to the progress in KPK and Punjab

Sindh and Karachi, a dynamic duo that dances between controversy and harmony, weaving a tapestry of diverse stories within the embrace of one remarkable place. To be frank, it's often described as a complex relationship between the people of Sindh and Karachi, one that fluctuates between affection and tension.

Now, some might wonder why I am taking Sindh and Karachi names separately when Karachi is the capital of Sindh. Well, that is a mysterious story. All other provinces of Pakistan—Punjab, Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa—have capital cities where people speak the native language of the province, i.e., Punjabi, Balochi, and Pashto. However, Sindh's capital Karachi has a majority Urdu-speaking community. The uniqueness is akin to the nature of its people, who are known to embrace and identify themselves as Sindhi. Unfortunately, some factors have disturbed this harmony.

Individuals who assert their participation in the Independence Movement and their migration to Pakistan as rightful rather than seeking refuge often identify as Muhajirs. Among them, those who relocated to various parts of Punjab gradually lost their distinct Muhajir identity as they adapted to Punjabi culture and language. This transformation stems from Punjab's unified language and inclusive culture, embraced readily by Muhajirs.

There is a common perception that Muhajirs who migrated to Sindh still refer to themselves as Muhajir. This view may originate from historical contexts: in 1958, Pakistan's capital shifted from Karachi to Islamabad. Karachi, remaining a federal territory from 1958 to 1970 due to the One Unit Program, became the capital of Sindh in 1970 under General Yahya Khan. Muhajirs, arriving in Karachi, shared common cultural ties and often held prestigious government positions, fostering a sense of superiority.

As part of the federal structure, they predominantly spoke Urdu, as the national language, and also their native language, contributing to their reluctance to embrace Sindhi culture and language in Karachi.

However, dynamics shifted for Karachi and Sindh when Karachi became the provincial capital. This change raised expectations for resource and opportunity sharing, especially in Karachi. With the Urdu-speaking community predominantly active in Karachi, discontentment grew among the Sindhi community. This situation instilled a sense of inferiority and neglect among native Sindhis, who initially welcomed Muhajirs warmly.

Once known for peace, love, nightlife, and academic excellence, Karachi tragically descended into violence. Bhutto's policies in Sindh, particularly the 1971 quota system for equal opportunities in interior Sindh and the 1972 Sindhi language bill, ignited linguistic riots. These policies birthed the Muhajir Qaumi Movement, later known as the Muttahida Qaumi Movement, addressing urban Muhajir grievances in Urban Sindh.

In 1988, a massacre in Hyderabad claimed nearly 200 lives, mainly Urdu-speaking, before elections. Retaliatory killings of Sindhi-speaking individuals fueled polarization. Rural Sindh favored PPP, urban areas MQM. Linguistic riots and nationalization heightened tensions. Ethnic riots like Qasba Aligarh and Pakka Qilla intensified conflicts among Muhajirs, Pashtuns, Sindhis. Grievances of all sides may be real, but political parties exploited them for their gains. Unrest prompted military operations in Karachi, worsening conditions. Loss of lives left scars, a history no one wishes to repeat.

The generation born after the 90s has vague memories of past incidents; those from the Y2K era are unfamiliar with MQM’s founder and the significance of “hello.” Today's teenagers barely recognize the MQM founder but are aware of PTI's founder and acknowledge JI’s approach to urban concerns.

Reflecting back to 2013, we cannot overlook the emergence of the “Tabdeeli Fever” felt not only in Karachi but across Pakistan. The debate shifts not to how it happened but why. The Pakistan People's Party has governed Sindh for the past three tenures, yet Karachi has witnessed limited infrastructural development. Karachiites express discontent with Sindh rulers for not adequately developing Karachi and Sindh compared to the progress in KPK and Punjab.

To support this analysis, I conducted a recent sample survey in Karachi, distributed across districts, targeting individuals aged 20s to 50s, mostly working class. 80% surveyed were Urdu-speaking community members.

When asked about the main problems in Karachi, 89.8% identified law and order as the primary concern, followed by 71% mentioning infrastructure, 59% citing water and sanitation issues, and 31% highlighting traffic congestion. Moreover, 55% don't feel safe, and 72% expressed dissatisfaction with living conditions.

Regarding ethnic relations, 47% mentioned an improvement in inter-community differences in Karachi. When asked about inter-community marriages, 35% reported marriages within the Sindhi community in their families, 49% mentioned marriages with Punjabis, 13% with Pashtuns, and 5% with Balochs.

In terms of solutions to the city's problems, 83% believed that empowering the local government in Karachi is crucial, 72% suggested effective law enforcement, 64.4% emphasized increased collaboration among all stakeholders in Karachi, and 59% highlighted the importance of comprehensive urban planning.

Based on the survey results, it's evident that the generation born after the 90s, now aged between 20-35, finds it challenging to relate to politicians seeking votes based on past ethnic discrepancies. This generation, disillusioned by historical grievances, resonated with the Tabdeeli narrative, seeking quick fixes for the city's issues. While the pulse of Karachi in the 80s may have been influenced by ethnic and linguistic tensions, today's Karachiites prioritize problem resolution above all else. They are looking for pragmatic solutions, and any political party aiming to govern Karachi must prioritize addressing the city's pressing issues. The key to winning the mandate lies in offering tangible solutions and providing special attention to the needs of this evolving, demanding, and orphanage city.

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