Overhauling Karachi by consensus


Muhammad Usman

AFTER having suffered grievously unrelentingly for decades, hapless city of Karachi, sees a mammoth package of its transformation, announced by Imran Khan, a couple of days before. Its outlay entails Rs 1,113 Billion with a Coordination/Implementation Committee led by Sindh CM to bring all stakeholders and authorities together to make key decisions, remove hurdles and ensure timely execution. This seems a plan of wholesale transformation with changed modus operandi however, is being viewed cautiously. Primary reason is past memories of bitter experiences. The catalogue of Karachi was also stuffed with rehabilitation plans/packages by previous governments but all failed to halt dwindling fortunes of metropolitan city. The travail is continuing. It is a tale of omission and commission by those who now again sit on the committee including head chair as stakeholders and our history of stakeholders is as of conquerors at war, divide the spoils. This does not leave much to take its sanguine view.
There are three major stakeholders, PPP, PTI and MQM. They are diametrically opposed to each other ideologically and politically. The rigours of time have forced them to sit together with their hearts, perpetually residing somewhere else. One would like to be wrong for such a forbidding assessment but sadly, enough pointers, suggest similar inference. Just a month or a little before, Sindh government was opposed to arrangements, now cobbled together to overhaul Karachi civically. Underlying reasons are as elaborated successively. Karachi does not give votes to PPP hence, its government in the province has become insensitive to civic needs of Karachi coupled with its ever increasing corruption, mismanagement and indifference province wide. PPP leadership has a feudal mindset which develops vengeance if people do not kowtow to them. By discarding PPP electorally, people of Karachi might have attracted their wrath.
The way, PPP has ransacked Karachi that smacks of such predisposition. In their mad pursuits, they did not even care that Karachi is a goose that lays golden egg. They have turned it into a wreckage with no sign of relent in its battering to extract whatever is left. It may be needless to remind that when Karachi rises, Pakistan rises, being economic hub of the country. When it sinks, Pakistan sinks and Karachi has plumbed to depth causing extreme alarm all around. No sane mind could keep itself aloof. Supreme Court observed that Sindh government has completely failed in the province. Seeing its inability to clear the drains, it had to depute NDMA with the task. COAS had to spend two days in Karachi to focus only on its civic problems. Public opinion was mounting against Sindh government with each passing day for Governor Rule in province or at least Karachi under federal control.
Finally, a deluge from blue and its utter incapacity to handle grim situation, forced Sindh government to work with federal government to clear the gigantic mess. By all accounts, it was accepted grudgingly because credit of its success would go to government of Imran Khan along with inbuilt check on its mismanagement/misappropriation of money. This could also have domino effect. For MQM too, success means more shrinking of space for them in Karachi. Based upon these conflicting compulsions, overhauling of Karachi under combined arrangements, amounts to marring a hedgehog with grass snake. It amounts to salvaging a house on fire by fire and fire brigade shoulder to shoulder. It is just a matter of time when both throw spanner in works. Much to astonishment of many, Bilawal has started disputing the package even when echo of announcement of package was still in air. He has said ingeniously that no demolishment of encroachments until alternative place is arranged to affectees.
One could smell rat because this is prime responsibility of Sindh government under new arrangements. We would request Supreme Court to give back money of people to Sindh while implicitly telling that money of Sindh is being spent by federal government at Karachi alone. If people stand by him, he would get NFC award. It is virtually invoking Sindh card. Amid such acid assertions and leverages which Sindh government have, fate of transformation package remains uncertain. At critical time, one could ill afford to blow uncertain trumpet. This may consume time and resources unproductively. The working by consensus is only possible in countries where political rivalry does not outweigh national imperatives or it remains within democratic norms. Here, it is a last ditch battle between change and status quo. Arguably, it is a fight between right and wrong. We have a ruling elite which could go to any extent for preservation of their existence/survival as being witnessed on legislation about FATF. On this issue, Imran Khan has shown leadership. On issue of Karachi, inevitably, in all probabilities, he has to show leadership too because it could imperil destiny of Pakistan. Sooner the better. The consensus arranged for strengthening of democracy in the country, may ultimately, prove cost prohibitive. A government by consensus tends to produce outcome that may not be right but acceptable to most of the people. A leader does right things particularly, when time is taxing and margin is narrow. A consensus may do trick when sea is calm but would falter when there is turbulence. Most of the challenges faced by Pakistan are of such character and magnitude and Karachi is identical one. It is on brink. A therapy or patchwork would not pull it back. A wholesale transformation is the need which is not a function of a body by consensus but of leadership.
— The writer, a retired Lt Col, is freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

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