Unlike Lahore, which is the pride and joy of our Punjabi prime minister, Karachi has no patron. The city continues to grow to accommodate people from all over the country but at the same time is neglected by the centre in a manner that defies logic.
In last week’s budget, there were little or no funds for the country’s biggest city. And this has been the trend for several years now. Part of the problem has to do with the people of the city, who do not take enough interest in it. In comparison, the people of Lahore make an effort to have a stake in their city. Be it Nawaz Sharif or Chaudhry Shujaat as PM, the city of Lahore continues to move from strength to strength.
Karachi is left at the mercy of mafias which make the city function. The befuddled chief minister has left the running of the city to a motley crew that comprises corrupt and inefficient administrators.
What was surprising was the appointment of Asif Hyder Shah as Commissioner Karachi in January. This post is usually occupied by a business partner of the government, whose sole brief is to make money for the ministers and the party. This time, by some fluke, the CM appointed Shah, who had previously proven his mettle with the way he executed development works in Hyderabad, which finally started to look like a city and not an oversized dump.
But Karachi’s luck was not to last. A day after Qaim Ali Shah lauded his performance, Karachi Commissioner Asif Hyder Shah was shown the door.
The appointment of Asif, a well-reputed officer of the Pakistan Administrative Services who has also studied at Harvard University, made headlines with everyone in the provincial government referring to his posting as a ‘gift for the development of Karachi’. Having made his reputation as Hyderabad commissioner, Asif was transferred to Karachi ‘to bring it at par with Hyderabad’.
Asif is also the brother-in-law of Sindh Finance Minister Murad Ali Shah. Our reporter says that his transfer orders came from Dubai, where the top Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) leadership held a meeting with some cabinet members, including the chief minister.
It is said that the commissioner and local government minister were not on the same page with regards to the city’s development plans. Asif had made it clear that he would not be dictated to and carry on development work purely on merit. The Sindh government recently approved a Rs1.83 billion development package for Karachi and there was pressure on the commissioner to appoint its project director with the consent of the party leadership. The commissioner refused. Money could not be made.
The person who has replaced Asif is considered close to the PPP leadership. He helped set up most of the controversial reverse-osmosis plants in Thar, for which the minister responsible has made his billions and now lives in Dubai.
As far as Asif’s tenure goes, in the brief span of five months he developed a comprehensive long-term growth strategy for the city with the World Bank. This strategy included action plans to revamp the water supply, sanitation, solid waste management, transportation and low-income housing in the city. He also initiated a heat wave management plan that had claimed the lives of hundreds of citizens last year. He helped run an impressive polio campaign by instituting a task force from the commissioner’s office for this purpose. In another surprising move, he helped the British Council and Saylani Welfare for rehabilitation and vocational training of beggars in the city.
It was in this path to prosperity that Asif Shah managed to vex several interest groups. His campaign against the illegal hoardings in the city, ban on illegal transfer of plot registrations due to fraudulent entries and crack down on the hydrants mafia caused him some trouble. Hoardings run into billions of rupees. Thousands of trees have been cut down in the city to accommodate them. The PPP government continues this practice with a vengeance.
The final straw, for Shah was that he stood against the diversion of funds to rural schemes and was therefore summarily dismissed. The PM and CM need to realise that Karachi is a mini-Pakistan. It isn’t the bastion of any one ethnic group. How long will we treat the city as a pariah?
Published in The Express Tribune, June 6th, 2016.
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