Karachi, and its issues, not a new phenomenon

Inaugural session kicks off with discourse on city’s role in genesis of Pakistan


SIHAM BASIR October 29, 2017
View of city skyline at dusk in Karachi. PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI: Unlike the simple logos of yesteryear, the 2017 Karachi Conference logo comprised a black and white image of Empress Market superimposed onto an image of industrial units emitting plumes of smoke into the burning orange sky, eerily reflective of the city’s simmering climates – political, environmental and social.

The Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi auditorium was barely half filled during the introductory session of the fifth Karachi Conference Saturday morning. Far too early for most Karachiites, the clock struck 11 before the session began.

Reminiscing about the past four conferences, Dr Asma Ibrahim, president of The Karachi Conference Foundation, said half a decade has passed since their small group of scholars, activists and experts conceived the idea of a platform for discourse on the city.  “Karachi is huge and it was a huge task,” she said, explaining that the conference explores the city’s development and its past, present and future.

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“Don’t consider Karachi a new phenomenon,” she told participants. “The city is over two million years old,” she explained.

The issues discussed at the conference may be as old as the city but this year a new feature was added – the inclusion of student research.

Key note speaker at the event was celebrated journalist IA Rehman, who was introduced as possibly the most senior journalist in Pakistan.

Speaking about the role of Karachi in the genesis of Pakistan, Rehman said Karachi was never a centre of Muslim politics. In the 20th century Hyderabad and Sukkur were political hubs, while Karachi was home to lawyers, intellectuals and businessmen. The main political issue was separation from Bombay, he said, adding that the issue of communal politics came into play much later.

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He expounded on the diversity of the port city. “Sindh was a distinct cultural and linguistically autonomous unit and thus deserved to be a separate province,” explained Rehman, adding that it was a completely secular demand put forward in a completely secular manner.

After separation from Bombay, the construction of the Sukkur Barrage exacerbated communal politics in the province, he said, going on to deliver a detailed discourse on Karachi’s role in Partition.

Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi President Ahmed Shah also addressed the event, saying missing any conference session was a crime, then begging forgiveness for missing most sessions at previous Karachi Conferences. “There has always been a problem in Karachi’s ownership,” he said, explaining that those who take ownership of the city loot it and leave.

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