The contradiction of Karachi is that the people of the city vote for one party while another comes to run its affairs. This goes against the essence of democracy. At the same time, one cannot blame the PPP for giving the City of the Quaid a step-motherly treatment. Historically the city has voted for the Jamaat-e-Islami, then the MQM; and more recently we have seen a tilt towards the PTI.
What is surprising, however, is that the PPP has ruled over the province for more than two decades with some breaks in-between but has not managed to create a voter base for itself in Karachi except for certain areas. That, perhaps, is its biggest failing.
The present Chief Minister, Murad Ali Shah, has been at the helm of affairs since 2016. His assumption of office was welcomed by many quarters given his clean reputation and positive approach. Prior to him, the rule of Qaim Ali Shah, the longest serving chief minister of Sindh, is possibly the worst period in the history of the province ever. No doubt that the party is still reeling from that when it comes to Karachi.
But the paradox remains. If the PPP can win a majority in Sindh, it will rule Karachi no matter who the city votes for. And if we look at this from the point of view of the party leadership, it is not surprising that not much has been done. Why worry about an electorate that does not vote for you?
As a result, Karachi has suffered immensely. The recent rains were the tip of the iceberg. They showed the city did not have a proper sewerage system. Many of the main storm drains have not been cleaned for years. Others have been encroached upon by the rich and powerful.
People have constructed houses, apartment buildings, fuel stations and other such structures on these drains while the government looked the other way. The last time any effort was made to clear the drains and demolish the construction was when the then city Nazim, Mustafa Kamal, was in-charge of affairs. But those days are long gone and forgotten.
The city is lacking the most basic facilities that other cities of its size take for granted. Karachi does not have a proper mass-transit system. There has been an effort to construct this but no one knows how long it will take to complete. Water continues to be scarce, allowing enterprising groups to steal from the main lines and sell to people in the city. The city does not have a proper system of garbage disposal nor does it have a proper site for disposal.
If that is not enough, parts and parcels of the city are under cantonment boards. This means there is no one entity that is responsible for the overall running of the city. Large chunks of the city are with other entities.
Governing the city can be a nightmare. Ask the current Mayor, Waseem Akhtar, who says he has no powers and no funds. And thanks to the way the system has been structured — the police and the magistrates are not responsible to the elected representatives, they instead report to the all-powerful bureaucracy.
But all this is common information. We all know this. It has been highlighted and debated time and again. The problem of course is how to move ahead. One businessman of the city has proposed that the city be handed over to the army for several years. There are others who have called for separation of the city from the rest of the province. And of course, there are those who are calling for the Governor Rule.
None of these can solve the problems of the city. These are short-term solutions to a problem that needs a long-term perspective. Karachi needs to go back to the system of an empowered local government. Ironically, empowered local governments have usually been seen in the country when there is a military government at the helm of affairs.
Even today, the PPP, which is a champion of the 18th Amendment and devolution of power, is not ready to empower the local government, particularly in Karachi. As a result, the city will continue to remain in a mess. When will we start a discussion on this?
Published in The Express Tribune, August 10th, 2020.