Karachi: Past, Present and Future
Legend has it that Karrack Bunder was an important port on the Arabian Sea in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century. It handled the South Indian-Central Asian trade and was situated about forty kilometres west of Karachi bay on the estuary of the Hub River. The estuary was silted up due to heavy rains in 1728 and the harbour could no longer be used. As a result, the merchants of Karrack Bunder, most of whom were Hindus, decided to relocate their activities to Karachi bay.
In 1729, they built a fortified settlement on thirty-five acres on high ground north of the bay. The settlement had two gates, Kharadar (Salt Gate) facing the sea, and Mithadar (Sweet Gate) facing the Lyari River. The fortification walls and the gates were demolished by the British in 1848. Kharadar and Mithadar are now important neighbourhoods in the old city around where these gates once stood and many other neighbourhoods and streets have names that go back to the early eighteenth century.
The building of the Fort was the beginning of modern Karachi. However, the area that constitutes Karachi today has been continuously populated since Palaeolithic times. Stone age settlements have been discovered at Manghopir, Landhi and Malir. In addition, ancient places of Hindu and Muslim pilgrimage are also located with in the Karachi Metropolitan area. These include the temple of Mahadev, which is mentioned in the Ramayan and as such is at least 2000 years old; the ninth century tombs of Ghazi Abdullah Shah at Clifton and Masoom Shah at Manora; the twelfth century tomb of Manghopir; Rambagh (now known as Aram Bagh) where Ram and Sitta are supposed to have spent a night before proceeding for their pilgrimage to Hinglaj; and the tomb of Moro and his brothers at Gulbai. Moro is the hero of Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai’s Sur Ghatto and is supposed to had lived in the sixteenth century during the times of Raja Diborai whose capital is supposed to have been at Bath Island.
In the eighteenth century Karachi was occupied by the Kalhoras, handed over by them to the Khan of Kalat as blood money for the killing of his brother by the Kalhoras, and finally taken over by the Talpurs. In 1838, the British occupied it to use it for launching their campaigns against the Russians in Central Asia and Afghanistan.
The British built perennial irrigation systems in Sindh and Punjab. As a result, large cotton and wheat surpluses were produced and marketed through Karachi. Business expanded and migrants from all over India came to work and trade. A cosmopolitan culture developed and Muslim, Hindu, Parsi and Goan merchants built their community, educational and financial institutions and contributed in a big way to the city’s civic life. Much of Karachi’s beautiful colonial architecture is the product of their involvement in building community and civic institutions.
The British expanded the old city by building commercial, business and port related activities in the quarters adjacent to it. In addition, they built a new city consisting of Saddar Bazaar, the Cantonment and Civil Lines. The two cities were separated by the Artilary Maidan. The new city was inhabited predominantly by the Europeans, Goans and Parsis and the old city predominantly by Hindus and Muslims.
At the time of Independence, Karachi’s population was 450,000 of which 61.2 per cent was Sindhi speaking and 6.3 per cent was Urdu/Hindi speaking; 51 per cent was Hindu and 42 per cent was Muslim. By 1951, Karachi’s population had increased to 1.137 million because of an influx of 600,000 refugees from India. In 1951 its Sindhi speaking population was 8.6 per cent, the Urdu speaking population was 50 per cent; the Muslim population was 96 per cent and the Hindu population was 2 per cent. These changes have had a major effect on the culture, politics and development of Karachi and its relationship to the politics of Sindh and Pakistan.
After Independence the Pakistan secretariat was built adjacent to Saddar Bazaar. A university was also created within walking distance of Saddar and foreign embassies occupied many of the lovely colonial houses in Civil Lines and the Cantonment. Multi class refugee colonies also sprung up in the military barracks and the open spaces between them. These were also adjacent to Saddar. As a result of these changes, Karachi became a high density multi class city and Saddar Bazaar became its cultural centre. Bars, night clubs, book shops, coffee houses sprung up. Political meetings were held in Jahangir Park and film festivals held in Karachi’s cinemas and open to the general public, were an yearly occurrence.
Between 1951 and 1958, the government initiated a number of plans for developing Karachi but none of them was fully implemented. As a result of one of these plans, the university was shifted outside of the city to its present location and Saddar Bazaar lost an active student population. In 1958 work on the Doxiades Plan was initiated. As a result of the plan, two satellite towns, one in Landhi-Korangi and the other in New Karachi were created, both about twenty kilometres from the city and the poorer sections of the refugee population were shifted to them. The Doxiades Plan changed Karachi from a high-density multi class city to a low-density city in which the poor and rich were segregated. Also, in the absence of controls, informal developments emerged along the roads linking the city to the two new satellite towns. The plan also created Karachi’s transport problem since people had to come to work from the two satellite towns to the city. A huge transit population using run down polluting buses started to move through Saddar and as a result its process of degradation began and its old institutional buildings could no longer be used because of environmental pollution and congestion. Cultural activities shifted to four and five star hotels or to foreign cultural institutions (such as the Goethe Institute) thus excluding the poorer sections of the city’s population. It can be safely said that the Doxiades Plan is to a great extent responsible for Karachi’s social and political fragmentation and the physical degradation of Saddar and Karachi’s inner city.
The government of Pakistan with UN assistance initiated the Karachi Master Plan 1975-85 in 1969. It was a very comprehensive plan and dealt with issues related to every aspect of urban planning including urban renewal, low income housing and mass transit. Implementation on the plan began in 1975. However, due to political strife in 1977 and uncertainity in the post-1977 period, the plan was never implemented. As a result, an informal sector emerged to cater to the needs of the lower income and lower middle income Karachiites. Katchi abadis developed as a housing alternative; water tankers supplied water; an informal minibus system replaced government transport corporations; and developers determined landuse. The process of the development and consolidation of the informal sector weakened planning and city management institutions and made them ineffective and corrupt.