Karachi: Past, Present and Future

Islamisation in 1977 and the anti-culture policies of the Zia government, led to the closing of entertainment, cultural and recreational activities in Saddar. Its schools of dance and music were also closed and its cinema halls converted into marriage halls, wholesale markets and warehousing. As a result Karachi’s elite abandoned Saddar to build entertainment and recreational activities in the areas where they lived. Many of Saddar’s old retail shops also relocated to Defence and Clifton. The rich ghettoised themselves and Karachi’s multi class recreational and cultural centre died as a result.

The old city and the British quarters around it have also been devastated. The old wholesale markets in them which were created to cater to a city of 500,000 population have expanded. As a result, entire neighbourhoods have been turned into warehousing and cargo terminals. Their beautiful buildings have been demolished and replaced by storage spaces on the ground floor and male only workers accommodation on the floors above. The old communities have moved out and their institutional buildings are in a state of disuse and disrepair, waiting to be torn down. However, a lot of Karachi’s colonial architecture still survives in these old city quarters and needs to be protected and rehabilitated.

More than half of Karachi’s population lives in semi-serviced or un-serviced katchi abadis. In the absence of social housing for low-income groups, these settlements are growing at a faster rate than the growth rate of the city as a whole. In addition, these settlements are increasingly developing at considerable distances from places of employment, recreation, education and entertainment. This, in the absence of a cheap and efficient transport system, makes life difficult for the vast majority of Karachiites and alienates them from the social, cultural and political life of the city.

Today Karachi is a city of 13 million persons of which 1.8 million are aliens consisting of Afghans, Iranis, Bangladeshis, Burmees (who work in the fish industry), Central Asians and Sri Lankans. Sixty per cent of Karachiites are below the age of 24. Thus it is a city of young people. The age group 15 to 24 years is 78 per cent literate, with no difference between male and female literacy. The number of nuclear families is increasingly rapidly and so is the women work force both in the services and manufacturing sector. The desire for entertainment and recreation is expressed by the formation of cultural and sports clubs throughout the lower middle and middle-middle income groups. All this points to aspirations to belong to the contemporary world. Unfortunately, state culture does not support these aspirations.

Karachi has an active civil society born out of the states’ inability or unwillingness to deal with Karachi’s problems and development. This civil society consists not only of NGOs but also of thousands of community-based organisations and organisations of informal sector operators all presenting their claims and guarding their gains. Many of these grass root organisations also invest in the physical and social development of their neighbourhoods by building water and sanitation systems and schools and clinics. Some of the most celebrated NGO development programmes in the world are located in Karachi and have been developed by Karachi based civil society organisations. The coming together of these civil society organisations can help secure a great future for the city. For this to happen a number of initiatives are required. First Karachiites need employment and the demand for it is increasing. But for employment to be generated investment (both foreign and local) is required. Investment can only come if security is guaranteed and water, electricity and transport infrastructure is developed and organised. Investment also requires skills and for that training institutions are required. The existing institutions are archaic, financially starved, poorly staffed and very few in number. Because of an absence of security and infrastructure, capital and industry has migrated from Karachi to the Punjab and the Gulf. Karachi requires access to affordable land and housing for its low-income communities. The absence of this access will increase social fragmentation and civic strife. This access can only be provided if landuse is decided by social and environmental considerations and not on the basis of land value, as it is today. Karachi requires an efficient and cheap rail based transport system. The government is not willing to invest in it and if it is built on a Build Operate and Transfer basis through an international tender, the cost per trip is unaffordable to the vast majority of its citizens. A government subsidy of up to thirty per cent is essential to build an affordable system. The state should provide such a subsidy since Sindh collects 70 per cent of Pakistan’s income tax, 62 per cent of sales tax and contributes 70 per cent to the national revenues which form the divisible revenue pool. Most of these revenues are collected from Karachi. The Karachi’s historic quarters, where much of its beautiful built heritage is located, needs to be rehabilitated. For that to happen, the Dhan Mandi, the Chemical Market, the garbage recycling industry and the Metal Market need to be relocated from the old city to the Northern Bypass. Without such a relocation, the rehabilitation of the inner city is not possible. The relocation will decongest the inner city and its old institutional buildings and neighbourhoods can then be used for cultural purposes. Since the old city and its surrounding areas consist of low and middle income housing settlements, the cultural reuse of the old city can easily be multi-class in nature. Saddar Bazaar too needs to be rehabilitated through relocation of hawkers in pedestrianised areas and an effective segregation of local and thorough traffic so as to remove environmental pollution. Traffic congestion too needs to be dealt with, not only through the building of flyovers but by the development and implementation of a traffic plan that segregates through and local traffic, fast and slow moving traffic, and pedestrianises areas for cultural, recreational and entertainment activities. And finally, extra curricular activities related to the fine arts and dialogue and discussion need to return to Karachi’s public sector educational institutions. These activities have been suspended for more than twenty-five years and have bred an anti-culture environment.

But for all this to happen Karachi needs a progressive culture friendly provincial government and a city government that has similar views and aspirations. It requires a political leadership that seeks support from those who have knowledge on social and physical planning issues; it requires a recreation of institutions that implement political decisions but are free from petty-political interference in their day-to-day functioning; and it requires the involvement of Karachi’s civic society so as to create a culture of transparency and openness. Given state support this is not tall order.


  1. mala noor

    i like this report it is very use full for research

    Posted February 24, 2014 at 11:31 pm | PermalinkReply
  2. Ancient Spirit

    What stood for E.I Lines. This is located on both sides of Frere road, now Dr Daudpota road.

    Posted October 9, 2017 at 8:53 pm | PermalinkReply
  3. Irshad sethi

    When Sir Charles Napier captured Karachi,he sent a telegram to Royals.I have Siinned.When Bhutto captured interior ,he meant he had Sindh.Sind club management were asked to change Sind to Sindh.They refused and wanted Boria bister to England.karachi building authority dissolved and Sinistet Building control Authority savagely started plunder in Karachi

    Posted June 14, 2020 at 7:37 pm | PermalinkReply

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