Karachi’s Godfathers

The reasons for the insular nature of the Pathan community are the corruption and ineffectiveness of the Karachi administration. A Pathan labourer coming from his village cannot relate to the way, in which Karachi is governed, jobs are procured and justice is administered. In his initial period in the city language problems plague him. The Pathan clan organisation and the thekedari system protects him in this hostile and alien environment. Thus one seldom hears of Pathans seeking redress through courts of law, settling disputes through state agencies, or involving the police in their affairs. All these issues are settled through their thekedars, or the jirga system, with a minimum of inconvenience and a fair amount of justice.

The position of the local Karachiite is completely different from that of the Pathan. He has no clan organisation to identify himself with. The biradari system which he had brought with him from India or from the rural areas from where he migrated, has been eroded by city life and ceased to exist. His income per capita is over 50 percent higher than for the rest of Pakistan and his literacy rate is 57 percent as opposed to 21 percent for the rest of the country. In addition to these two factors, the second generation of basti dwellers has now come of age. They do not have the pioneers’ spirit of compromise, promise, patience and accommodation which their fathers had. They feel that they have rights and are willing to fight for them. In all their day to day problems they have to deal with the city administration as individuals and they find that this administration is corrupt, inefficient and ineffective. When they revolt against it, they find that they also threaten the interests of the mafias, and being unarmed and disorganised, they are bullied into silenceso that things may continue as before.

In addition to a lack of civic amenities and the interests of the mafias, there is growing unemployment. To compound things further, nine years of suppression of political activities have isolated the politicalforces from the rest of the country. In the Karachi katchi abadis there is a growing awareness that the administration’s ineffectiveness is closely linked with the mafias’ expansion. There is also an awareness that only 1.5 percent of federal revenues are spent on Karachi, when the city’s contribution to the federal exchequer is over 25 percent of its total revenues.

Given the sociology of the Pathan and non-Pathan communities in Karachi, the role of the mafia, and the ineffectiveness of the administration, it is hardly surprising that there should be ethnic strife in the city. It also comes as no surprise that in the present political environment this strife should be fanned, promoted and used by various political and economic groups to further their own interests. It is interesting to note here that except for the interests of the mafia, Pathan and non-Pathan business or job interests do not clash in any way, and that the professions followed by the Pathans and non-Pathans not only differ but complement each other. In various statements made by certain political groups the Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) has been identified with the recent ethnic strife in the city. However, it is important to differentiate between the MQM and the urban revolt which has been brewing in Karachi for several years. The MQM’s demands are limited: they seek to protect the interests of the mohajir middle class. They speak of their separate identity, ending of the quota system in jobs and educational institutions, and prevention of further “unnatural” changes in the population complexion of Sind. The MQM is organised and has a central leadership. The urban revolt, on the other hand, seeks better amenities, a more efficient administration and curbing of the mafias’ influence. It has no central leadership, and its street power are the squatter colonies which have not yet been taken over by the mafia. So far the MQM has not made a bid to take over the leadership of the urban revolt, and given its class nature, itappears unlikely that it will do so. The incidents at Sohrab Goth and at Hyderabad on October 31 were a warning to it that itshould keep itself out of the urban struggle.

If Karachi’s urban strife is to be tackled successfully, the administration will have to be effective, efficient and honest. It will have to provide land to the poor at a price that they can afford, and in sufficient quantity to kill speculation. It will have to arrange loans, through some form of banking, for house building and for the setting up of small business, It will have to provide cheap and comfortable transportation, and if itcannot do all this, itwill have to accommodate an informal sector into its system, but on its own terms, so that the people of the city are not exploited. In addition, it will have to improve the system of justice, taxation, water supply, electricity, health and sewerage.

But for the administration to do all this, it will have to stop seeing Karachi as a source of loot, and itwill have to smash the drug and arms mafia to smithereens. Given the country’s political climate, the extent of the heroin trade, and the state of Karachi’s administration, this will not happen, and the struggle for the control of the city will continue.

The only hope for the future lies in the creation of a strong link between aware, involved and affluent Karachiites and the numerous mohalla tanzeems of the poor areas who have been struggling in isolation against the deteriorating conditions in the city. Only such a pressure group can effectively deal with the growing power of the mafias and eventually force the government to take action against it.

However, government action against the mafia in Karachi alone could have serious repercussions in other parts of the country. As a heroin manufacturer in Sohrab Goth put it: “They cannot stop this trade. They cannot touch us. If they do then NWFP will go up in flames. They know this and they cannot risk it.” The government must be prepaid for such an eventuality.

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