The Causes of Land Contestation in Karachi


Pakistan is a federation of four provinces. Sindh is the south-eastern province and Karachi is its capital. According to pre-census results conducted in 2013, it is fastest growing city in the world. (Cox; 2012) It is Pakistan’s largest city and its only port. Its 2010 population was estimated at 15.4 million and its 2015 population has been estimated at 18.04 million. Based on these figures, 9 percent of Pakistan’s total population and 24 percent of the country’s urban population, live in Karachi. The city also generates 15 percent of national GDP, 25 percent of the revenues, and 62 percent of income tax. (Master Plan Group of Offices (MPGO); 2007) There are also powerful federal land-owning interests in the city in the form of the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), Port Qasim, Customs, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Railways and the armed forces and their various industrial and real estate activities.

Karachi’s relationship with the rest of Sindh is also complex. The city contains 62 percent of Sindh’s urban population, 30 percent of its total population and 22 percent of all Pakistan’s urban population while the country’s second largest city, Lahore (capital of Punjab province),  contains only 7 percent of Punjab’s total population. (Government of Pakistan (GOP) census reports 1998) Karachi’s large scale industrial sector employs 71.6 percent of the total industrial labour force in Sindh; the city produces 74.8 percent of the province’s total industrial output and contains 78 percent of its formal private sector jobs. MPGO, 2007

Before the partition of India that accompanied the creation of Pakistan, 61 percent of Karachi’s population was Sindhi speaking and only 6 percent was Urdu/Hindi speaking. However, because of migration of 600,000 Urdu speakers from India between 1947 and 1951 all this changed. Migration of Pushto speakers from the north-west and of other ethnicities from other parts of Pakistan and India has also continuously taken place since the decade of the 50’s. As a result, the number of Urdu speakers was estimated by the 1998 Census at 48.52 percent and Sindhi speakers at 7.22 percent. (GOP Census Reports 1941, 1951, 1998) As such, Karachi is the non-Sindhi speaking capital of a predominantly Sindhi speaking province. This is a cause of a major political conflict between the Mutahida Quomi Movement (MQM), which represents the Urdu speaking population, and the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), which represents the Sindhi speaking majority. This conflict expresses itself in disagreement on the form of local government for Sindh and on the control of the city’s immense resources. As a result of this conflict, the local governance system has been altered four-times in the last four years and still no consensus is in sight. This has damaged the institutions of governance which have also been politicised. (Hasan et. Al; 2013)

The Pushto speaking population also has powerful political interests since its members control intra-city, inter-city and cargo related transport activity. They also finance formal and informal real estate development in the city. Consequently, there is a battle for turf between the MQM, PPP and the political parties and groups representing the Pushto speaking population. This has led to ethnic violence and targeted killings of real estate developers and political workers. (Ibid)

The Afghan War has also destabilised Karachi. The city has remained the centre for supplying arms, ammunitions and food, first to the anti-Soviet Jehad in the 80’s, then to the Jehadists in the war of attrition in Afghanistan in the 90’s, and now for NATO troops in their fight against the Taliban. As a result of this involvement, the city has become the headquarters of rival interests in the Afghan conflict. In addition, a war economy, supported by supplies to the NATO troops in Afghanistan and drugs and arms has developed in the city.

Migration to Karachi during the last decade has continued for a variety of reasons. Because of the anti-Taliban army action in the north-west, large numbers of Pushto speakers migrated for safety to their relations in Karachi. Taliban fighters also migrated and established their bases in the city’s peripheral low income settlements. This has led to further target killings of pro-liberal anti-Taliban activists and political workers.

According to the National Aliens Registration Authority (NARA) of the government of Pakistan, Karachi has over 1.7 million illegal immigrants.(Mansoor; December 2013) Most of these are from Bangladesh (economic migrants), Muslims from Burma (political refugees) and Afghans displaced by the war in their country.    

As a result of the security problems that the above situation creates, investment is not coming to Karachi and a large number of industries have relocated to other areas of Pakistan and also to other countries such as Bangladesh. Meanwhile, because of the absence of an agreed local government structure for the city, many of its security related issues are compounded. 

Download the Full Report here: Karachi Land (Condensed) Paper for E&U [PDF, 271 KB]

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