Karachi has been a bone of contention between the Sindh government and the Centre since 1948. To understand the genesis of the problem it is essential to delve briefly into the history of this megalopolis.
During the 17th century a dispute between the King of Sindh, Noor Muhammed Kalhoro, and the Khan of Kalat, rendered Karachi to Kalat. When relations between Sindh and Kalat became cordial, Sindhi and Baloch traders, seamen, blacksmiths, carpenters, stevedores, and laborers jointly developed it as a port.
Subsequently, the Talpur Dynasty took over from the Kalhora Dynasty in 1782 and restored Karachi back to the Kingdom of Sindh. In 1843 The British occupied Sindh, establishing Karachi as its capital with Keamari as its principal port (before Debul/Bhanbhore were the commercial seaports of the Kingdom of Sindh)
In 1947, under a state of emergency following a hurried Partition, Karachi was forced to host the political leadership of the new Dominion government of Pakistan. Generally, when new Federations are established, the capital of the largest province is usually designated as the capital of the new state. If the convention had been followed Lahore or Dhaka, not Karachi would have become federal Capital.
However, contrary to this general principle, and mainly due to the reluctance of the Bengalis and Punjabis to play host to the Muslim League leadership, the capital of Pakistan was headquartered at Karachi on 14th August 1947.
The Government of Sindh agreed to this temporary arrangement on the basis of an explicit understanding: First, That Karachi would remain as the capital of Sindh, and would NOT be declared a Federal Territory and second, that the Dominion Government would establish its offices only on the 700-acre piece of land selected and allotted by the Government of Sindh. It was also agreed that the number of refugees that Sindh would accept would be limited to a maximum of 30,000 or 10% of the then population of Karachi.
Under crisis conditions during a bloody and hurried partition, the Government of Sindh showed huge generosity. It TEMPORARILY lent its offices and spaces to the Dominion Government of Pakistan UNTIL the 700-acre piece of land (known to most Karachiites today as Federal A and B Areas) could be developed into Offices, Parliament Buildings, Federal Courts, employees housing, etc.
The Government of Sindh agreed to this temporary arrangement on the basis of an explicit understanding: First, That Karachi would remain as the capital of Sindh, and would NOT be declared a Federal Territory and second, that the Dominion Government would establish its offices only on the 700-acre piece of land selected and allotted by the Government of Sindh.
Within weeks of August 1947, the Muslim League leaders reneged on their promise leading to intense acrimony between the Governments of Sindh and that of the Dominion Government. Muhammad Ayub Khuhro, Sindh’s Chief Minister put up a robust resistance but his entire government was sent packing on 28th April 1948. The central Dominion government then quickly selected a pliant Sindhi politician Pir Ilahi Bux, to do their bidding and installed him as Chief Minister on 24th July 1948, the day Karachi was declared a Federal territory. Karachi’s PIB colony is named after him.
Thus all of Karachi being suddenly declared a Federal territory, Hyderabad became the capital of Sindh. This politically manipulated enforced eviction of their Government form its historical capital, infuriated Sindhis then and has never been forgotten.
It is interesting to note that “center-centric” forces and their allies in Karachi have always advocated devolution and decentralization of power under article 32, 37(g), and 140A of the Constitution, from provincial to local.
Ironically, they vehemently oppose the decentralization of Karachi into further districts and devolution of power to lower tiers of District Municipal Corporations and District Council of Karachi. Some MNAs from Karachi and their allies that wish to rule over all of Karachi (by hook or by crook) have united on ethnolinguistic lines whilst taunting Sindhi ministers for having a rural background.
This Urdu speaking leadership appears to be oblivious to the fact those who rule Punjab from Lahore, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (from Peshawar or Balochistan from Quetta also have rural origins. Interestingly, enough this center-centric leadership also expresses its desire to control rural Malir District, District South (including Lyari), and now District Keamari, too.
Not realizing or wanting to acknowledge that a full 85% land of Karachi Division, is semi-rural the self-acclaimed urban leadership relies on fallacies to propagate their narrative. If the objection is to Karachi being governed by leaders from hometowns outside Karachi, then this same “ittehadi” alliance shouldn’t as well insist on governing the three above named Districts of Karachi which make up 85% of Karachi territory and are electorally held by Pakistan People’s Party. Clearly, this unholy alliance wishes to have its cake and eat it too!
Given Karachi’s history of governance since August 1947, all linguistic groups should coexist in a spirit of peaceful cooperation and not be dominated by one to the detriment of all others.
Therefore, Karachi needs to be decentralized. It needs more Districts and empowered District Municipal Corporations with political, administrative, and financial responsibility plus authority as envisaged under article 140 A of the Constitution.
This would be a democratic, progressive, and just approach. One Mayor’s rule on all districts as distinct and distant as Malir and District West would lead to further chaos and bad governance.
Unfortunately, since 1947 and from inception, the federal government has tried to retain control of Karachi through its proxies and the City has rarely been under the jurisdiction of the Government of Sindh. From 1947 to 1972, it was controlled by the Centre or its Governors. Only briefly from 1972-77 Peoples Municipal Committees and KMC were installed.
Since 1977, The dark shadow of Zia-ul-Haq ensured that the Centre has held sway over Karachi through its proxies. All the lawlessness, terrorism, illegal occupation of land and in particular the encroachments on top of the natural stormwater drains that have caused devastation and mayhem to Karachi in almost every full monsoon have been all due to the vicious governance structure and self-serving politics of these proxies, and NOT due to the provincial government.
The Pakistan People’s Party was compelled into coalition arrangements up until 2014. The coalition partners were throughout in cahoots with the central government which did not have Sindh’s interests at heart. Instead they always rapaciously viewed Karachi as a colony yielding substantial revenue.
At present, the City is divided into seven District Municipal Councils (Keamari District added recently) one District Council, and the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation. Given communal sensitivities, this is a rational division of power under the Sindh Local Government Act, 2013.
All center-centric parties have happily worked under Zia’s Local Government Ordinance, 1979. However, strangely enough, they are averse to working under the democratically passed Sindh Local Government Act, 2013 which is much more liberal than the former Ordinance and aims at devolution to the grassroots instead of concentrating powers in one Mayor.
In fact, center-centric parties have even preferred Musharraf’s Local Government System that divided Hyderabad into four Districts (gerrymandering) and centralized Karachi into one district thereby ensuring that the capital city of Sindh, was solely ruled by his allies. Of course, at the cost of and to the detriment of all other communities.
Native residents of Karachi were not only discriminated against and undermined but lorded over by ruthless actions of the City Government. The environments of Keamari, District South, Malir, our coastal settlements, and our island communities are all testaments to this step-motherly treatment.
Instead of using the urban ethnic card for ruling Karachi and continuing the historic wrong against the people of Sindh, the Centre should discourage the centralized rule of Karachi as this prevents a much-needed change-over to a decentralized, progressive, peaceful and democratic Capital city of Sindh.
The writer is a former Advocate General of Sindh and Twitter: @zamirghumro
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