Over thousand people died because of the freak heat wave in Karachi while the PPP government fiddled in the air conditioned Sindh Assembly. It was easy to blame the KE Electric for the break down and do nothing. Not that K Electric did not fail to meet the electricity needs of the people, it had no contingency plan for the system breakdowns and violent fluctuations in the supply burning consumers’ appliances, the provincial government failed too.
But most of the people died because they were out in the sun, and many were fasting. Doctors who handled emergency say majority was de-hydrated and their sugar levels dropped to the dangerous level. Karachiites were not prepared for this heat and nobody told them what to do.
Rangers and army established some, public relations, camps offering water and medical assistance to the affected people, but the civil government was not seen anywhere. Yes, they talked loudly and unabashedly in the provincial assembly, and on the TV channels. If K Electric has no contingency plan, the Sindh government has neither. There was no urgency to come to the rescue of the people. Tragically, as death count kept shoting up the graveyard mafia jacked up the prices of the graves although they are supposed to be under various government agencies. Even the closed grave yards such as one in affluent PECHS offered space at Rs100000 each.
Now consider this in the backdrop of the recent power tussle between the Sindh government and the army top brass, which resulted in the PPP Supremo Asif Ali Zardari outburst. So out of character of otherwise cunning Zardari we know from his post-Benazir era. As expected most of the politicians and media lashed out on him for speaking out against army generals’ interference in the Sindh government affairs. You can heap allegations and insult on prime ministers and presidents, but army officials and Mullahs are the sacred cows in this security state.
The whole conflict cannot be seen in black and white, there are always many shades of grey in between. The Rangers and the corps commander were not wrong that sources of massive funding to different mafias in Karachi have to be stamped out. But that doesn’t mean they should encroach on the civil government jurisdiction like the historic student hostels of Karachi. The politicians hit back and ask are other provinces and the federal government free of corruption? Isn’t that the present biggest threat to the country is terrorism which flourished because of myopic policies of our security establishment?
But two wrongs does not make one right. Particularly when the army has finally decided to eliminate the rebel terrorist organisations. And its fantastic perception mangers at the ISPR are successfully building its image as the saviours.
On the other hand Zardari, who cares two hoots about the public perception, was on a slippery path when he raised the jurisdiction issue in Peshawar. He mistakenly believes that money walks and bullshit talks. The tales of the corruption and inefficiency of the Sindh government are well known. Even if one discounts these corruption stories by 50% the figures are astronomical.
Same is true about the Rangers guesstimate of Rs230 billion. This disclosure by an authoritative organisation like Rangers, who have been around for last 20 years, was readily accepted by the public. No skeptic reporter – as they should be — has asked the Rangers how they arrived on this fantastic figure? And how much of this mafia money flows to their political patrons?
Several research reports and books have been published about how different mafias operate in the megalopolis. Recent addition of ‘Karachi The land issue’ by Arif Hasan and his team and ‘Karachi Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City’ by a French scholar Luarent Gayer are well researched on this subject.
What has happened to Karachi was expected. Such organised crime mafias flourish in the societies where public amenities are scarce and state structure is crumbling. Way back in mid-eighties when All Pakistan Muhajir Students’ Organisation emerged following famous Bushra Zaidi accident with a minibus I did a quick study to understand why was the city bursting at seams to prepare for lecture at a Women Action Forum meeting. The city population was growing at the rate of 4-5% per annum while the expenditure on amenities had grown at 1.5% per annum during 1980-85, that included water supply. So every year backlog of scarcity was pilling up and continues to do so even now. Rangers report particularly mentioned the land mafia which is not a news as they have been there since the city the influx of started in 1947. As the state failed to meet the housing, water and transport demand of the poor, the mafias filled in this vacuum. Big money was made by these mafias with connivance of the bureaucracy and politicians. The military rules were no different.
Suffice it to say that what do we expect in the city of 20 million: where every third person lives in informal and illegal settlements; where water supply to the people is half of what is needed; where public transport is short by 15000 buses and people commute on the roofs of available buses; where per capita police is not even half of what is required and much of it assigned to so-called VIPs; where billions of dollar arms have proliferated thanks to the Islamic Jihad in Afghanistan; where thousands of children have no education institutions to go to; where rapidly changing ethnic demography is tearing the social fabric… The list is long any sociologist will tell you such cities cannot be tamed unless a grand strategy is prepared to tackle these colossal problems heaped up by 67 years of negligence.
The writer is can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org