City of Ruins

Least liveable cities according to The Global Liveability Report 2017. —The Economist Intelligence Unit

It is rather unclear where those, gasping in shock at Karachi being ranked as one of the worst cities to live in, come from – a place of ignorance and naivety, or beneath a rock.

Those living in Karachi hardly see this ranking as news. Despite many gains following the Rangers operation, the city is struggling with nuisances in terms of the provision of basic municipal services like public transport, parks and recreation, sanitation, and water. However, the primary cause of Karachi’s pitiable ranking is a consequence of it receiving a 20 for stability on a scale of 0 to 100. The indicators that make up the stability factors are: terror threats, civil unrest, fear of military conflict, an assortment of violent and petty crime, political upheaval. Karachi is rife with all these problems, along with a system dominated by ethnic and sectarian cleavages.

Karachi’s downfall is also as a result of a lack of governance, a clash between institutions, and a peculiar law and order situation – where the Chief of Police endorsed vigilante justice by “awarding 50,000 rupees to the man who shot and killed two suspected robbers”, and the mayor governed the city from prison.

In terms of size and population growth, Karachi faces many complexities. While one cannot ascertain what the population of the city is, in absence of a census, it is evident that the city is malnourished in terms of funds, which holds it back from carrying out basic municipal obligations. There are two solutions to this problem: i) to institutionally differentiate it from Sindh to better the city’s position to demand a greater share of tax revenue, ii) to designate it as an independent city-state that has power over governance and resources. The share in the tax revenue should correspond to the demographic size of the city, and unless this is done, the situation is likely to worsen in the coming years.

While the Rangers operation has improved the security situation in the city, it is noteworthy that in the absence of proper reforms, these efforts will only be retained in the short-term. Militancy, robberies, and kidnappings are still rampant in the city – mostly cushioned by the fact that the Rangers operation is confined to Karachi which allows criminals to escape to other cities in Sindh.

Religious, ethnic and sectarian differences have also allowed organizations like the TTP and ISIS to establish a foothold in the city. While the TTP is an old player, ISIS has allegedly used women’s academies for recruitment and fundraising. An academy in the Baloch Colony enlisted women by playing ISIS videos in the classroom. These women then went so far as to urge middle-class Karachi women to donate money to establish the Islamic ‘caliphate. While ISIS presence is felt all around Pakistan, elements of the group have mostly been traced back to Karachi, where the city’s crumbling infrastructure and law and order situation paves the way for the organization to make deep inroads in Pakistan – the same reasons other militant organizations, and even gangs of all sorts flourish in the city.

To ensure that Karachi’s potential – considering that it’s a port city and is one of South Asia’s largest and busiest deep-water seaports – is not lost completely, the government needs to ensure that structural reforms take place to put the city back in order.