Karachi: city and ethnicity

Discussion in 'Pakistan' started by Singh, Jul 15, 2012.

  1. Singh

    Singh Phat Cat Administrator

    Feb 23, 2009
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    Karachi has become one of the most polarized cities of the world

    Amid changing demographics and rising ethnic tensions, Karachi is suffering from the worst economic crisis of its history and has become one of the world's most polarized cities.

    Spates of violence in the last four years have cost the city more than 7,000 lives. As the economy collapses, criminal gangs backed by popular political parties are fighting over turf. That has resulted in what sociologist Hassan Munir calls "a business environment of the survival of the fittest, not just in terms of finances, but in terms of power".

    Karachi is vital to Pakistan's economy, responsible for 42 percent of the country's GDP, 70 percent of income tax revenue, and 62 percent of sales tax revenues. But the city "is essentially run by mafias that are supported by political parties", says Saeed Ahmed a socialist from Karachi University.

    In New Karachi, one of the 18 towns of Karachi and an MQM stronghold, all the tea stalls run traditionally by Pashtuns are now being run by Mohajirs.

    Muhammad Aamir, 41, runs a small cafeteria. He took over after the restaurant was closed by its Pashtun owner because of heightening ethnic tensions. "I think it is a great idea for us to take over businesses," he says. "These businesses should belong to locals, not outsiders."

    Ayaz Ahmed was a business owner in the Pashtun-dominated Sohrab Goth machinery market. He had to move because of fear of ethnic violence. "We had been doing business in that area for over 20 years, but were forced to leave only because we were Mohajirs," he said. "Our warehouse was bought by Mehsuds from FATA for very cheap. We didn't have options. They would have taken over anyway."

    "The district government will not computerize land records because they're run by members of ethnic political parties," a top Sindh government bureaucrat said. "And it will deliberately not provide water to certain areas, so local groups can run their own water supply."

    In return for such services, groups linked to key political parties force residents to donate money - known as Bhatta. The extortion is usually carried out under the cover of welfare organizations. When one political or ethnic group crosses over to another group's area for the collection of Bhatta, the killings begin. Areas where business is flourishing are considered lucrative, and are fought over.

    After violence surged in the North of Pakistan in the last decade because of the presence of the Taliban and military actions against them, there has been a steady flow of Pashtun immigrants in the city. The changing demographics threaten some of the local population.

    Ethnic tensions have risen to the point where certain hospitals reject patients because of their ethnic background. "We have to carefully select which ambulance driver to send to which locality," said Aftab Shakoor, who volunteers with Edhi Welfare Center.

    "Karachi's population is 19 million to 20 million according to conservative estimates," says Umer Ansari from NED University's Urban Studies department. "Although the city's infrastructure is heavily burdened, development work has come to a virtual stop since the abolishment of the local governments system in 2008.

    "The real need of the city is to have local elections, so that real representatives can carry out development at grassroots," says Khawaja Izharul Hasan, an MQM MPA.

    According to Zia Ahmed, from the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry, business has suffered because of violence and the city has been losing Rs50 billion to Rs70 billion every month. "One violent day costs about Rs10 billion to business in Karachi," he said.

    One reaction to such problems is the emigration of the middle class of Karachi to other countries. "The rich and the middle class are leaving Karachi because of security concerns," said Anees Ahmed, an immigration consultant. "Emigration is at its peak, especially to Australia, Canada and even Malaysia."

    Report: Karachi: city and ethnicity by Ali K Chishti

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