To Karachi, The one that I see, As I walk across the kachi mitti, Right next to the bustling streets. Walking amongst people, Each so different from each other and from me, But united by a common identity, a common home, Karachi. To the Karachi with pain, Hot, humid and sticky with lack of rain. Where the sidewalk is filled, With people who mill about - purposelessly. Wasting through their day, Hoping someone will have the money to pay, For a meal or two for their family, Maybe new clothes, maybe something sanitary. To the Karachi of the poor, of the hooker, of the whore. The one that’s unforgiving and harsh, Where with finding another job and finding money you can never be sure. To the Karachi of lights, That arises at night. When the bright sun sets and the darkness descends. The Karachi I see in the streams of fairy lights, That glitter like the gota on a jora (dress), Ostentatious but simple. A paradox much like the city, That also shows both the light and the dark, The grand and the understated. To the Karachi of the motorbikes and rickshaws, That roar through the city. The holler through the streets, Filled with people screaming with joy, Finding life in the speed of their toy. To the Karachi of dhabbas, Filled with smoke and stardust. The warm chai, the sutta (cigarette puff), and the breeze. The oily parathas and sticky jalebi. The city of food and fearlessness, Of unhealthy habits and a death wish. To the Karachi of the religious, The one filled with mosques and sermons, The one run by the pious, Ringing corner to corner with the sound of God's call five times a day. This is the city of the spiritual, The ones who feel god in every move, Who sit in mazaars for hours on end, Atoning for sins and finding their peace with the dead. To the Karachi that has history, Hawkers, book sellers and mystery. The one that speaks of Partition and culture, And every corner is another reminder, Of the past and the grandeur. This history and beauty that we let go, It still exists, just muted and diluted from before. To the beauty and the ugliness, The setting sun and the mountains of trash. To the smells of flowers and the stench of the gutter or the fishy sea in the low tide breeze. To the city of the rich and the poor, Of the satisfied and of those at war, Of trauma and of healing. To my Karachi, The city of sin and believing.
Pakistan has an abundance of talent, and young Pakistanis continue to make their homeland proud internationally. One such Pakistani is Wajiha Pervez, a Pakistani artist, interdisciplinary designer, materials enthusiast and traveler. Qatar Foundation (QF), a conglomerate of academic institutions including campuses of many international universities, houses the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Arts (VCUQ). The university hosts a high-profile event, Tasmeem Doha, which hosts renowned artists and speakers from all over the world. Up until now, the board of the event only consisted of either key faculty members from the parent campus in Richmond or top local faculty. However, this year, for the first time, Wajiha has been added to the board as a co-chair of the prestigious Tasmeem, the first entirely student-led edition of the event. She is the first Pakistani to have achieved this honour. Born in Karachi, Wajiha received her BFA degree from the University College of Art and Design, Lahore, with a specialisation in textile design. Currently living in Doha, this 29-year-old achiever went on to acquire her MFA in Design from VCUarts Qatar in 2017. In this exclusive interview, she talks to ET Blogs about her life, her journey, and her achievements. Why did you opt for studying design at the university level?
Growing up, I was surrounded by family members and friends who were creative. I used to watch my grandmother’s stitching and was struck at how a piece of cloth, a few strands of thread – and skill – could create something beautiful. My mom has always been my biggest support and cheerleader. I get my energy and drive from her. Besides, I felt it was the right time – Pakistan’s fashion and design sector was coming alive. We had our own design institutes. Also, design suits my personality. Everything is fluid and evolving in design, which means that it’s unpredictable. As a person, I’m quite comfortable with that element of unpredictability, with allowing things to evolve in their own time. Design is not merely about clothes and accessories; there isn’t a facet of life that is not touched by design. Even the most sophisticated technology needs an element of design to make it appealing and marketable; from forks and forklifts, to hospitals and homes, a designer’s fingerprint is on almost everything you use.In the subcontinent, high-achieving students often choose a science stream. How did you take a different path?
There is still a degree of uncertainty in Pakistan when it comes to studying anything that does not lead to a ‘prescribed path’. And my case was no exception. It took quite a bit of persuasion and arguments with my family, to convince them of my decision.Do you feel that attitudes in Pakistan have changed for youth and women?
As a millennial from Pakistan, I would say that things have changed a lot. The youth of Pakistan doesn’t accept answers blindly; we want to know the reasons behind a decision. As a woman from Pakistan, I feel empowered because I have been raised by women who were independent and strong; never in my family have I seen a woman not being given an equal voice as her male counterparts. I know that there are other women who may not be as fortunate as me. But then again, I’ve also been inspired by women who have faced their circumstances and gone on to achieve what they set out to. So I think women in Pakistan are in a far better place than their mothers and grandmothers were, and they know that.How has the fashion and design scene in Pakistan evolved?
An appreciation of the finer elements of fashion and design has always existed in Pakistan. But it wasn’t given a voice and projected out onto a platform. We didn’t give it the sort of publicity that we do now. Compared to the fashion scenes in other countries, we’re still in our infancy. We are a regional contender, but we have yet to mature, or be elevated to a position where we are a global leader. I see this as an advantage – especially for people like me. It gives us more room to explore and establish our own styles.When it comes to design, what do you focus on?
My special interests are in material innovation. Now I make footwear and active wear mostly and consult companies on patents for sustainable materials and technologies. I also like to explore globally-endangered textiles through contemporary materials and techniques, so that traditional textiles continue to live on. I want to continue my research in the circular economy, sustainable fashion and ethically-produced textiles. I’m also keen to put together more conferences, events and festivals like Tasmeem.Having co-chaired an international art and design event as a Pakistani, what does it mean to you?
Today, the experience seems surreal. I met so many incredibly talented people. Incidentally, the theme of this year’s Tasmeem was Hekayat (stories) and that was apt. The participants were a combination of rising and famous designers and artists, but they were also people who had struggled to reach where they are now; to get things done, to get their voices heard. It was inspiring to learn about what it took for each person to reach where they are now. For me, that was the biggest take-away of my experience – that I helped bring these inspiring designers to Qatar, and, in turn, inspire those in Qatar.As a Pakistani, and as a woman, what has your experience in Qatar been like?
As a woman, what has struck me as amazing was the female leadership in Qatar and the QF. Nowhere else have I seen such remarkable female leaders as I have in QF’s Education City. I have always looked up to amazing women back in Pakistan, but in Qatar, the level of female-led leadership is something else; every big institution or organisation has a female in one of the topmost positions. In Qatar, another factor that stands out is the multiculturalism. I’m blessed to have chosen a country that respects and values people from Pakistan. And not just to me, this country gives a voice and place to people from other countries also who call Qatar their home.What would you tell your peer group – especially women – in Pakistan?
I would say the very first thing is to define yourself to yourself; you cannot move a step forward unless you know what your heart wants. Secondly, make sure you don’t take up anything that you don’t feel really strongly about. Then, step out. Because once you know the reason, the motivation and direction finds its way and then nothing can stop you. God doesn’t give you a challenge if He feels that you don’t have what it takes to overcome it. You need to hold firmly on to that belief, because there will be times when that will be the only thing that stops you from giving up and going back.Any immediate future plans that you’d like to share with us?
After Tasmeem 2019, for the first time since the biennale was staged, we are taking it out onto an international platform. The Tasmeem space will be set up as part of the upcoming London Design Festival in London Design Week. I’m in the process of putting together the exhibits and merchandise for that. After that, we plan to present a talk about it in Amman in Jordan. As for my personal circular fashion research, I am devoting more time to it now and we will see where it takes me.(All photos: VCUarts Qatar)
Karachi has been a story of neglect since time immemorial. Perhaps the only sincere effort that was done to improve the infrastructure of this great city was during General Pervez Musharraf’s time when the then mayor of Karachi, Naimatullah Khan, and later on Mustafa Kamal, had tried to restore the glory of Karachi. For the first time, the denizens of Karachi watched their city beginning to evolve into a thriving metropolis. The 'I own Karachi' initiative, conceived by Kamal and his team, was a brilliant idea aimed at encouraging citizens to be more active and responsible members of the city. Then came the elections of 2007. The entire local bodies system was rolled back and the city of Karachi descended into chaos, leading to a systematic destruction of its infrastructure, from which it has never recovered. The 18th amendment served as the final nail in the coffin, restricting the federal government from intervening in the affairs of the provinces, hence giving a license to those in Sindh to do as they pleased. On the other hand, Punjab is privileged to have been governed by visionaries. From Shehbaz Sharif to Chaudhry Pervaiz Ilahi, the chief minister’s office in Punjab has been actively delivering services to the people of the province, transforming these urban centres. Lahore has seen rapid development under both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid (PML-Q) governments. The projects initiated during their tenure were sustainable, aesthetically-pleasing and practically viable. The citizens of Lahore have benefitted the most from the work carried out as a result of the Public Service Development Projects (PSDP) including an improvement in the road network, the mass transit system, rescue services, solid waste management and education. The education system in place in Punjab is far better than the one which has been implemented in Sindh and Karachi. The government of Punjab has a sustainable model in place for delivering timely services to the people of the province which is no where to be seen in Sindh. While we in Sindh survive on drives and campaigns, they have a structured system of PSDP throughout the year. The prime reason for such a paradigm shift and this stark contrast between Punjab and Sindh is the political muscle the province has enjoyed during the tenure of most federal governments. The stranglehold which the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) has had on Sindh, and Karachi in particular, has led to a total breakdown of systems and services. On the back of a rural vote bank, the PPP get to control the urban centres like Karachi. This has led to the PPP installing an aging chief minister like Qaim Ali Shah, or someone like Murad Ali Shah who, despite being competent and highly educated, is still helpless because he is answerable to the PPP leadership. As a result, Karachi has suffered at the hands of inept, uniformed and short-sighted policies which have led to the city representing a confluence of bad ideas. https://twitter.com/SindhCMHouse/status/1152994453323485185 A brief review of the current plight of Karachi, especially in light of the progress in Punjab, can be an eye-opener for those in the corridors of power. Water and sanitation The K-IV project, which was supposed to provide Karachi with 26 million gallons of water has been practically shelved. The fact that after 12 years of trying to get this project off the ground it still hasn’t seen the light of day means that it is unlikely to solve Karachi’s water woes anytime soon. As a result, the people of Karachi are either surviving on the limited supply that is being provided to the city or are relying on water tanker services. The fact that Pakistan’s economic hub is struggling to provide clean water to its residents should be an immediate cause for alarm. This problem becomes all the more complicated when coupled with the fact that Karachi’s outdated and depleted sewage system requires a major overhaul. Unfortunately, neither the city government nor the provincial government seems to be interested in remedying the situation. Since the concerned minister and mayor are enjoying an unlimited supply of water tankers at their posh residences in Karachi, why would they be concerned? Solid waste management Despite having a Chinese contractor on-board, the massive piles of garbage that have come to define the city continue to ‘decorate’ the landscape. Bringing in foreign contractors to solve Karachi’s garbage problem will not work if there are no effective policies in place. We are relying on cleanliness drives instead of trying to put forth sustainable and long-term solutions. Contrast this with the garbage tax which is set to be implemented and the Waste Management and Rural Sanitation Project (WMRSP) that has been launched in Punjab. Infrastructure and development The roads, underpasses and fly overs that are being built by the provincial government are of substandard quality and their construction has little to no involvement of urban planners and traffic engineering experts. A great many of these projects come across as publicity stunts rather than attempts at genuine public service. A lack of urban planning continues to further cripple an already ill-planned city. The gulf between Punjab and Karachi is made all the more evident given that a new development policy for Punjab has been unveiled, while the Rs40 billion development package which has been granted for Karachi restores little hope for Karachiites given the city’s poor track record. Simply allocating more funds will not alleviate the entrenched problems which continue to halt development projects in Karachi. https://twitter.com/Mahim_Maher/status/1129187597211848704 Mass transit Work on Karachi’s federally-managed green line bus project is still underway and has been subject to a series of delays. The Sindh government has failed to deliver even a single mass transit project since 2007. Uber and Careem are the only modes of transport available if one has to opt for a dignified mode of travelling within the city. The existing mini bus system is dilapidated and must be replaced with a comprehensive mass transit system by employing the same work force to run modern bus system. What needs to be done Although the chief minister of Sindh seems eager to help reform Karachi, he probably has a team of incompetent officers and administrators on board. Instead, he should try to engage qualified consultants, architects, urban planners and traffic engineering experts before initiating any public service project in the city. When an industry is sick, we bring in qualified experts for its revival. The same approach will have to be adopted by Murad if he wants to serve the people of Karachi, and meritocracy must be introduced in all public service departments of the government of Sindh. Karachi is an industrial hub, a port city and home to migrants from all over the country. Jahangir Tareen’s recent statement regarding introducing a new local government system in Sindh provides a little ray of hope for the people of Karachi. The constant tussle and friction between the provincial government and the local bodies has resulted in complete chaos in the province, and consequently in Karachi. A change is therefore badly needed.
Two teenagers were riding a donkey cart full of garbage they had collected from houses towards a garbage dump located behind a ground known as Eid Gah in Karachi’s Gulberg Town. After reaching the spot, the boys emptied the garbage and the horrid smell forces passers-by’s to cover their noses. Every month, representatives from a local governing body collect Rs100 from each house in Gulberg Town for the facilitation of garbage disposal. However, the waste material is neither disposed of nor is it recycled properly. Ultimately, no one knows where the money that had been collected from the pockets of the citizens is spent. This is a common problem. Apart from a few affluent localities in Karachi, hordes of garbage are piled up across various neighbourhoods in the city and it has become apparent that the government has failed to devise an effective long-term strategy for Karachi’s garbage conundrum. In an attempt to tackle this very problem, the Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Haider Zaidi, a member of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), launched the ‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ drive, in collaboration with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P). The drive officially kicked off on Sunday at the Karachi Port Trust Office (KPT) and will reportedly be carried out in two phases. In the first phase, storm water drains will be cleaned while the second phase will comprise of clearing garbage from the streets and roads. https://twitter.com/AliHZaidiPTI/status/1158281209128071168 https://twitter.com/pid_gov/status/1158685177926828032 https://twitter.com/LetsCleanKhi/status/1159021785708466176 Zaidi has requested citizens for donations, claiming that over Rs1.75 billion is required in order to execute the first phase of the drive. According to him, the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO) will manage the campaign voluntarily because it has the necessary machinery and expertise, while 5,000 volunteers will help carry out the campaign. Now, in theory, the idea sounds compelling, and we even praise the initiative. However, two years ago a similar initiative called the ‘Clean Karachi Campaign’ was launched by the Karachi Metropolitan Cooperation (KMC). But like most half-baked solutions to Karachi’s deeply rooted garbage problem, the campaign seems to have borne little fruit. Similarly, if the‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ campaign fails to put into place effective polices, then it too will soon become redundant. https://twitter.com/wasimakramlive/status/1157931869914181632 https://twitter.com/falamb3/status/1159004743433445376 https://twitter.com/iamhumayunsaeed/status/1158436989290590208 Although Karachi has many stakeholders, including the federal government, the provincial government and the local government, it appears that no one actually wishes to take ownership of the problems that riddle Karachi. Undoubtedly, fingers are pointed at the residents of Karachi for treating the roads as their personal trash cans. The local government blames the provincial government for not releasing the funds needed to initiate the cleaning process in Karachi while the Sindh government criticises the federal government for not providing them with the allocated funds. The tragedy is that the federal government ignores Karachi’s garbage problem even though the city provides the government with the highest amount of tax revenue. https://twitter.com/AliHZaidiPTI/status/1159061888162041857 But why do the masses have to bear the brunt of the government’s inefficiency? Why should we donate money to the government when we already pay taxes for this very purpose? In the 2019 budget, salaried persons under Rs50,000 have also been taxed and indirect taxes have been increased. If this money isn’t being spent on improving the welfare of citizens, then where is it going? This drive is reminiscent of former chief justice Saqib Nisar’s campaign for the construction of Diamer Bhasha and Mohammand Dam in which Pakistani nationals from across the globe actively contributed towards a collection of more than Rs10 billion. However, the expected cost of construction for the dam was $14 billion. Many citizens donated to the dam fund of their own accord while certain institutions such as Pakistan Railways was charging additional Rs10 per ticket for the cause. In this scenario, the same question arises: when the citizens pay taxes, why should they have to donate for projects which are the responsibility of the government? The initiators of the ‘Let’s Clean Karachi’ drive need to brief the public about their extended workable plan so that its future is not similar to the dam fund campaign. Right after announcing the campaign, the federal minister also demanded people living on encroachments to voluntarily vacate those places and that these individuals would be provided houses under the Pakistan Scheme residential project. But why would people leave their homes for a settlement whose ordinance is yet to be presented in the National Assembly and whose fate is still not decided? No one knows where this proposed scheme is located because it is currently in its planning phase. Cleanliness drives in a metropolitan city like Karachi could be successful on temporary basis; however, maintaining a standard of cleanliness is ultimately the responsibility of the government. The long term efficacy of this drive still remains to be seen. Clearing storm drains and collecting garbage will surely provide temporary relief, but it will not address the core of the problem. Unfortunately, a metropolitan like Karachi is severely lacking a detailed plan which attempts to solve the garbage problem, which will only worsen as the years go by. Using donations to provide temporary relief is of little use if there is no wide ranging policy.
Eidul Azha, in my mind, has always been a ‘lesser’ Eid. It has always existed under the shadow of Eidul Fitr. As a kid, it seemed ill-fitting to call Eidul Fitr a choti Eid because it held greater significance in my mind. It might be bari Eid for a warm-blooded carnivore like my father but not me. However, this year, I find myself clinging on to this religious event with the ferocity of a drowning man. With each passing year, Eid seems like a distant dream that we are all stumbling to push into reality. The real spirit that animated it and brought life to this religious event has vanished. Eidul Azha, in my recollections, used to be three days of endless feasting. And feasting cannot be done alone; it is a communal activity that sparks a special kind of hunger. Even if you aren’t hungry, you still eat the delicious meat; sitting amongst your friends and family, you are obligated to. Moreover, feasting cannot happen without you looking your best! I remember sitting in my crisp new clothes with over-sized bangles clinking down my wrists as I reached for a niwala (bite) from a plate of korma that my mom hurriedly cooked after getting the meat from the butcher. In Islamic canon, this day is celebrated to honour Hazrat Ibrahim’s (AS) willingness to sacrifice his only son after being commanded to do so by Allah (SWT). It is also a day to mark the divine miracle that replaced Hazrat Ibrahim’s (AS) son with a lamb at the time of the sacrifice. To celebrate this heroic tale every year was fascinating to me. It meant celebrating obedience, unwavering belief, and a timely intervention by eating and sharing food with your loved ones and people in need. This one sacrifice led to so many hungry mouths being fed, so many loving memories being made and so many meat dishes being invented, experimented and perfected. My grandmother’s house was an anchor that collected all my family members on this day to commence the celebrations. As years passed by, without realising, that anchor detached so many ships. In the winter of 2010, my grandmother sent her goodbyes and prayers from Quetta as my family moved to Karachi. My family tried to recreate that anchor at our house with a few of our relatives who had also moved to Karachi in search of a better lifestyle. After a few rocky starts, we managed to build it. We delved in the trend of barbecue that Karachi was so fond of, and in one brief moment, we had captured the spirit of Eid. However, that moment was fleeting and we had to let go of so many people. My grandmother passed away, my cousins grew up and I moved to Lahore for my studies. I reiterate that this holiday, much like other holidays, is a communal one. It is not meant to be celebrated alone. And so, the food no longer tastes good, the clothes do not make me feel pretty and the stench of blood and entrails grows stronger each Eid. It is not just me who feels this way; it is a loss felt by my friends and my family too. Blaming capitalism, westernisation, hedonism or other 'evil' external forces that are out to harm Islam and its practices is not my intention. I am simply observing life pass by and change things. This slump may be indicative of me growing up and not wanting to face adulthood but I think it is much more than that. It is indicative of an evisceration of a tradition and, inevitably, an evisceration of the self. In college, I read a story about the American bison. In Native American culture, buffaloes played a huge role as several tribes hunted them for food and clothing, but honoured and respected them as their major source of sustenance. Their lives were oriented around the thunderous arrival of the herd of buffaloes every year. However, the US government, in an effort to defeat the Native American tribes, wiped out more than half of their population and brought them close to extinction. In the famous tribal chief Plenty Coups’ heartbreaking words,
"After this, nothing happened."Nothing happened. Their worlds ceased to exist. Time, and everything that came along with it, stopped. Since then, their communities have thinned and pushed to the fringes of society. To say that I share a cultural devastation similar to that of the Native Americans would obviously be wrong and disrespectful to the insurmountable grief that they suffered and continue to do so. But this can allow one to imagine the potentiality of the erasure of our culture. This can rekindle special love and attention towards our cultural practices. And it can encourage us to respect other cultural and religious events that people choose to orient themselves around and are intrinsically tied to. Take another example to portray this. The Niha people living in Nisa, an island located in the far west of Indonesia, lived for feasting. Their feasts involved inexhaustible quantities of food and guests, and were a major opportunity for gift exchange to sustain their economy. However, environmental devastation led to the death of those 'feasting cycles'. The people there explained that their feelings were that of a “painful heart”; a heart that is seething with pain, anger and envy. We do not exist in a vacuum. We are vulnerable to our own creations. We stand under the comforting shadow of these practices that make our lives meaningful. This Eid, it becomes my personal goal to not let this special day pass by without gratitude and celebration. And to honour all that is tied with it. Eid Mubarak!
It has been a while since the disintegrated factions of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) have been involved in mudslinging with regards to every issue related to Karachi. The recent episode between the incumbent Mayor of Karachi Wasim Akhtar and former mayor of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal took an interesting turn when the former appointed the latter and within 24 hours suspended him from the voluntary position of Project Director Garbage. The entire fiasco began when Kamal claimed that he could clean up the city of Karachi within 90 days if he was provided with the resources and funds which the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) has access to. In response, Akhtar threw down the gauntlet and offered Kamal the position. https://twitter.com/Jaferii/status/1166334670814023681 https://twitter.com/gibranp/status/1166030659623821313 However, putting Karachi’s garbage woes aside for a moment, from a political perspective, this dismissal will only help Kamal’s public image. This debacle makes him look like a politician who was ready to roll up his sleeves and get to work, but was unnecessarily reprimanded and dismissed. The simple truth of the matter is that no politician wants to get their hands dirty by plunging headfirst into Karachi’s unrelenting garbage disposal problem. The fact that Kamal raised his hand and volunteered to use public funds in order to help fix an issue which no one wants to touch was commendable, but it was also a political bluff. A bluff which Akhtar tried to call out but ultimately failed in doing so. Kamal not only talked the talk but he also walked the walk by accepting Akhtar’s offer, something which may have caught the mayor off-guard. Not only that, Kamal demonstrated a readiness and enthusiasm to address the issue head on when he called a meeting with the municipal and sanitation staff. However, he convened the meeting at two in the morning and, as expected, no officials showed up, which provided Kamal with the opportunity, and the needed political arsenal, to once again present himself in a better light. He said,
“I will not only keep myself awake but will also keep my boss (Akhtar) awake and will regularly update him about the city's cleanliness.”https://twitter.com/KamalPSP/status/1166267551690776579 https://twitter.com/PSPPakistan/status/1166305610243235840 But make no mistake, it was evident that the exchanges between Akhtar and Kamal were relying heavily on showmanship and each politician was trying desperately to one-up each other. After his appointment, Kamal lashed out at Akhtar, arguing that the mayor should step down. Hence, while Kamal did force Akhtar’s hand, given the dramatic U-turn, it appears that MQM-P is not only lacking in its performance but has also failed to read the political chessboard. It seems that Kamal has won the show for the time being, which prompted him to say,
“He (Akhtar) realises that I would deliver on my promise with the same limited resources that he claims are the reason for Karachi’s sanitation problems.”After Kamal’s tenure, the MQM-P has been running its election campaigns on the agenda that it will help build underpasses, flyovers and will resolve the water shortages in the city. But as far as mayors of Karachi go, Akhtar has proven himself to be wholly incompetent. He was granted the necessary funds needed to clean the drainage system of Karachi before the monsoon rains began, but later said that those funds were not enough. His performance has raised many questions, not only aimed at him, but also about the state of MQM-P’s current leadership. But the mess Karachi currently finds itself in is also a result of poor policies by the Sindh government. The 18th amendment, passed by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) in 2010, did not serve Karachi, instead enslaved the city’s infrastructure for the provincial government. Asif Ali Zardari perhaps knew the political future of his party, given their performance, therefore, the 18th amendment helped the PPP by granting them full control of the province. Additionally, the Sindh Local Government Act (SLGA) 2013 reduced the power of the city mayor. As a result, the mayor now has to ask the Sindh government for the provision of funds, and the commissioner of Karachi oversees the mayor’s expenditure. As a result, the provincial capital and economic hub has been orphaned and thus lacks diligent oversight as it is torn between warring factions. Hence, the Kamal-Akhtar show is representative of the larger problems which are endemic in Karachi. It is apparent that the political troika is clearly not working for the city, under which one party is ruling the federation, the other is ruling the province, while the third force is controlling the local government, and all three are fighting for control of Karachi. As a result, each of these parties repeatedly dig up the long used and abused idea of cleanliness campaigns and, after some good photo-sessions, forget about the cleanliness drives completely. Ultimately, these are only short-term policy measures which do nothing more than apply a band-aid on the bleeding city of Karachi. The metropolis needs a long-term garbage disposal plan under which the necessary resources should be assigned to the elected representatives of the local government. The appointment of Kamal looked like a step in this direction, but it seems that once again, the problems of Karachi have fallen prey to petty politics.
Every now and then, there comes a film in the cinemas that silently grabs you and pulls you into a seat with overpriced popcorn and a head full of questions. And when it does, you realise this is all you were looking for. That this is what you were waiting for; for a long, long time. Blinded by the Light is just that movie. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f1YFA_J5JBU Here’s a bit of context. I moved to Canada in 2012 from Karachi, Pakistan. Since as long as I can remember, I’ve had an obscure taste in music. By obscure I mean I liked unconventional pop music. All your Biebers, Chris Browns, and Ne-Yos could've taken a hike when I had my Oasis, Goo Goo Dolls and U2s. Somewhere along that road, I found my Bruce Springsteen as well. I stumbled upon Springsteen the way I did upon most of my favourite artists. It was a happy accident, a good Netflix recommendation and a discography to die for. I binge listened to his songs while working my near deathlike odd jobs trying to cover my university tuitions. They don’t tell you the American dream starts off with a nightmare, do they? The YouTube algorithms hardly work, but when they do, magic happens. Upon scrolling aimlessly beyond the usual two hours I used to spend on my phone, I was introduced to a new trailer for a movie called Blinded by the Light. The thumbnail had a brown boy wearing the checkered red and black flannel shirt that Springsteen was known for in the Born in the USA era. Intrigued, I clicked on the trailer and what I saw was an average immigrant boy who also moved from Karachi to a western city in hopes of a better life. He’s a writer and a poet, something yours truly at least claims to be, and look what happens! He stumbles upon the music of Springsteen. Reminds you of someone? Inspired by true events, well amen to that. [caption id="attachment_87709" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: IMDb[/caption] I booked my tickets and took my brother and best friend to watch it. I guess this is where my review for the movie begins. It’s not partial but it’s not biased either. This is the honest truth. This movie is amazing and I’ll tell you why. This movie speaks to you whether or not you’re an immigrant in the West, or if you know who Springsteen is, or if you’ve never lived under a Margret Thatcher government. That is the power of this movie. It is based upon the book Greetings from Bury Park by Sarfraz Manzoor, a memoir on his experience of living in the United Kingdom as an immigrant Pakistani boy and falling in love with a piece of music that he wasn’t really supposed to be in love with. I haven’t read the memoir myself, but it’s definitely in my Amazon Kindle cart. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Gif: Giphy[/caption] Directed by the woman who directed Bend It Like Beckham, this movie might be her magnum opus. The Kohinoor in her crown of a career. It’s the most accessible movie by Gurinder Chadha, and solidifies her name in the long list of storytellers and filmmakers around her. It touches on so many things so subtly that it’s hard to characterise this move into a specific genre. Is it a coming of age movie? Yes. Is it a musical? Well, kind of. Is it a period piece? Most definitely. Like the man whose music this movie is inspired by, Blinded by the Light is versatile and wholesome in all the right ways. It’s the story of my very Karachi-influenced family as much as it is of a Jersey family in the 70s or an immigrant family in Luton, England. It’s powerful and melodic and so efficiently told that not a second of this movie seems drawn out or boring. It’s the perfect example of 'pait bhi bhar gaya aur niyyat bhi bhar gayi' (stomach and intention, both have been filled). [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Gif: Giphy[/caption] The story revolves around Javed, a Pakistani immigrant boy who has dreams of becoming a writer. He lives with his parents and sister and secretly lives a double life of a Springsteen fan and a Pakistani immigrant boy trying to make it. The dynamic between him and his father is what the core of this movie is about. His father is not the villain and that’s the best part. I got what his father was saying, I knew exactly what he meant. But I also got Javed. That is the beauty of this movie. There isn’t a wrong person in this movie (except for the white supremacists, they’re usually wrong), just hard circumstances. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Gif: Giphy[/caption] Sprinkled with beautiful little performances by a mainly unknown cast, Blinded by the Light is as impactful as any coming of age story should be. There are some recognisable faces, Hayley Atwell from Captain America as well as Nell Williams, which some of you Game of Thrones fans might remember as a young Cersei Lannister. [caption id="attachment_87708" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: IMDb[/caption] Set with a backdrop of a fascism-inducing regime and the soulful score of AR Rahman infused with Springsteen, this movie feels as modern and relevant as it ever can and should be. The music is a character in the movie. It’s like La La Land but only if Springsteen was both Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. It won’t convert you into a Springsteen fan, just as La La Land didn't make you take jazz classes, but it’ll do something a little more profound. It’ll help you appreciate. [caption id="" align="alignnone" width="480"] Gif: Giphy[/caption] If Blinded by the Light is playing in a theatre near you, I urge you to drop everything and watch it. If you dislike it, I will personally not give a dime because you’re wrong and need to re-evaluate your life’s choices. But if you watch it, shed a tear and feel the bubbling under your chest and the movement somewhere deep in your soul, let me know. We should grab coffee together sometime. (The film is not scheduled to be released in Pakistani cinemas)
Karachi deserves better than being embroiled in a perpetual tug of war between the federal and provincial governments. Karachi’s people put up with rampant crime, non-existent waste management, inept policing, poor infrastructure and chaos when it rains on a daily basis. Hoping for change but slowly losing optimism. However, Federal Minister for Law Farogh Naseem thinks he has found the solution to these problems in the Constitution’s Article 149 (4). But the federal minister is wrong. Article 149 (4) gives the federal government the authority to give directions to the provincial government under certain conditions. The important point here being that the federal government can only give ‘directions’. Directions which are not binding on the provincial government of Sindh under the Constitution. If Naseem believes he can take charge of Sindh through this provision, he is mistaken. Directions under Article 149 (4) can only be given under certain circumstances spelled out in the text of the Constitution. The first condition is that directions pertaining to the economy must have a link with the economy of Pakistan as a whole, not limited to just the province. Second, directions can be given to prevent any ‘grave menace’ to the peace or tranquility of Pakistan. Again, as a nation. None of the reasons given by the federal government seem to be sufficient to trigger either of these two conditions. All the problems that the federal government has highlighted seem isolated to Karachi and do not seem to have national implications. This by itself should dismiss jubilations from the federal government that through Article 149 (4) they can wrestle control away from the provincial Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP). But let’s assume that Article 149 (4) can be implemented. Does this mean that the federal government can take over the provincial administration? Clearly not. The purpose of Article 149 (4) is the following: after the 18th amendment, powers over certain issues were given to the federal government under the Constitution. Any power that was not given to the federal government (as listed in the fourth schedule to the Constitution) belonged to the provinces (except under certain limited scenarios under the Constitution which require provincial consent). The aim of Article 149 (4) was to allow the federal government to give directions to provinces on the best way to implement federal law. It gave no authority to the federal government to dictate provincial government on matters that were within provincial authority. This view is borne out by precedent developed by Pakistan’s courts. The Lahore High Court, in Avari Hotels versus Department of Excise and Taxation, 2009 PTD 1868 Lah, held that Article 149 (4) was for the harmonious enforcement of federal law throughout Pakistan. It did not give the federal government authority to regulate provincial law and administration. In doing so, the Lahore High Court was following precedent established by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in cases such as Iftikhar Hussain Shah versus Pakistan, 1991 SCMR 2193. It is then legally incorrect to say that Karachi’s administrative control can be transferred into the hands of the federation via Article 149 (4). The maximum the federal government can do is give directions to the Sindh government. It is then up to the latter if it wants to follow those directions or not. This is good segue into explaining what this whole issue is really about: Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf’s (PTI) inability to work with the opposition. We have seen it in Parliament where, because of PTI’s belligerent attitude towards members of the opposition, it cannot get any legislative work done. Simply put, the PTI does not want to work with the PPP. Forcing it to look for ways to circumvent them. While it is true that the PPP has a poor track record when it comes to developing Sindh in general, the use of Article 149 (4) will solve none of Karachi’s problems. It will, however, undermine two very important things: the concept of federalism that was painstakingly hammered out by the 18th amendment. A concept that the PTI continues to show animosity towards by trying to increase the powers of the federal government. It will also undermine the votes of the people of Sindh. Love the PPP or hate them, they have democratic legitimacy in Sindh. The people voted for them, and if the PTI respects democracy, then it must respect their mandate. Trying to find workarounds to the people’s vote does the PTI no favours. Had Article 149 (4) given the federal government the power to take over administrative control of Sindh, I would have still urged caution. I have written before of the problems of playing ‘constitutional hardball’ i.e. using legitimate powers to attain undemocratic aims. Such actions spell the death of democracy. A proper functioning democracy requires adherence to unwritten norms just as much as written ones. One such norm is the norm of ‘forbearance,’ as I have previously explained, this means, simply, that while some person or body may have the power to do something, they are reluctant to exercise it because excessive use would damage the democratic system. In short, it means self-restraint for the greater good. As Harvard law professors – and authors of How Democracies Die – Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt state, the reason American democracy has worked for so long is because of the restraint shown by its institutions. I realise that this may frustrate many people, especially the people of Karachi. While they live with the city’s myriad problems, these sermons on democracy may seem like empty platitudes. But I see no method apart from slow, incremental change through the democratic process that can fix Karachi’s problems. The federal government, with its hands full with the national economic crisis, is surely not the best institution to fix Karachi. People want radical, transformative change without realising that it is a myth. Control by the federal government cannot transform Karachi. Only by studying and appreciating the underlying issues that cause Karachi’s problems can solutions reveal themselves. That is a slow process, and is dependent upon democracy at the grassroots level. It involves strengthening local government systems in the province. And it involves people making the solutions to Karachi’s issues a necessary point for electability. If Imran Khan and Naseem want to fix Karachi, here is what they must do: they must see the Sindh government as legitimate. That is the first step. This politics of polarisation over Karachi’s carcass moves nothing forward. Only then can the federal government and the provincial government sit together and save Karachi. Imran needs to exercise diplomacy with the Sindh government. He must make change happen from within the existing structure. One year on from the PTI’s electoral win, it is time for the PTI to realise that its political polarisation project is making the country suffer. We must work together because the people of Karachi deserve better. It bears remembering that many of Karachi’s problems exist because of the lack of provincial autonomy over decades. The federal government was so busy building Punjab that they forgot about the other parts of Pakistan.
Women and their clothes made for viral news recently when the Haripur District Education Officer (DEO) issued a notification which stated that all schoolgirls must wear burqas since it will ‘protect’ them against harassment and rape. The move left Pakistanis divided, with some vehemently calling out the government, while others blatantly supporting it. Those for the decision, argued that a covered up woman will inculcate ‘decency’ and, for the lack of a better word, ‘tame’ the raging hormones that supposedly, largely remain out of men’s control. An extension of this argument says confining women within the four walls of a house will also protect them from predatory males. Although the notification issued in Haripur was later revoked, the mindset which led to its implementation continues to persist. In Mardan, burqas were distributed amongst schoolgirls while students in elementary schools were advised to observe the purdah. Those against the notification turned up in hordes on Twitter, calling out the government for what many deemed to be hypocritical behaviour. Such incidents only highlight the age-old victim blaming mentality and perpetuate the notion that women’s clothes are what provoke men into raping or harassing them. While the dust was still settling around the notification in Haripur, a horrific incident came to light, where six men entered a woman’s house in Karachi and gang-raped her within the confines of her own four walls, a place deemed safe for her by even the most conservative of corners. The men not only violated her but also filmed the ordeal on their mobile phones and threatened her with dire consequences if she she spoke up against the attack. Luckily, their tactics intended to shame her into silence did not work and the first information report she registered against the men led to all six of them being arrested, out of which two were identified as police officers. This horrific abuse of human rights, and gender based violence makes two things very clear. Firstly, the very men hired to protect us are part of the problem and, secondly, even the confines of a woman’s house cannot save her from rape. This leads me to ask, will engulfing a female in many metres of cloth really safeguard her against the world, and what is one supposed to do when that very world comes crashing through her door? Then where is it that a woman is safe and how long will we deny that so-called ‘decent clothes’ and confinement within the famous ‘char dewari’ (four walls) cannot protect women from a man capable of tearing through both? A hijab or burqa may cover a woman, but it does not automatically manifest basic decency in the onlooker’s eyes. Any woman who wears either of them will tell you that it does not magically provide protection from being leered at, being brushed against, or being harassed. [caption id="attachment_88899" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Twitter/Sonam Mahajan[/caption] Perhaps it is then wise to look towards the men perpetuating the problem. It is perhaps time to acknowledge that sexual frustration or someone’s clothes are not excuses which can be used to justify sexually abusive or violent behaviour. These excuses merely hide a problem which our patriarchal society just does not want to acknowledge; our men and the way they are raised. Men are usually raised devoid of soft emotions, with lines like ‘achey bachey rotey nahi hai’ (good boys don’t cry) and the classic ‘boys will be boys’ normalising aggressive and often uncalled for behaviour. Sexual aggression does not always stem from unbridled desire but is sometimes also a twisted expression of toxic patriarchy and male insecurity. When the argument becomes that men rape out of a biological compulsion, it not only trivialises the problem but also absolves men of all the responsibility, leaving room for just the victim to be blamed. It is about time that society stops portraying rape as a knee jerk reaction hardwired into the brain. The Karachi gang-rape tragedy also forces one to take a good hard look at another victim blaming argument that is often brought up after such cases, ‘Why are sexual crimes not reported immediately after the incident, if at all?’ Like I said earlier, if the very police force hired to protect citizens is committing unspeakable crimes and also threatening victims with blackmail, who is to say that justice will be properly served? Even if the police are not directly involved, reporting sexual crimes is harrowing because harassment by members of law enforcement agencies is extremely common in Pakistan. Many cases go unreported due to the social stigma attached and the power of the agencies involved. Ironically, all measures taken to prevent rape, or to safeguard the rights of women are focused on restricting their movement and penalising their freedom; be it in the form of handing out burqas or restricting them to corners of buses or confining women to their homes. None of the measures apply to the men. There is no talk of reforming them or teaching them to be better. And how can there be when society faults the cotton on one’s back instead of the brain between one’s ears. For too long we have put the responsibility for sexual harassment and rape on women and the choices they make. As a society, we have to address the real source of these vices, which is the way these men are raised and the patriarchal misogynistic values which are imparted to them. Policing women and their choice of clothes while absolving men of all responsibility are not long-term sustainable solutions, and there is a dire need for things to change.
It is no secret that the urban centres of Sindh have been ignored for quite some time now. The city of Karachi voted for Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) in the last general elections hoping that Imran Khan would change the fate of this neglected city, yet no concrete policy measures have been put in place in order to help solve the myriad of problems that this city is facing. The 18th amendment has further complicated matters and left the city to a government that is essentially ruling an urban centre with a rural mandate. Therefore, in light of the city’s deteriorating condition, it isn’t hard to see why some quarters have been calling for the invocation of Article 149 in the metropolitan. The proposed Karachi uplift package seems like another attempt at trying to get the federal government to help remedy Sindh’s problems. At the behest of Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), PTI has assured the party that the federal government will release funds for the city, and other urban areas of Sindh, if the provincial government refuses to do so. This proposal only reinforces the ongoing tussle between the provincial and and federal government about who should be held responsible for the deteriorating state of affairs in Karachi. Under the previously announced Public Sector Development Programme (PSDP), Karachi is expected to receive Rs16 billion for the facilitation of 44 development projects in the city. But will simply funneling money into the urban centres of Sindh solve the inherent problems that are festering in these cities? Brief spurts of monetary relief will be largely inconsequential if there is no uniform development policy put in place by the Sindh government. Throwing cash at Sindh in the hope that the province will reform itself represents a short-sighted approach towards a larger issue and such reactionary measures are representative of an inability to formulate long-term policy goals. Due to such inefficient policies, the masses are not only burdened by the problems which result from poor infrastructure, they are also expected to donate for relief measures which should be the responsibility of the state. Take for instance the ‘Lets Clean Karachi Fund,’ which appealed to citizens to contribute monetarily so that a cleanliness drive could be carried out in the city. Why should the taxpayer be burdened with this? It is the duty of the provincial and municipal authorities to put into practice solutions to the wide array of problems which have been harvesting in Sindh. A failure on this account thus leads to the likes of MQM-P having to ask the federal government for a Karachi uplift package. While the proposed uplift package will supposedly address the most pressing issues plaguing Karachi, the reason it is needed at all is because there has been no serious effort by the government of Sindh to improve urban infrastructure in the province. The recent rains exposed the performance of the sitting provincial government when the entire city was submerged in water, the sewage system collapsed, people died due to electrocution, and piles of garbage accumulated across the city. Due to the absence of an urban management system, inefficiency of the civic agencies, and corruption within the concerned departments, civic issues are continuously piling up while the city government and provincial government are engaged in a relentless blame game – all while the citizens suffer. Petty politics and personal grudges have meant that Karachi’s problems continue to fester, as evidenced by the spat between Mustafa Kamal and Wasim Akhtar. A comprehensive package is therefore badly needed for this city. The current governance vacuum in the region can be only filled if the federal government comes to the rescue with some federally funded projects. Besides the Karachi package, the federal government must involve foreign parties to help with issues such as the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway, solid waste management, the Karachi Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) network, and a complete overhaul of the city’s sewage and water supply infrastructure. Karachi is home to people from across the country, and each day more and more people migrate to the city in the hope of improving their economic prospects. The crumbling infrastructure of this city is increasingly ill-equipped to handle this uncontrollable influx of people. The burden on these facilities is already immense, due to which katchi abadis (illegal settlements) have sprung up across the city. These issues need to be tackled by formulating a comprehensive strategy before any future initiative is put into action.
Earlier in the month, the news of Narendra Modi threatening to cut off the flow of water from India into Pakistan made headlines across country. But as justified as this outcry was, it does beg the question as to why we seldom raise a voice against the manner in which water is stolen and wasted in Pakistan. The cries for more dams and reservoirs have thus far failed to result in tangible projects, while elsewhere in the country corruption watchdogs have uncovered that certain influential landlords play a big part in the theft of water. There have been many media trials in the past, leading to convictions, but non of this has led to a major political or judicial breakthrough on this important matter. One primary cause for concern is the tanker mafia which in many cities controls and dictates the flow of water. No criminals can thrive in a system without the support of those in power and the backing of their financial empires. Supplying impure and substandard water for the people of Pakistan will only further worsen the situation for the country’s already beleaguered masses. Additionally, the Indus Delta has also been on the verge of death for the last few years. According to the 1991 Water Accord, it was decided that downstream water supply to regions in Sindh would be mandatory until a survey was conducted to determine the exact amount of supply required for the benefit of the people of the province. Let us break this down. A minimum of 10 million acre feet (MAF) of water is the required quantity, and the failure to reach this mark has led to a major shortage of water within the Indus Delta basin. For Karachi, the crisis is much more serious since the theft of water is a thriving business and politicians are yet to openly identify this growing problem and have yet to use legislation to crack down on it. Almost 35% of the water supply is stolen through different forms of organised crime such as the use of illegal hydrants, home suction devices or the mafia controlling the supply in highly populated areas, where water is sold for a higher price. In some areas of Karachi, like Orangi, people walk all the way to main water tanks and fill their cans manually to ensure that households get a daily supply of water. Many of the pipelines that have been laid out are of substandard quality, thus leading to leakages and wastage of a lot of water along the transmission route. People still pay their water bills on time and the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) has yet to make sincere efforts to ensure that their internal problems are attended to. Sewage has started to penetrate water lines, contaminating the water supply and resulting in hazardous chemicals and diseases permeating the water. Furthermore, we must also keep in mind that bottled water is only affordable for a certain class, and ground water is brackish and not fit for consumption. People living in apartments are paying approximately Rs3,000 per month for water supply maintenance, while still using bottled water for drinking, where the average cost of drinking water on a monthly basis is around Rs4,000 a month for an average family of four to five people. So the combined cost of water per household today would be around 7,000 for starters. Yet, the government has not announced any strategy on equitable water distribution for the nation nor have they announced the names of the biggest water thieves depriving the nation of the basic commodity which should actually be free for consumption in a true welfare state – after all what is point of us paying our taxes if we are not even getting basic amenities like water? We must also agree that the commitment made under the Water Accord of 1991 was subject to the construction of more dams. However, would one province agree to a drastic reduction in its own share in order to increase the share of water to another province? Is there a water policy officially in place? Will we fight a water war inside Pakistan? A policy must now be implemented to revisit the clauses of the agreement. Water is a booming business, a commercial enterprise that is reeking of profits right now. Civic sense must prevail and the people of Pakistan must be given a clear right to safe and clean drinking water. Progress reports on dams currently under construction or already functioning must also become public information. The people are suffering as a result of the economic downturn and we as a country are still not out of the woods yet. Sooner or later, the issue of dams will surface and we do not want a water emergency, especially in a country with a primarily agrarian economy, to remain unresolved and unattended.
On November 28th 1945, a deadly earthquake occurred 100 miles South of Karachi in the Northern Arabian Sea, triggering a Tsunami which resulted in the loss of over 4000 lives. Since then, no tsunami has occurred off the coast of Karachi, but the location of the city does make it susceptible to a host of climatic disasters, because Karachi could very well be in the path of a storm in the near future. Over the past few days a series of cyclones in the Arabian Sea have been presenting a clear and present danger. A cyclone named ‘Kyaar’ damaged several coastal villages earlier in the week, while another cyclone named ‘Maha’ is reportedly gathering some worrisome momentum. The local government issued warnings and coastal travel was restricted since there were chances of heavy rains and rising sea levels with deep sea waves that could rise up to 10-15 feet above sea level. Moreover,the provincial disaster management authority (PDMA) was also put on alert while law enforcement agencies were also on stand-by. An escalation on this front could create a very serious situation on our coastline, one which we are clearly unprepared for. Regardless of whether or not cyclone ‘Maha’ results in any damage, it is evident that our current inability to deal with such a potential threat has opened the door for several questions as to why our agencies are so woefully ill-equipped to handle such potential calamities. From 1900 to 1990, global sea levels rose between 1.2 millimeters and 1.7 millimeters per year on average. By 2000, that rate had increased to about 3.2 millimeters per year and the rate in 2016 is estimated at 3.4 millimeters per year. This has happened due to the changing tidal flows in coastal regions, and one of the leading factors that results in rising sea temperatures is thermal expansion. The past century is witness to many changes in ocean patterns as oceans continue to absorb over 80-90% of the increased atmospheric heat, resulting from increased fossil fuel emissions globally. Climate change is the single biggest reality that is impacting the earth across all continents. Rapidly rising sea levels can cause death and devastation, leading to land slides, flash floods, soil erosion, water contamination, agricultural loss and major human displacement, requiring a massive relocation effort which would simply not be possible in a city like Karachi. What is happening today is that enormous amounts of waste material and other hazardous substances are being dumped into the ocean. This releases large amounts of atmospheric gases leading to a rise in the earth’s temperature, thus resulting in higher ocean temperatures. So, is Karachi at risk? Eight out of the world largest cities are coastal cities, and Karachi is one of them. Because of rising ocean temperatures, birds and animals have started to now migrate to higher altitudes due to better optimum temperatures elsewhere. Lots of plants previously found along our coastal areas have now become extinct. The Increasing acidification of our seas and rising temperatures are only making the situation more dangerous. Furthermore, the issue of overpopulation is also another damaging factor in a city like Karachi. This has further compounded the city’s waste disposal problem, thus meaning that we continue to dump garbage in the sea. As per the findings of the National Institute of Oceanography Pakistan, Karachi could be at risk of becoming submerged under water during the next 40 years. If our oceans are rising by an average of six millimeters annually, it could mean a bigger threat to our country than earlier anticipated. Moreover, in and around Karachi, over 3.5 million acres of agricultural land has been eroded since 1956, which has in turn further exacerbated an already complex issue. This indicates a clear and present danger for a population of over 21 million people. Karachi is going through a major sea-change and we can no longer afford to ignore this reality. We must engage with the environmental experts and come up with immediate solutions. Any natural disaster like an earthquake in the Arabian Sea could trigger a tsunami, just like it did back in 1945. The only escape from this increasing eventuality is timely action and precaution. Protecting the coastal environment and formulating a comprehensive cyclone and tsunami plan has to be a priority for the provincial government. We have seen too many issues continue to be ignored in Pakistan due to ignorance and neglect.
Environmentalists in Islamabad were aghast this week when precious old trees in the capital were cut in order to make a bridge to connect sector G-7 to G-8 over the Express Highway, a signal free corridor. Despite their pleas that an alternative loop existed nearby which could be used, the Capital Development Authority went ahead to facilitate traffic flows. Islamabad’s activists are ringing alarm bells because this is exactly what happened in Lahore, with all its fancy signal free corridors, over passes and under passes which steadily ate away the old trees and green belts of the city. The Advisor to the Prime Minister on Climate Change, Malik Amin Aslam, says 70% of Lahore’s green cover has been shaved off in the past decade. Once known as the ‘City of Gardens,’ Lahore’s tree cover went down to make room for new roads and vehicles owned by a rapidly growing population. It has resulted in Lahore becoming horribly polluted in the winter months when, due to temperature inversion, a layer of cooler air is prevented from rising by the warmer air above it and it traps all the pollutants below it. The problem has worsened each year and Lahore’s ‘smog’ season is now awaited with dread. A thick haze descends on Punjab’s capital from October to early January, causing headaches, sore throats and red eyes. According to former Environment Protection Agency-Pakistan head, Asif Shuja Khan, “In the last 15 years, Punjab’s vehicles have increased by 268% (motorcycles by 439% and private vehicles by 327%). And we have not even catered to what effect the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will have once trade starts.” He would like the Pakistan Clean Air Programme (from 2005) to be revived. Before the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was introduced, this programme succeeded in removing lead in gasoline and brought Pakistan’s vehicles to Euro II standards of petrol quality (India is now on Euro IV). Khan stated, “After devolution no one took responsibility for this programme. We didn’t move up from Euro II and we couldn’t even stop 2 stroke vehicles (polluting rickshaws).” Concentrations of particulate matter (PM) in Pakistan’s urban areas are now much higher than those experienced in other regional countries such as Bhutan and Sri Lanka. PM 2.5 readings from the air monitors refers to particulate matter that have a diametre of less than 2.5 micrometres, which is 30 times smaller than a human hair and they settle deep into the lungs and causes many diseases. Those who can afford it have now installed air purifiers in their homes in Lahore and wear tight fitting N95 masks when venturing outside. It has become so bad that I avoid visiting the city in the winter months. Not that Islamabad, where I reside, is all that clear – or Karachi, which is only saved by its sea breeze that usually takes the pollutants out to sea. In Islamabad, which has about as many clean air days as Karachi, we can’t even stop garbage burning – the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) garbage collectors persist in burning garbage in every sector to get rid of it. Air pollution is in fact a year round problem in this region. In the summers, the air pollution ends up dispersing and during the monsoon season it is washed away by the rains. The first Hindu Kush Himalaya (HKH) Assessment Report released by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) notes that “thick aerosol haze covers the heavily populated Indo-Gangetic Plains during the dry season, reducing visibility and obscuring sunlight. The haze often penetrates deep into Himalayan valleys, reaching the high mountains.” From its northern mountains all the way down to Karachi, clearly smog is a serious issue for Pakistan. Lahore is the worst off, everyone agrees, with smog increasing in intensity and frequency. Right now in November the United States Air Quality Index readings (shown by privately owned air monitors in Lahore) are typically over AQI 200, which means it is “very unhealthy” according to their classification. But according to the classification used by the Punjab government this means it’s “moderately polluted.” Imran Khalid of the Sustainable Development Policy Institute says the Pakistani classification is much more lenient than the American one and it’s like saying “we know that anything above 98.6F is a fever when taking a person’s temperature, but since you are from a developing country it’s okay! But who are we fooling, this index must be adjusted.” Amin Aslam, on the other hand, says this classification (similar to the one used in India) was devised by the Smog Commission formed under the Lahore High Court in 2017, so it is a legally approved one and it is up to the court to change it. [caption id="attachment_90687" align="alignnone" width="600"] Photo: Air Now[/caption] Last week, three teenagers filed a suit with the Lahore High Court asking for the classification of the Air Quality Index used by Punjab’s Environment Protection Agency to be reviewed. It’s their argument that the classification under-reports the severity of the air pollution. They want to challenge the Smog Policy approved in October 2017 as it sets these classifications. Right now accurate data is also a problem in Lahore as the Punjab government only has three high quality air monitoring devices functioning in Lahore. Aslam has stated that under World Bank funding, 30 more monitoring stations will be set up in Punjab, with 10 in Lahore in the next six months. He says that the World Bank’s Punjab Green Development Programme will enhance EPA’s capacity and introduce vehicle inspection systems in Punjab. This will be sourced out to the private sector. The programme will also provide funds to shift away from polluting technologies used in steel furnaces and brick kilns and provide subsidies to farmers to move away from crop burning. Aslam is also planning to plant urban forests in Lahore from February next year and wants to set “clear timelines/targets” to tackle the smog. We also need a country-wide source apportionment study to identify the pollutants across Pakistan. Right now the only credible report we have is the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organisation’s study on the underlying causes of smog in Punjab, which used GIS techniques. It notes that the major portion of total air pollutant emissions are indeed coming from the transport sector; a 43% share. The industrial sector is responsible for 25% of the total air pollutant emissions, while agriculture (rice residue burning) accounts for 20%. Aslam agrees, pointing out that the cabinet has agreed to an ambitious electric vehicle policy, which envisions the manufacturing of e-vehicles in Pakistan with China’s collaboration, “Two wheelers and three wheelers can now shift to e-vehicles and investors are excited.” However, Aslam believes we cannot discount trans-boundary pollution coming from India from massive crop stubble burning in their Punjab, “On November 6th for example, the easterly wind changed direction and suddenly the air pollution from across the border came into Lahore and the air quality index went sky high. Yes, we have our own issues but add on the cross border issue and you make it much worse. We hope to take it up at the right forums when they become available.” After all smog is not just a Lahore issue; satellite images show that it stretches from here to the Bay of Bengal, which is why it imperative that the entire region takes immediate action.
Are my clothes speaking to you? Listen closely: Do they tell you where I’m from? What I like? What I desire? Do they say, yes? Does my tanned skin scream to be touched? Does the curve of my neck seem ever so welcoming? I’ve grown up surrounded by this very narrative. The Pakistani vernacular is etched with log kya kehengay - embedded with the notion that my body, if hidden, says no and if exposed, draws the male gaze towards me. But the problem with the male gaze is simply that it does not stop. Not for a fully clothed body, not for an exposed shoulder, not for anything. I’m told that the general populous of men is not used to seeing a woman in a public setting and so I should adhere to their standards and cover myself when in their presence. I’m always being told to stretch my values for those around me. I should be flexible, I should change, I should shrink myself into a cookie cutter image of what people near me need because that’ll somehow make everything better. The brutal truth is that the more we push ourselves over the edge to contain our womanhood, the more it’s being taken away from us. And I’m done. I’ve been done for some time now. Reading the comments surrounding Dua Mangi’s kidnapping have left me disgusted, disappointed, enraged and all around ANGRY. I’m angry at our people. I’m angry at the narrative. I’m angry that this story has been told so many times before. She was dressed a certain way… She was out alone with a boy... She was an unmarried girl out with a boy at night… https://twitter.com/Andyrockz2012/status/1201347190871842816 But the only part of this that truly matters is this - that she is a young girl that has been taken against her will and she desperately needs our help. From the information available so far, it’s being said that Mangi’s kidnapping is linked to her former fiance. Protests and sit ins have been arranged and yet I sometimes question if the mindset here will ever really change. And yet, social media trolls, have taken to the media to slut shame her, acting as defenders of the 'holy word'. So many people tell me that it isn’t that bad being a woman here—that we have it “good”. But what the hell suffices as good? Watching over my shoulder as I walk towards my car at night? Feeling like I’m naked at the market as the men around me assess my body as if I were a piece of meat and not a woman at all? Being forced to hide my pads as I pay for them at a grocery store? Being told to act, sit, look, dress, speak a certain way? Being accosted about my marriage at every wedding—because somehow my only job in life is to procreate? How is any of this good? And how is any of this supposed to help me ever become independent? Even as I write this piece, and try to raise my voice in a place that sees it as unfit, I question how many people will try to push me down. Tell me that they’re afraid for me because I use my pen as a tool to provoke? I don’t need their fear. I have enough of my own. https://twitter.com/areeshababar24/status/1201376283080450048?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1201376283080450048&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Ftribune.com.pk%2Fstory%2F2110990%2F1-dua-mangis-abduction-releases-social-media-vitriol%2F Those blaming Mangi should know that her only fault was being born into a place like this one. Where men hide behind long beards and topis (caps), claiming that theirs is the holy word of God—where the matriarchy somehow extends the same narrative—eerily afraid to protect its own. Every day, the media is flooded with stories of women being taken, used and abused, assaulted, raped - three-year-olds, hospital patients, fully clothed and fully able - women are constantly under attack. People almost seem numb to the amount of kidnappings that take place, but none of this is normal. At its core, there needs to be a rising change, people need to be urged to take on the structures that are failing at their jobs - the safety of our women is at risk, constantly and that isn’t going to change if our structures aren’t willing to go the extra mile. Yes, there are laws in place for the protection of women, but how often is it that the law actually protects someone? How often is it that the law can actually prove an assault? The relationship between legality and morality needs to be carefully combed through so that no one slips through the cracks. Some days I forget how hard it is. I acknowledge my bubble and I know that it's mostly a safe space but the majority of girls and women in Pakistan don’t have that privilege. The key word here being choice. We need to delve deeper into the root of the problem—our social structures are constantly harming women that are just trying to exist—and for what? My heart goes out to Dua Mangi. Little headway has been made so far, and somehow, it always comes down to victim blaming. This girl has been taken, and the narrative around her has been fuelled by animosity. In cases like these, the blame should be placed on the root of our morals. We, as a populous, turn up inherently flawed. These voices inherently reveal the mindset of our country today, and it is terrifying. How many times can society put down its women? How many times can they shut down our voices? It's time these people rethink their values because we won’t stand down, we will continue to fight, and one day, we will win.
Interrupting the festivities of his son’s wedding, I caught up with the remarkably candid Minister Asad Umar for an interview at his residence in Karachi this weekend. We talked about everything from his substantive reform goals as the Federal Minister for Planning and Development to who’s more likely to become a prime minister first, Bilawal Bhutto or Maryam Nawaz.
“The last time you interviewed me, I was fired after four days,” Umar quipped, as we began the interview. “If it happens this time, it’ll fall on December 25th, which will be really sad.”Since wedding festivities were in full swing around us, I couldn’t resist asking him what requires more compromises, staying in a happy marriage or staying in power as a government. He said,
“If you’ve married the person for who he or she is and what they stand for you’ll be with them through the highs and lows. You will also know when to compromise and when to stand your ground. The same is true for being in the government. If you have clarity on what you want to stand for and achieve, then you know where you want to compromise and when you should say other options are better.”The day before the interview, I spent the morning on Tariq Road and the evening on Twitter, asking people what they would like to ask Umar. Despite his constituency being in Islamabad and the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) having a stronghold in Sindh, questions about the governance in Karachi repeatedly came up for him.
“There’s no other city in the country which Imran Khan talks to me more about than Karachi. He feels the weight on his shoulders to do something (meaningful) for Karachi,” Umar said.Beyond austerity and stabilisation, everyone now wants to know what the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government has in store in order to transform and reform the country.
“Now we are starting to reach some sort of stabilisation,” shared Umar. “There is still a long way to go but soon you’ll start to see the implementation of the measures outlined (in PTI’s agenda).”
The Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) has played a very indecisive role in the country’s political scenario during the recent years. Their endless charade of intermittently joining and leaving their coalition partners continues to this day. Recently, MQM-P Convener Khalid Maqbool Siddiqi resigned from his cabinet position, stating that the ruling party, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) had failed to fulfil its promises. While Siddiqi cited PTI’s lack of interest in the development of Karachi as the primary reason for his resignation, he did not ask his party colleague and incumbent law minister, Barrister Farogh Naseem to resign with him. In fact, Siddiqi, in a presser, said that he never wanted Naseem to quit because he believed that the government required a competent law minister. While it is true that the PTI government is not entirely dependent on MQM-P votes in the National Assembly to safeguard itself against a possible no-confidence motion, it does need MQM-P’s support to keep its majority intact in the Senate. That is why Asad Umar was sent by PTI to address Siddiqi’s grievances, but despite the former’s best attempts, the latter refused to withdraw his resignation. However, the former IT minister promised that MQM-P would continue to support PTI in the parliament with a view to strengthen democracy. Siddiqi’s resignation comes at a time when it appears that the winds of change have gently started wafting through the corridors of power, with PTI’s other coalition partners also expressing disdain at the ruling party’s policies. It is also unsurprising that the MQM-P’s move to leave the cabinet comes immediately after Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Bilawal Bhutto Zardari offered ministries in Sindh’s provincial government to them. Regardless, it is ironic that MQM-P did not participate in the Karachi Bahali Committee meeting even though it portrays itself as the champion of the rights of the people of Karachi and left the cabinet on the pretext of a dearth in the city’s development. This signifies that the urban Sindh-based party has no actual interest in the city’s development and is merely playing a political game. It is plain for all to see that the mayor of Karachi, who belongs to MQM-P, has failed miserably to address the issues of the city. The city’s drainage system is practically non existent and was thoroughly exposed by the torrential rains that took place in the monsoon season last year. Water scarcity, sanitation, crime and cleanliness are potent problems that Karachiities face, in fact it is that MQM-P’s performance in Karachi has been trashy at best. It seems that the mayor's primary job is to constantly to ask for more development funds and then lament at the sad state of affairs. The question then remains; why has MQM-P failed to address the issues faced by the world’s 6th largest city even though it has been in power, in one capacity or another, for the better part of the last four decades? It is important to remember that the party rose to popularity in the 1980s due to its style of people-friendly policies, public outreach programmes and its ability to deliver to the common masses. However, slowly but surely, it became a seat-driven party primarily interested in power politics and lost touch with its voter base. Its founder essentially abandoned the masses by adopting a treasonous stance, forcing the party to distance themselves from him which in turn fragmented the party even more. That is why, in the recent elections, MQM-P was essentially fighting for its survival with the PTI taking the lion’s share of the National Assembly seats in Karachi. However, it appears that MQM-P has not learnt from its mistakes and within the party, there are different factions working to topple each other. Chances are that in the coming years, MQM-P’s political efficacy will be similar to that of Mustafa Kamal’s Pak Sarzameen Party. This is because their political prowess will continue to be watered down by other parties ,especially the PTI, which is trying to cash in on the absence of a united MQM and is engaged in optics through the creation of development committees in Karachi. Additionally, by the next elections, it is foreseeable that both the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and PPP will not have a rift with the powers that be, which means that they can certainly win a few seats in Karachi and may dent the MQM-P power quotient even further. As a result, a party which is already submerged in an existential crisis can ill afford to get caught up in power games and forget the concerns of its voters. For now, MQM-P continues to play a dangerous game by trying to keep a foothold in two boats. It is trying to play to the opposition’s gallery while also giving tacit support to the ruling party by allowing Naseem to continue with his ministerial portfolio. This is the same hypocritical style of politics that has damaged the credibility of MQM in the past and they are repeating the same mistake again. Therefore, in order to ensure its survival, MQM-P must acquaint itself with the art of opposition politics and stop delving into dirty power politics so that it can once again engage with its voters in order to address their problems.
Modern day fashion retailers have adopted the phenomenon of ‘fast fashion,’ which is characterised by the quick turnover of designs that move at breakneck speed from the ramp to the stores and eventually, into the garbage bin. Retailers aim to increase profits by focusing on key elements of the supply chain with an emphasis on increased manufacturing speed at lower costs. The concept of fast fashion has resulted in a changing industry dynamic that boasts a quick response ideology that has inculcated the capacity and ability of retail brands to generate quick merchandise turnover. A popular Spanish retailer that has 1,600 stores in 58 countries was one of the fastest to catch on. They now produce an average of 450 million units of their products, boasting over 10,000 unique designs each year and the capacity to produce them within an average of three weeks, thus becoming the benchmark model for fast fashion by slicing time between design, production and supply. The decreased time period adds to the variety of products available to the consumers which in turn increase the amount of original customers. However, as corporations in the fashion industry capitalise on increased turnover and consumers are busy ‘reaping the benefits’ of lower prices, we fail to see the mammoth cost this trend comes at. Clothing production has roughly doubled since the year 2000. Despite purchasing 60% more clothing items in 2014 than in 2000, consumers retained those purchases for half as long. European fashion retailers went from showcasing and selling two collections annually in 2000 to almost five in 2011. Some brands offer even more. The aforementioned Spanish fashion giant releases a whopping twenty four collections on average annually. To get a rough idea of the environmental cost of this fashion upheaval, it is interesting and equally displeasing to note that 85 % of textile based production is discarded into landfills. Simultaneously, regular laundry cycles release 500,000 tons of microfibers into the sea annually which is estimated to be roughly equal to disposing 50 billion plastic bottles into the ocean. These fibres are often polyester which is a plastic that 60% of garments possess. Carbon emissions released from the production of polyester are three times more than those released in the production of cotton. What makes it even more dangerous for our environment is that polyester does not break down in the ocean. The International Union for Conservation of Nature published a report in 2017 that contained an alarming statistic which stated that an estimated 35% of micro-plastics originate from the washing of synthetic textiles. The fashion industry is also contributing considerably to the water crisis, seeing as how it is the second largest consumer of water globally. It is estimated that 700 gallons of water are involved in the production of one cotton shirt. The fashion industry contributes 10% to the world’s carbon emissions, more than what airlines and maritime shipping emit together. If the fashion community continues to exhibit such blatant disregard to the environment, its share of carbon emissions could potentially increase to an abysmal 25% by 2050 as predicted by the Ellen McArthur Foundation. According to WWF Pakistan, the textile industry in our country utilises more water than is actually required after which the chemically affected effluent is left untreated and discharged into local water bodies. This was pointed out back in 2017 when the All Pakistan Textile Mills Association held a seminar to discuss sustainable strategies for water conservation textile industries. Unfortunately, such seminars are few and far in between, doing little to actually alleviate or address the problem. Pakistan is a water stressed country and so, with the ideology of fast fashion sweeping a nation whose exports primarily consist of textile products, it is foreseeable that this will only increase our water crisis. Certain brands have begun to look for solutions to reduce their environmental footprint. A leading Swedish fast fashion company, who is one of the main corporations behind the influx of inexpensive clothing in the world, is now choosing to recycle their merchandise in the countries where they are produced. The fabric, instead of being thrown into landfills, is reprocessed into different goods, like blankets, insulation, carpet padding and pillow stuffing. Regardless, while some indicators have shown promise that fast fashion is decreasing, solitary adjustments by limited companies will not create a noteworthy impact as long as most corporations refuse to take socially responsible environmental initiatives in the wake of high consumer demand. Local Pakistani retail brands are also contributing to the problem, having chosen to jump on the money minting fast fashion bandwagon. This is exemplified by year round clearance sales where local commercial fashion giants seek to get rid of their ‘old’ stock because their new line is ready to burst through the door. Recently, in an attempt to go ‘green’, a local textile giant launched its eco-friendly canvas bags that would replace plastic carrier bags, their CEO stating that:
“After oil and gas globally, fashion retail is the second largest plastic polluter. Therefore, rather than shy away from this glaring fact, we wanted to be honest in addressing it. We wanted to demonstrate that being green can be good for business too. ”Although this initiative is laudable and the first of its kind by any fashion retail brand in Pakistan, it is only addressing a small slice of the bigger problem pie which such corporate social responsibility (CSR) gimmicks will not solve. Sadly, the Pakistani fashion industry is unabashedly slow with regards to sustainability, awareness and reform stratagem. It appears that they have decided that there is no congruence between profitability and sustainability. Pakistan also faces the unique position of being one of several dumping grounds for international brands where out-dated, unsold stock is imported and even smuggled after which it floods the market. It is then sold at a fraction of its original price in the streets of Zainab market and the lighthouse district. This means that our country experiences not only local textile wastage, but also imported textile wastage, seeing as how more often than not, imported consignments marked as clothing have unusable articles that can only be discarded. For a country with a poor economy, a poorer regard for the environment, and a young population that craves branded clothing, we most certainly have a very serious problem on our hands. Therefore, it is imperative that we develop pre-mptive strategies, revolutionise business models by making them eco-friendly and in general, give due regard to the environment of our country as a whole.
Humans have the strange ability to draw strength from the very despair that they are sometimes forced to endure. Many instances of this ability can be seen in Pakistan, a country rife with poverty and deprivation. Famous novelist, the late Abdullah Hussain, was of the opinion that the people of Pakistan are gifted in the extreme; although beset with countless problems, hindrances and insufficiencies, they still manage to transcend their circumstances and shine. A glorious example of this aspect of Pakistani society can be seen at the Pak Shaheen Boxing Club in Lyari, Karachi. Lyari is a densely populated and underdeveloped part of Karachi, which has gained noteriety for all the wrong reasons. Like most overpopulated localities across the world, Lyari has been no stranger to drugs, violent crime and gang wars. Yet, in such neglected localities there are still people like coach Younus Qambrani who have dedicated their lives to a purposeful and wholesome existence, and have been trying to steer the youth of the area in the same direction. Coach Qambrani has been associated with boxing for about 50 years now. He started his career as a boxer but had to give it up after a few years due to some health issues. However, his love for the sport did not diminish and he instead decided to channel his energy towards coaching a new generation of boxers in Pakistan. He proved himself to be an excellent coach and his proteges have included, Olympian Rasheed Qambrani and South Asian Games gold-medalist Abdul Majeed Qambrani, among other notable boxers. Today, coach Qambrani devotes his time towards grooming a new batch of boxers at the Pak Shaheen Boxing Club. Founded in 1992, the Pak Shaheen Boxing Club has since produced a bevy of boxers, some of whom have made it on to the international boxing scene. In 2012, the club got a new building, courtesy of the Government of Sindh. The new building enabled coach Qambrani to pursue another dream that he had had – to coach girls in the typically male-dominated art of pugilism. Surprisingly, quite a few girls from his neighbourhood showed an interest in training, including girls from his own family. Since then, there has been a regular ebb and flow of girls wanting to participate, with a few who have been training regularly for the past five-six years. They have also been competing at the district and provincial levels, winning several laurels in the process. The girls currently receiving training are very enthusiastic about the sport and optimistic about its future in the country. They are very confident in their abilities and feel that they can accomplish any goal they set their eyes on. Their high spirits come as no surprise since their ranks include the 13-year old Areesha, who has been practicing for five years and has never lost a single match, and the 16-year old Azmeena, who has just entered the world of professional boxing and already ranks 106th in the world. [caption id="attachment_94346" align="alignnone" width="600"] Areesha has been boxing for five years.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_94348" align="alignnone" width="600"] Azmeena is already ranked 106th in the world.[/caption] On one hand, coach Qambrani is very proud of his trainees who have been proving themselves despite various constraints. On the other, he bemoans the lack of government support available to help further improve the facilities. He believes that there is no dearth of talent among the youth of his area, both boys and girls; however, most of them come from families of limited means and receive no official support either. As a result of these conditions, they often become disillusioned and give up the sport to pursue more practical means of income. It is imperative that better facilities and funding is made available for coach Qambrani since many of his trainees have the potential to perform and represent Pakistan at the international level. (All photos courtesy of Jamil Akhtar)
Karachi is the economic power-house of Pakistan, yet the city is facing a massive energy crisis which needs to be tacked on an urgent basis. To remain viable in the coming years as the highest contributor to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), a strategic energy road-map for the city needs to be drafted under a comprehensive framework. How we prioritise our actions and create the right benchmarks is crucial. To enhance technological expertise within the sector, we need four components to be simultaneously inter-connected: human resources, research, development and investment. Providing incentives for the private sector must be the top priority, followed by research based target setting, then bench-marking, and then finally enacting the appropriate legislation. Despite its geographic scale, a rising population, and the fact that the city currently lacks a viable programmatic framework, Karachi has a unique competitive advantage. The strategic advantage that Karachi has over other cities is that it can leverage a viable energy programme through a transition to renewable energy since it possesses almost all possible renewable energy resources, namely: wind power (inland and offshore), biomass energy production, wave and tidal energy, solar (photovoltaic) power, and waste to energy. Manghopir’s hot sulphur springs are rich in geo-thermal energy, thereby making geo-thermal power a possible option to explore. Moreover, the vast landscape of Karachi makes it uniquely suitable for bio-fuel based energies (biomass). On household and neighbourhood levels, wind and solar power transmission is already showing great results and can be built more aggressively as an alternative energy solution. Off-shore wind mills can be put up off the coast, keeping it environmentally friendly. Finally, the amount of waste being produced by a population of 15 million, either being burnt at the source, drained into the sea or dumped recklessly in land-fill sites, is creating an environmental hazard. Hence, the waste-to-energy option is also viable for Karachi, especially inside the two non-perennial water bodies, namely Malir and Lyari River and the massive dumping of polluted waste in the sea. But, in recent years, Karachi has been facing a directional crisis. Instead of focusing on the above mentioned potential avenues, we have seen policies triggered towards heavy cost intensive options like the use of imported coal for energy generation. Despite the world moving away from coal production as a source of power, we are unable to comprehend the economic and human loss to our city incurred due to coal extraction. Coal is counter-productive as a power source since it loses the majority of its energy due to high emissions in the coal extraction phase, making it a very expensive source of energy to rely on. One major concern for our city is the complete absence of research and development in terms of building our technological capacities, where we lack coordination in research among institutions. Instead of building internal capacities, we have resorted to importing equipment from China and other countries, thereby reducing our academic and scientific capability when it comes to solving the energy crisis. Another serious problem we face in Karachi is the number of automobiles and motorcycles on the roads, adding to the energy consumption load and carbon emissions. Despite knowing that we have a severe energy crisis in Karachi, the public mass transit system is still in disarray. The ambitious claims of the government to re-shape Karachi’s energy sector are commendable. However, without ensuring ways to build local capacity, incentives like introducing energy audits, product labelling and standard setting alone will not yield results. How will the government ensure finances, build indigenous tech-innovation, and create intra-governmental coordination between private and community stakeholders? Focus needs to move away from launching counterproductive projects towards a cohesive participatory process. The future energy road-map for Karachi requires a balanced mix of legislation, fiscal instruments, regulations and ordinances, creating a regulatory framework, and introducing the required financial incentives. The five point agenda for the energy road-map of the city should comprise of the following steps which could help tackle the city’s energy crisis. Firstly, the energy policies in Karachi need to be participatory. The city government, federal and provincial governments, the private sector, media, civil society, NGOs, academia and climate change experts all have to be on the same page. The vision must unite to bring about a consensus, with each stakeholders’ role being clearly defined. Secondly, the legislative action needed to execute the framework for the energy sector of Karachi needs to be robust, focusing on the global best practices and their interface with the provincial and federal government tiers of influence by building scale, training, infrastructure, communication linkages. Thirdly, human capital development can be achieved by strengthening our academic programmes across Karachi, reviewing existing research programmes, introducing research grants, creating powerful teacher training and mentoring sessions, and encouraging students to pursue environmental studies in college. Fourthly, the renewable energy profile of Karachi must be developed to clearly pinpoint and identify a comprehensive resource pool for renewable energy, thus creating a cost-benefit analysis of each available option and its on-ground application. Once the database is in place, then comes the bench-marking and establishing of targets, like setting up smart grids and storage capacity levels. This should be followed by the creation of short and long term funding option availability, creating a link between the spending on increased renewable energy and a reduction in the urban carbon footprint of the city. Lastly, Karachi, like all other metropolises, must produce an annual green-house gas inventory (GHI), which would indicate changing trends, major emitters, policy measures and administrative guidelines to help cut down on green-house gas emissions. Furthermore, a build-up of the public mass transit system in Karachi could drastically reduce the use of private vehicles, hence lowering traffic congestion and the environmental damage which is only furthering the acute energy crisis Karachi is facing.
Many years ago, I read Christina Lamb’s famous but controversial book titled Waiting for Allah: Pakistan’s Struggle for Democracy. Although her book, touched upon various facets of the Pakistani society, it focused on the role of religion. She made two key arguments. First that Pakistan was trapped by the need to adhere to a “true” version of Islam, which impeded its progress.
She wrote, “The more the country strives for what its religious scholars see as true Islam, the less equipped it becomes for running a twentieth-century state, and the more it is forced to watch once-lagging competitors such as South Korea, Thailand and Malaysia steam ahead.”Her second core argument was that instead of taking charge of the situation and taking the necessary steps at the time they are needed, Pakistani rulers and institutions, have the tendency to leave it to God and miracles. In fact the book ends with the sentence, “Pakistan is still waiting for Allah”. The book was written back in 1991 but I think the two arguments mentioned above are still extremely relevant. Right now Pakistan, just like the rest of the world, is grappling with the rampant spread of the coronavirus. As a country, it needs to take some very tough but time sensitive decisions about a nationwide lockdown that may have lasting economical impacts. But if Italy is seen as an example, the consequences of delaying a lockdown are far more horrific. But Pakistan's government seems to be waiting for some miracle as they hesitate to do the necessary. Prime Minister Imran Khan ruled out a nationwide lockdown during his speech, citing economic reasons and expressed hope that the Pakistan's weather will combat the spread of the coronavirus. Instead of being proactive, he has so far told people to practice care for the next month and a half while hoping that a theory about the weather, with no conclusive evidence to falsify, will save the country from this pandemic. Right now it seems like we are relying on prayers and hope is the official strategy. Finally, due to pressure from all sides, including the powerful establishment, the government has finally announced a lock down in Punjab though it remains to be seen how effectively it will implement it. The government’s lacklustre response is compounded by our society’s attitude towards religious rituals. For example, right now, it is of paramount importance that public gatherings, including those of religious nature, are avoided. This would imply offering all prayers, including the Friday congregational prayers, at home instead of mosques. But for a lot of people this is unacceptable and as I write these sentences, a raging debate has ensued over whether or not it is permissible in Islam to pray Friday prayers at home. Some hardline clerics have taken the extreme stance that male Muslims, unless ill, should go to the mosque to fulfil his religious duties despite the threat from the current pandemic. It is perhaps due to this reason that despite the very real threat of the coronavirus and appeals from the government, many continue to offer Jumma (Friday) prayers at mosques all across Pakistan. Evidence from Malaysia and also from Tablighi Ijtema in Raiwind, Pakistan shows that large gatherings of people may serve as mass infection grounds, necessitating an official ban. There is undoubtedly a great deal of public pressure on the government, which is perhaps why the prayers are still being allowed. This move is a serious mistake in my opinion. The most surprising part is that many Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia and Iran, have banned all sort of public gatherings, including those that are religious. Saudi Arabia has temporarily banned everyone, including its own residents, from performing pilgrimage around the Holy Kaabah. Iran has closed several shrines in order to mitigate the spread of the virus and its police even used force to disperse crowds when they tried to force their way into two popular shrines. Other Muslim countries have also imposed similar restrictions on public gatherings. Yet, many are still gathering outside mosques in Karachi to pray, where a complete lockdown has been announced. For some odd reason, we as a society think we are the ultimate custodians of faith and that our mosques and religious public gatherings are more important than mosques in other countries and the Umrah itself. Whereas the actual custodians of holy Islamic places, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, are taking all possible precautionary measures and putting human lives above everything else. But then this has always been an issue with our society. We are more prone to religious violence, our blasphemy laws are harsher, and treatment of women worse than many other Muslim countries. For some reason, we insist on being more religious without understanding the true meaning and essence of our religion. Islam gives sanctity of human life the utmost importance and yet we constantly overlook it for religious exhibitionism. Right now, we need to act rational, which frankly is completely in line with our faith, to defeat this virus. We should pray at home and not indulge in false public display of religiosity. The federal government should also take a lead and temporarily ban religious public gatherings along with all other public gatherings, as we have a very limited window of time.