NationalVOLUME 16 ISSUE # 02

Karachi as a new province

Of late, some unfolding key political decisions and developments have come to the centre stage, including the issue of making Karachi a new province of the country. The developments include a decision by the ruling party of the Sindh province, the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), to carve out a new administrative district in Karachi by bifurcating one of the existing districts. The other important political development is the formation of a committee of the main political stakeholders of Karachi, the PPP, Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to meet the challenging civic issues of the megapolis. The third important development is the renewal of the demand from the MQM of making Karachi a new province of the country by separating it from Sindh.

The initiative by the PPP Sindh government to make another administrative district in the province is clearly aimed at drawing political leverage from administrative changes. It is important to note that the local government in Sindh, including the mayoral setup of Karachi, headed by MQM’s Wasim Akhter, is going to complete its tenure within the next few days. Thus, the next local government polls will become necessary once the COVID-19 situation, which has already improved considerably, in the country and Sindh, sustains. Sensing the situation and its loosening grip over the entire province, as it has already politically lost Karachi, the PPP government now seemingly wishes to reclaim its lost political stature in the city. It could be done with good policymaking and governance initiatives but as the PPP does not seem to be in that mood and instead wants to attain the objectives through foul means. Therefore, before the next local government elections, the PPP government has resorted to deliberate changes in the administrative delimitations of constituencies to draw political advantage out of it. The carving out of a new district in Karachi would be to the advantage of the PPP as it would divide the vote bank and support base of the MQM and the PTI. As the opposition parties, the MQM and the PTI, have announced challenging the move by the PPP government in a court of law, one expects that the court would stop the Sindh government from it.

Whether the PPP would be able to have its way in creating a new district in Karachi or not, the initiative will have far-reaching consequences on the political psychology and behaviour of the main political stakeholders of the mega city. The MQM would now demand creating a new province in Karachi, more repeatedly and vociferously. It would have far more justification and rationale for the demand, because instead of addressing the burgeoning civic issues of the port city, which is the largest city of Pakistan, the PPP government is resorting to tactics to inflict damage on its political opponents and draw mileage out of the situation. The strategy of the PPP would backfire as increasing numbers of residents of Karachi, who already have a deep dislike for PPP policies, would become totally annoyed. It would spur the demand of the MQM for making Karachi a new province.

Before dilating upon the merits and demerits of making Karachi a possible new province, it is important to throw light on the formation of a political committee to address the issues of the city. The committee, comprising PPP, PTI and MQM office-bearers as its members, has been formulated on the prodding of the security establishment of the country. This is a very important development and a big question mark on democratic governance and its quality and worth in the country. If political stakeholders could not bring their heads together even in the face of the enormous challenges faced by the people of Karachi and it required the pressure of the country’s security establishment to come together for the common cause of improving the situation, then there is really something wrong with the political system of the country. We have been consistently arguing in these columns that the parliamentary political system of Pakistan does not have what it takes to address the key issues of the country and society and in the case of Karachi, it is proving quite vividly.

In the situation, making Karachi another province makes a lot of sense, because the PPP government in Sindh has received its entire political support and votes in the last two decades from rural areas of the province, whereas the MQM has been dominating urban Sindh, including Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur. The PPP has been trying to rule Karachi like rural Sindh and the result is the party could not keep control of the situation. In rural Sindh, people are politically conservative and inactive, therefore, they have no bigger policy demands from the PPP except petty government jobs. The PPP government in Sindh has provided a large number of jobs to its supporters from rural Sindh while the party can also be credited for providing landless peasants small landholdings way back in 1970s under its founder Zulfikar Bhutto’s premiership. Karachi is an urban centre and cannot be ruled with such a mindset. On the other hand, the MQM took advantage of the situation created by the PPP and with the support of the General Zia regime established a fascist stranglehold over Karachi. Therefore, Karachiites looked towards PM Khan as a messiah and voted in a large number for PTI candidates, helping the party win the largest number of National Assembly seats from the city, making it a key stakeholder. Although the PTI has so far not taken a firm stand on making Karachi a new province, yet it seems that most of the party’s Sindh leadership, which is based in Karachi, would be supportive of the idea. Now if the MQM and the PTI develop a consensus on making Karachi a new province, the PPP would be really on the back foot. Although making Karachi a new province is not that easy, yet there does not seem to be any harm in doing so, as it is not a matter of the ego of some people but the provision of relief and better social services to the people of Karachi.