Of Lyari, and rest of Karachi

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BY NAVEED ALI BAIG

Lyari, despite its centrality, has always been considered the backyard of Karachi – neglected, dilapidated, mostly unlivable. Mushtaq Yousufi has masterfully caricatured some of those conditions prevalent during the 1950s and the 60s in his book Aab-e- Gum, after reading which, one gets a very low feeling to point of getting depressed. Which is ironic since its coming from the Urdu’s greatest satirist Yousufi.

Just thinking that some of our co-citizens are living in such squalor made us petrified. Those of you who would have had the ignominious opportunity of visiting Lyari in those days would know what I am referring to.

Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto emerged as a popular leader in the late 1960s – he was Pakistan’s first home grown demagogue. He was immensely popular everywhere except Karachi. But even in Karachi, Lyari became the exception to this rule, as Bhutto captured the imagination of the Lyariites like no one else. Thus, Bhutto’s PPP lost almost all seats from Karachi in 1970 but won the Lyari constituency.

After the tragic events of 1971, PPP formed the Federal Government as well as the Provincial Governments in Sindh and Punjab. Move forward 5 years and Lyari still remains Lyari; just the way it was before PPP came into power.

Lyari remained unaffected during 11 years of Martial Law, except briefly when Mayor Afghani, resident of Lyari, becomes Mayor of Karachi. But Lyariites do not shift loyalties despite PPP’s complete neglect towards its development in their first tenure.

PPP returns to power in 1988, again both in the center and the province: Lyari is still a bastion of power to the new charismatic leader of PPP Benazir Bhutto while the rest of the Karachi is completely indifferent, this time voting to power the recently emerged MQM.

Neither PPP nor MQM are concerned about Lyari.

PPP loses power in 1990 only to come back in 1993, but on both occasions Lyari stands behind PPP like a rock. Neither does PPP change its stance on development; Lyari stays just the way it is, in miserable condition for its unfortunate residents who had now grown into a bigger population.

The incessant wrangling between PML-N and PPP during the 90s was followed by the authoritarian regime of Musharraf as both these political parties take leave of absence during the military rule. But as we have seen up until now, Lyari remains unaffected, no matter who is at the helm of affairs.

Karachi witnessed an unusual phenomenon in the shape of MQM; throughout the 90s they get the lion’s share of the votes and seats from Karachi. But since Lyari is not one their constituencies, they are least bothered about it.

Musharraf, after initially trying on his own to change things, gave unprecedented powers to MQM not only in Karachi but in Sind as well where they shared power with other lesser groups. The mandate ought to have been an uplift of Karachi in terms of infrastructure, socio-economic, and educational development but what we saw, except for a flyover here or an underpass there, they were not able to give Karachi what it really needed.

Our favorite PPP returns to power in 2008, once again both in the center and in Sind. They joined hands with MQM to share power in Karachi and in the province. What follows are the most horrible 5 years of Karachi we have ever witnessed. With dozens of targeted killings every day, daylight robberies,
kidnappings and mobile snatching, hardly anyone remained unaffected. It was a total breakdown of law and order, with armed gangs fighting out turf wars at the expense of hapless citizens. How could a man on the street expect safety when even uniformed police officers and Rangers were being killed relentlessly?

To add insult to injury, there were the terrorists striking blows after blows. Not only government buildings were being targeted but public places and residential complexes were also not spared.

Thousands of innocent Karachiites lost their lives in this horrendous period.
Lyari was also experiencing its worse as gang wars escalated to its highest level and no one felt safe.

After 5 years of atrocities inflicted upon the hapless citizens, PML-N gets power in the center but Sindh’s misery continues unabated as PPP retains control of the province. But let me tell you this: finally, after all these years at the helm in Sind and Karachi, PPP has succeeded in bringing Lyari at par with the rest of Karachi.

As you would have guessed, it was not by way of uplifting Lyari, but by downgrading the rest of Karachi to what Lyari was in the 1960s. For Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his successors, it is a promise fulfilled!

The ugly suitor’s proposal was turned by a beautiful princess so he throws acid on her face and re-proposes her as both of them were now equally ugly. So is the case with Lyari and the rest of Karachi.

Lyari could not be uplifted but the people in power have thrown acid on the face of the rest of Karachi.

For the poor Karachiites, you now have the ‘privilege’ of living in the dirtiest, ugliest, and filthiest megacity of the world. Where you consider yourself lucky if trash is picked up once in a month! Roads in Nazimabad, North Nazimabad, FB Area and Gulshan remind you of the dirt tracks in Balochistan’s hills.

Where couple of inches of rain will cause flash flooding for days. Where sewerage is supposed to flow on the streets even in posh localities of Clifton. Where there are no parking spaces even in the busiest of commercial districts. Where there are no laws for converting residential properties into commercials
zones and building high-rises. Where people flock on roof top of buses and wagons for daily commute.

Then there are its hospitals, schools, police stations, civic centers, about which the less said the better.

By taking away quality education, clean streets, sensible traffic management, water supply, mass transit schemes, and more often than not, its safety and security, the citizens now do not follow any good citizenship practices like stopping on a traffic signal, parking in no parking zones, constructing illegal structures in their houses and shops, using kunda, bribing their way for accessing and availing public services, or simply disdainfully flaunting the law where they can.

From a city which raised one of the finest poets, writers, artists, scientists, educationists, leaders, and businessmen, it has now turned into a mega ghetto. As Ahmad Javed (another one of its great sons and who now lives peacefully in Lahore) rightfully observed, we have become a nation of substandard people (the Urdu word he has used is ghattiya).

Thank you PPP and MQM for making this a ‘ghattiya’ city.

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