The people of Karachi pay the highest taxes in Pakistan but have no say in the administrative affairs of their own city.
“No taxation without representation” was the rallying cry that united all Americans in the eighteenth century against the British control of North America. The Founding Fathers of the United States had, for all the right reasons, argued that British had no right to collect taxes from their North American colonies because people in those colonies had no representation in the British Parliament. The founding fathers, declared “taxation without representation as tyranny,” issued Declaration of Independence, and demanded freedom from British colonial control.
Today, Karachi, Pakistan’s biggest city, with a population of around 33 million, is facing the same injustices that European colonists in North America faced in the eighteenth century. Pakistan runs on taxes collected from Karachi, yet Karachi is the most neglected metropolitan area in Pakistan: it is almost impossible to find ethnic Mohajirs, its majority population, in city administration or in law enforcement agencies. Every year, hundreds of thousands of the city’s young students are refused university admission in their own city in favor of Sindhi and Punjabi-speaking non-Karachiites.
Most independent global organizations agree that Karachi is the send-most populous city in the world. Some highly respected organizations such as Wikipedia rank Karachi as the second most populous city in the world: Wikipedia says “Karachi’s population was 27 million in 2016.” The number now has exceeded 33 million.
This city without a doubt is the engine that keeps Pakistan’s economy going, but successive Pakistani governments, both military and civilians, have continued to ignore this great city. Illegal slums with illegal electricity and water connections are thriving in Karachi under the protection of non-local military and police forces. Non-locals are being housed in these slums, from which no taxes are being collected. There is a mushroom growth of illegal religious seminaries (madrassahs) in these areas where poor non-Urdu-speaking students are trained for jihad, all under the watchful eyes of law enforcement agencies.
This is all being done to change the Western-friendly, sophisticated, and secular face of Karachi. Until the late 1940s, Karachi was a small coastal city located on the shores of the Arabian Sea. Its population was less than one hundred thousand. When Pakistan came into being in 1947, Pakistan’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah, chose Karachi as Pakistan’s capital city. Millions of Urdu-speaking Muslims from Hindu-majority provinces of India migrated to Pakistan and made Karachi their new home. These skilled immigrants soon turned Karachi into a busy seaport and a thriving city with large industries, banks and insurance companies.
Pakistan’s Punjabi-dominated military establishment resented Karachi’s prosperity and soon started a vicious campaign to target Karachi. Soon after imposing martial law in 1958, Pakistan’s first military dictator shifted capital of Pakistan from Karachi to a newly established city, Islamabad, in Punjab. The offices of all major state organizations were also relocated from Karachi to Punjab leaving hundreds of thousands of Karachiites jobless. The people of Karachi, Urdu-speaking Mohajirs in particular, were selectively targeted and pushed out of government jobs and law enforcement agencies.
Even though taxes generated from Karachi run Pakistan’s economy, you would struggle to find even a single person from Karachi in the Karachi Police or the paramilitary Rangers who are responsible for law and order in Karachi. Instead, non-local law enforcers treat Karachiites as people of an “occupied territory”: extrajudicial executions in fake encounters are common, and so are enforced disappearances. Police and Rangers personnel are known for extorting billions from Karachi’s citizens every year through coercion and intimidation. The illegal money making tactics that nonlocal law enforcement agencies employ also include land grabbing, kidnapping for ransom, and selling Karachi’s scarce water.
Pakistan’s powerful Punjabi-dominated military controls all the water hydrants in Karachi, from which Karachi’s water is stolen and then sold illegally via water tankers. This trade alone earns the Pakistani Army billions every year from Karachi.
The Pakistan Army is also the biggest land-grabber in Karachi. It uses draconian measures to grab Karachi’s lucrative land, turns it into defense housing authorities (DHAs) and then sells residential and commercial plots in these DHAs, at extortionate rates. The DHAs are solely administered by Army Cantonment Boards over which neither the city’s metropolitan corporation nor any other local government has control, although these DHAs unashamedly use Karachi’s scarce resources. According to some conservative estimates, around 35 percent of Karachi’s land is now under Pakistani army control.
The Sindhi-dominated provincial government of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) is also a fierce enemy of Karachi. It is on record that the Party’s founder and former prime minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (father of the late Benazir Bhutto) ordered Mr. Junejo, the then-provincial Sindhi-speaking Interior Secretary in the early 1970s, to reduce Karachi’s population in the official census figures by 50 percent to reduce Karachi’s representation in the provincial and federal parliaments. Mr. Junejo duly obliged orders of Mr. Bhutto, who was also Sindhi. Mr. Junejo later confessed this before a provincial court but no military or civilian government ever took action to reduce this grave injustice against Karachi. Had Mr. Bhutto not ordered this blatant injustice, the majority urban population would have been able to elect a chief minister of the province from urban Sindh.
This “Gerrymandering” with the population figures of Karachi and Hyderabad, Sindh Province’s second-largest Mohajir-majority city, continues till today. Even in the last census which took place in 2017, Karachi’s population was shown as less than half of its actual number. Both Pakistan Army and PPP have colluded for decades to deprive people of Karachi and other urban areas from having true representation in the national and the provincial parliaments. Both the the Pakistani army and the PPP consider Karachi a cash cow: they collect taxes from the city but spend less than peanuts on its infrastructure and development.
Karachi is a great city: it is Pakistan’s most secular city and has always stood against the pro-jihadist forces backed by the Pakistani military establishment. The Pakistani military establishment and the corrupt, feudal-dominated PPP are not just looting Karachi; they are also attempting to turn it into a safe haven for jihadist elements. The world needs to come forward to save Karachi.
An autonomous Karachi will guarantee equal rights and access to opportunities for all its citizens, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or gender. The demand for autonomy is fully consistent with the historical 1940 Lahore Resolution -widely known as The Pakistan Resolution- that had categorically demanded creation of “autonomous states” in India where Muslims were in majority. It was this resolution that eventually led to the creation of Pakistan in 1947. Given Pakistan’s ethnic disparity and growing resentment among non-Punjabi ethnic groups, the redrawing of Pakistan and creation of many autonomous states with a loose federation seems to be the only solution to make Pakistan a viable state.
It will be an inclusive society where people of all races and religions will be treated equally. It will also ensure peace and stability in the region. It will act as a bulwark against the forces of darkness and extremism. Please help Karachi and its people, for they are the true supporters of democracy and the allies of humanity in a region where extremism is rising alarmingly under official patronage.