How peaceful was my Karachi
It was June 1962 when my father took me to Karachi with my two siblings. We all arrived at the Cantt station after a long journey by changing three trains from Isa Khel to Karachi. The journey was completed in three days. My father’s elder brothers and older cousins, who were already in Karachi since 1932, received us at the railway station and took us to their residence in Garden East on a Ghora Gari (Victoria).
Soon after the departure from the station, I heard the unique sound of some bell, perhaps a unique train like whistle that hit my ears, near the Empress Market. I asked my father about the unique sound of bells that came from a boggy of train, which filled with passengers, was running on a rail track in-the-middle-of-the-roads. It looked like some kind of means of transportation.
My father said it was a tram, and it ran only in the Karachi city in Pakistan. After crossing Saddar and Empress Market, we saw many more trams leaving from Saddar to different parts of the city, connecting all the business centers of Karachi, including Kimari, the port area.
I also saw double decker buses, another fascinating mode of transportation, on the roads near Abdullah Haroon Road. The decorated rickshaws and taxis, baby taxis, and camel carts looked very fascinating to me, a four-year-old child from the far flung area of the country. Before the day, I had only known tonga that connected my entire tehsil to adjoining villages, and a daily narrow gage train and two or three busses that plied between Mianwali and Bunnu districts.
Car and motorcycle were vehicles of rare sight for the locals of my birth place, being too lavish or expensive products for them to buy in the sixties or even in seventies.
Soon our Ghora Gari crossed the main business area and entered the residential area of Garden East and West, which was so calm and peaceful, now only remembered as the most posh locality of Karachi at the time.
Early sixties was the period after the partition when migrants from India were still attempting to settle down in various parts of the city of Karachi. At the time, Garden East and West was seen as the major settlements of the migrants who Altaf Hussain named the “mohajirs” when he formed Mutahida Mohajir Movement in the 1980s.
Until the mid-1960s, Karachi saw a major influx of migrants. One could see jhuggis (huts) on the sides of almost every road all over Karachi, in localities like Shoe Market, Lyari, Dhobi Ghat, Gandhi Garden (Karachi Zoo), Lalu Khet (Liaquatabad), Landhi, Korangi and Drig Road (now Shahrah e Feisal). In those days, all Pakistanis lived peacefully side by side and helped the migrants in settling down.
The local population of Karachi comprised the Bohris, Parsis, Balochs, Sindhis and many other communities who had moved to the city from the rest of the country, and had accepted mohajirs with an open heart. For the reason, Karachi was termed as a peaceful city, or a city of opportunities because the sea port and industries provided jobs to all.
I still remember, in early sixties, my parents along with other relatives used to take us to Karachi Zoo which was kind of a place for social get together. A day long trip to the zoo provided us a chance to learn social norms and customs from each other in leisure and fun.
Migrants had brought many things with them from India. On the day of any marriage, or a day before the Nikah, mohajirs arranged “Qawwali” as an essential part of a marriage ceremony. It was like today’s people arrange mehdi, mayoon and music before Nikah. In those days, Qawwali was a necessary part of the marriage. I had an opportunity to see performances of almost all the Qawwals, including Ghulam Farid Sabri and Maqbool Sabiri, who were so popular for their performances at the marriage ceremonies. A day before the marriage, Halwai (sweets-maker) was specially called to make “Laddus” on the spot apart from making biriyani or Qorma.
Today, Karachi is still known for providing unique sight to the visitors, for its beautiful architecture, and buildings made of limestone that one can still see in old Karachi. Go, visit the impressive Empress Market, the High Court, Farrer Hall, KMC, and Sindh Assembly buildings, and Merewether Clock Tower.
After the creation of Pakistan, Karachi was declared the capital of this newly born country of South Asia, and it retains the history and memories of 1947 .
I recall, Karachi saw the first deadly riots in 1972—the linguistic riots—when the Sindh Assembly declared Sindhi as the official language of the Sindh province.
Epicenter of the riots were Nazimabad, Liaquatabad, Goli-mar, and Lasbela areas of Karachi, which are now considered the district central, and have always seen a high concentration of Urdu speaking population. The language riots left the first dent in my Karachi’s peaceful atmosphere. I recall the bloodshed in the city that had provided me education and decent and respectable way of life.
One of the most effective Urdu newspapers of the time, Daily Jang, worsened the situation by putting Raees Amrohvi’s poetry “urdu kā janāza hai zarā dhuum se nikle’ [Urdu’s funeraly party should be celebrated] all around every page of the paper.
The dent deepened when Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) introduced the quota system for urban and rural populations of Sindh in 1970s. It deprived eligible youth to get admissions in medical colleges, engineering universities and other professional educational institutions. PPP government also implemented the quota system on government jobs and issued separate domiciles to residents of Sindh on the basis of urban or rural descent or divide.
It created the sense of deprivation and frustration amongst the youth of Karachi, as they were not able to get admissions in professional institutions of Karachi city despite having fist division and above 70 to 80% marks. In the four provinces, the institutions followed various quota rules, including those for children of the personnel of the armed forces of Pakistan.
Youth of urban centers like Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur was badly affected with the creation of quotas for Sindh rural, army, and all other provinces in Karachi’s professional colleges or medical and engineering universities, thus, providing a reason to form Student Alliance of Karachi Youth under the umbrella of All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO) in 1978.
The APMSO’s main agenda was to confront those quotas that denied them the right to get admissions in professorial colleges; they also started taking part in student politics under Altaf Hussain, who was enrolled in Department of Pharmacy at University of Karachi.
The situation started creating a wedge between the residents of Karachi. Student protests were seen occasionally against the other ethnic groups living in Karachi.
In 1985, a traffic accident worsened the ethnic divide of Karachi, when two young college students (both sisters) fell down from the minivan owned by Pakhtoons. Bushra Zaidi was overrun by the bus at Nazimabad Chowrangi. The sisters were rushed to the nearby Abbasi Shaheed Hospital, where Najma was admitted to the hospital for medical treatment but her 20-year-old sister, Bushra, was pronounced dead.
This incident sparked riots across Karachi and students from the majority mahajir community took the streets and burnt busses owned by other communities particularly the Pakhtoons.
The riots took many lives, and the ethnic fault line deepened to the worst. Altaf Hussain who had created APMSO wanted permanent solutions for the issues that the mohajir communities confronted. The newly elected federal government led by Prime Minister Muhammad Khan Juneju failed to control the situation.
The creation of the Mohajir Qomi Movement (MQM) led by Altaf Hussain permanently divided the mega city and financial capital of Pakistan into groups though it was the time when different communities were merging into each other by allowing the marriages of their sons and daughters.
The MQM targeted Pakhtoons and Punjabis. Being the worst victim of the situation, the Punjabis decided to launch their own pressure group namely Punjabi Pakhtoon Itehaad (PPI) which instead of resolving the issue further fueled the already worsened situation. During the 1992 operation against the MQM, PPI formed the main resistance force against the militant groups of MQM. Karachi became the dump of illegal arms which seems to be widening instead of giving any chance of controlling the situation.
Sniper firing was normal in early 1990s; street crime and extortion mafia also got stronger and businessmen were forced to shut businesses, or were killed if they refused to pay bhatta.
I saw my university fellows like S M Tariq, Kahlid Bin Waleed being killed on the streets of Karachi, apart from the killing of the mohajir leaders like Azim Tariq and Imran Farooq, great poet Raees Amrohvi, actor Sultan Khan, and Qawwal Amjad Sabri. Another Mohajir leader and former member of National Assembly Syed Ali Raza Abidi also faced the target killing in Karachi.
Karachi still can be as peaceful as it was in early sixties or seventies. But to bring real peace, all militant groups have to be dealt with iron hands. Police has to be depoliticized. Karachi’s Local Government institutions and leadership has to be given administrative and financial powers by decentralizing the system and making Mayor and District Governments a real center of power that can bring back Karachi’s nights and lights to the normal and assert its status as the backbone of the economy.
Writer is senior broadcast journalist and can be reached at [email protected]