WEB DESK: We may not be masters of the universe, but we surely are masters of crisis management. Not that we set world standards in crisis management – the National Disaster Management Agency easily comes to mind – but we have more experience than most.
Most countries plan ahead, anticipating demographic shifts, life style changes, new technological solutions. Not us. We believe in waiting for it to hit the fan.
We have learnt to live with ‘existential threats’, a horribly clichéd term for things that could have been managed if acted upon in time. We let the economy fester and then run to the IMF for quick fixes. The IMF has only one fix: austerity. We soon realise austerity is not for us – until things get worse and we rush back to that standard bearer of crisis management. Finance Ministers get a crash course in firefighting, mistake the first step on the ladder – macroeconomic stability – for prosperity, and hastily declare victory. We have had victory trumpeted so often – and Shortcut Aziz was the champion trumpeter – that now there is no music to it.
We have bewailed the energy crisis for years. Benazir confided to friends that it is not the charges of corruption that will do her in but the curses of mothers whose sick children can’t sleep because of the power shut downs. Neither of her two successors did anything about it, allowing it to assume horrendous proportions. Now we hear from the King’s men that it will take another three years for all the King’s horses to put humpty dumpty together again.
We had early warnings of extremism. We toyed with ‘enlightened moderation’. We played the game of good ones and bad ones, without pausing to think how anyone who destroys human life, whether here or there, can be good. We let Lal Masjid get out of hand, and then too late did too much. We just couldn’t decide FATA, and what to do with the Frontier Crimes Regulation, the ultimate anachronism. It took the sad APS tragedy to send us spiralling into crisis management.
The slide in our exports was a death foretold: overvalued rupee, withheld refunds, serious policy vacuum. We didn’t listen. We borrowed. And we prayed. We prayed for the Remittances to maintain their ascendency, even if they came with a gaping money-whitening hole. We prayed for oil prices to fall, without a strategy to deal with the fallout effects. We prayed for our benefactors to hunt here and take our troops there. Export crisis is now around the corner, waiting for our well honed firefighting skills.
Ditto for Agriculture. Much worse for the looming water crisis, as the tug of war goes on between Ministries of Water and Planning over who wears the water policy crown. And wither genuine Local Government?
Through this national pastime – muddling through until the water breaches the neck level – Karachi battles on. You will have to invent a problem that Karachi has not experienced. Researchers of benighted governance need go no further; to fix broken windows Giuliani and Jane Jacobs (author of Death and Life of Great American Cities) congregate here; If Hernando de Soto wishes to rewrite ‘The Other Path’ Karachi will show him the path. If you want Project Camelot Karachi is the place.
Karachi went through its security nightmare -purchees, kidnappings, killings – until the troops called themselves in. Thank God. But is the “enforced peace” durable? The magnanimous ‘first nation’ of Sind opened Karachi for the avalanche from the North, as it did from the East three decades ago. Karachi, the city of lights, saw darkness at noon. A privatised KESC went into crisis mode. Fixed it reasonably well for the privileged, penalised others into submission, and merrily ignored the rest. From the city of lights Karachi morphed into city of billboards – almost certainly Karachi has the world record of (advertising) billboards per mile.
Solid waste management is our policy response to child labour, allowing kids to scavenge rather than go to school. China cutting has been our contribution to the lexicon. We fish in troubled waters and we fish in toxic waters, obliging the EU to ban, more than once, import of sea food from Pakistan. Almost 70 years on we are still ‘regularising’ Kutchee Abaadis, as more spawn. We live with antiquated zoning laws – rationalising them would mean financial loss to those who matter. Enforcing Property Rights is what the World Bank spins a lot of consultancies around. And then there is this unmatched spectacle of water being trucked and not piped.
We blame the mafias, ignoring the laws of causality. Mafias are the product of bad governance, not the other way around. But once in there is a hard out: there is too much money and political clout involved. It’s a long list of Karachi’s travails. But when the traffic bomb explodes, as it surely will, we will forget all of the above.
Poor state of public transport has been a god-send for the motorcycle assemblers and banks. The locust storm of motor bikes is gods’ revenge on the arrogant motorists. No rules for two-wheelers: they can overtake whichever way, and hog whatever little parking space there is. If the motorist does find a parking slot he comes out of the store to find someone has parked behind – and disappeared!
Workers arrive exhausted, having changed buses and forced their way into tilting buses. At least 80% of the motorists are sure to flunk a driving test. Driving courtesy is for the Martians. Stopping at red lights is optional, as is a legitimate number plate. There are no designated bus stops; the driver decides. Long gone are the days when we had metered taxis and rickshaws. The sight of the guns pointing at you as a VIP motorcade overtakes makes you remember mother’s milk. There are no pedestrian crossings. Instead, we have these overhead monstrosities that no one uses.
A metropolis of 20 million, industrial and commercial hub, billions spent on studies and consultancies, and no mass transit system in sight? Flyovers and underpasses cannot substitute functioning public transport. Prepare for traffic riots. Karachi is a noisy city without a voice. It has almost become stoic in its sufferings, looking for solace in shrines like Abdullah Shah Ghazi and Manghopir, and apostles of hope like Edhi and SIUT – and the boots. If we don’t solve the traffic nightmare the din of boots will be music to many ears.
Source: Business Recorder