Karachi The City Of Lights Essay

Clustered diversity

Karachi confuses people – sometimes even those who live in it.

The capital of Pakistan’s Sindh province, it is the country’s largest city – a colossal, ever-expanding metropolis with a population of about 20 million (and growing).

It is also the country’s most ethnically diverse city. But over the last three decades this diversity largely consists of bulky groups of homogenous ethnic populations that mostly reside in their own areas of influence and majority, only interacting and intermingling with other ethnic groups in the city’s more neutral points of economic and recreational activity.

That’s why Karachi may also give the impression of being a city holding various small cities. Cities within a city.

Apart from this aspect of its clustered ethnic diversity, the city also hosts a number of people belonging to various Muslim sects and sub-sects. There are also quite a few Christians (both Catholic and Protestant), Hindus and Zoroastrians.

Many pockets in the city are also exclusively dedicated to housing only the Shia Muslim sect and various Sunni sub-sects. Even Hindu and Christian populations are sometimes settled in and around tiny areas where they are in a majority, further reflecting the city’s clustered diversity.

Most of those belonging to clustered ethnicities, Muslim sects, sub-sects and ‘minority’ religions reside in their own areas of majority and they only venture out of these areas when they have to trade, work or play in the city’s more neutral economic and cultural spaces.

The survival and, more so, the economic viability of the neutral spaces depends on these spaces remaining largely detached in matters of ethnic and sectarian/sub-sectarian claims and biases.

Such spaces include areas that hold the city’s various private multinational and state organisations, factories, shopping malls and (central) bazaars and recreational spots.

Whereas the clustered areas have often witnessed ethnic and sectarian strife and violence mainly due to one cluster of the ethnic/sectarian/sub-sectarian population accusing the other of encroaching upon the area of the other, the neutral points and zones have remained somewhat conflict-free in this context.

The neutral points have enjoyed a relatively strife-free environment due to their being multicultural and also because here is where the writ of the state and government is most present and appreciated. However, since all this has helped the neutral zones to generate much of the economic capital that the city generates, these neutral spaces have become a natural target of crimes such as robberies, muggings, kidnapping for ransom, extortion, etc.

The criminals in this respect, usually emerge from the clustered areas that have become extremely congested, stagnant and cut-off from most of the state and government institutions, and ravaged by decades of ethnic and sectarian violence.

Though the ethnic, sectarian/intra-sectarian, economic and political interests of the clustered areas are ‘protected’ by various legal, as well as banned outfits in their own areas of influence, all these outfits compete with each other for their economic interests in the neutral zones because here is where much of the money is.

Just why does (or did) this happen in a city that once had the potential of becoming a truly cosmopolitan bastion of ethnic and religious diversity, and robust economic activity in South Asia?

This can be investigated by tracing the city’s political, economic and demographic trajectories and evolution ever since it first began to emerge as an economic hub more than a century and a half ago.

Birth of a trading post... and ‘Paris of Asia’

Karachi is not an ancient city. It was a small fishing village that became a medium-sized trading post in the 18th century. British Colonialists further developed this area as a place of business and trade.

‘Paris of Asia?’ – Karachi (in 1910). Karachi was always a city of migrants. Hindus and Muslims alike came here from various parts of India to do business and many of them settled here along with some British. In the early 1900s, encouraged by the city’s booming economy and political stability, the British authorities and the then mayor of Karachi, Seth Harchandari (a Hindu businessman), began a ‘beautification project’ that saw the development of brand new roads, parks and residential and recreational areas. One British author described Karachi as being ‘the Paris of Asia.’

A group of British, Muslim and Hindu female students at a school in Karachi in 1910: Till the creation of Pakistan in 1947, about 50 per cent of the population of the city was Hindu, approximately 40 per cent was Muslim, and the rest was Christian (both British and local), Zoroastrian, Buddhist and (some) Jews.

Members of Muslim, Hindu and Zoroastrian families pose for a photograph before heading towards one of Karachi’s many beaches for a picnic in 1925: Karachi continued to perform well as a robust centre of commerce and remained remarkably peaceful and tolerant even at the height of tensions between the British, the Hindus and the Muslims of India between the 1920s and 1940s.

A British couple soon after getting married at a church in Karachi in 1927.

A group of traders standing near the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) building in the 1930s.

Karachi Airport in 1943. It was one of the largest in the region.

Karachi’s Frere Hall and Garden with Queen Victoria’s statue in 1942.

A 1940 board laying out the Karachi city government’s policy towards racism.

Lyari in 1930 - Karachi’s oldest area (and first slum): Even though Karachi emerged as a bastion of economic prosperity (with a strategically located sea port); and of religious harmony in the first half of the 20th century, with the prosperity also came certain disparities that were mainly centred in areas populated by the city’s growing daily-wage workers. By the 1930s, Lyari had already become a congested area with dwindling resources and a degrading infrastructure.

Shifting sands: Karachi becomes part of Pakistan

Karachiites celebrate the creation of Pakistan (August 14, 1947) at the city’s Kakri Ground: The demography and political disposition of the city was turned on its head when the city became part of the newly created Pakistan. Though much of India was being torn apart by vicious communal clashes between the Muslims, Hindus and Sikhs at the time, Karachi remained largely peaceful.

A train carrying Muslim refugees from India arrives at Karachi’s Cantt Station (via Lahore) in 1948.

Hindus prepare to board a ship from Karachi’s main seaport for Bombay in 1948. To the bitter disappointment of Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah (a resident of Karachi), the city witnessed an exodus of its Hindu majority. Jinnah was banking on the Hindu business community of the city to remain in Karachi and help shape the new country’s economy.

Commuters board a tram in Karachi’s Saddar area in 1951: As if overnight, the 50-40 ratio of the city’s population (50 Hindu, 40 Muslim) drastically changed after 1947. Now over 90 per cent of the city’s population was made up of Muslims with more than 70 per cent of these being new arrivals. A majority of the new arrivals were Urdu-speaking Muslims (Mohajirs) from various North Indian cities and towns. Since many of them had roots in urban and semi-urban areas of India and were also educated, they quickly adapted to the urbanism of Karachi and became vital clogs in the city’s emerging bureaucracy and economy.

Karachi’s rebirth as the ‘City of Lights’

Karachi’s Burns Road in 1963: It grew into a major Mohajir-dominated area. By the late 1950s, Karachi began to regenerate itself as a busy and vigorous centre of commerce and trade. It was also Pakistan’s first federal capital. It was the only port city of Pakistan and by the 1960s it had risen to become the country’s economic hub.

Karachi 1961: Brand new buildings and roads in the city began to emerge in the 1960s. The government of Field Martial Ayub Khan that came into power through a military coup in 1958 unfolded aggressive industrialisation and business-friendly policies, and Karachi became a natural city for the government to solidify its economic policies.

The II Chundgrigar Road in 1962: It was in the 1960s that this area began to develop into becoming Karachi’s main business hub. It began being called ‘Pakistan’s Wall Street.’

1963: Construction underway of the Habib Bank Plaza on Karachi’s II Chundrigarh Road. The building would rise to become the country’s tallest till the 2000s when two more buildings (also in Karachi) outgrew it.

Saddar area in 1965: Trendy shops, cinemas, bars and nightclubs began to emerge here in the 1960s and it became one of the most popular areas of Karachi. With Karachi’s regeneration as an economic hub, its traditional business and pleasure ethics too returned that consisted of uninterrupted economic activity by the day and an unabashed indulgence in leisure activities in the evenings.

A Pakhtun rickshaw driver at Karachi’s Clifton Beach in 1962. Though the Ayub regime moved the capital to the newly built city of Islamabad, the economic regeneration enjoyed by Karachi during the Ayub regime’s first six years attracted a wave of inner-country migration to the city. A large number of Punjabis from the Punjab province and Pakhtuns from the former NWFP (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) began to arrive looking for work from the early 1960s onwards. But with the seat of power being moved from Karachi to Islamabad by the Ayub regime, the Mohajirs for the first time began to feel that they were being ousted from the country’s ruling elite.

A 1963 newspaper clipping with a report on how Pakistani pop fans gate-crashed their way into a bar at the Karachi Airport where members of the famous pop band The Beatles were having a drink. They had arrived in Karachi to get a connecting flight to Hong Kong.

A local pop band playing at a nightclub in Karachi in 1968: It was during the Ayub regime that the term ‘City of Lights’ was first used (by the government) for Karachi as brand new buildings, residential areas and recreational spots continued to spring up.

Western tourists shopping in the city’s Saddar area in 1966.

A donkey-cart owner and his son in Lyari (1967): Karachi once again became a city of trade, business and all kinds of pleasures, and yet, the industrialisation that it enjoyed during the period and the continuous growth in its population began to create economic fissures that the city was largely unequipped to address. The economic disparities and the ever-growing gaps between the rich and the poor triggered by the Ayub regime’s lopsided economic policies became most visible in Karachi’s growing slums.

Many shanty towns like this one sprang up in the outskirts of Karachi in the 1960s. Criminal mafias involved in land scams, robberies, muggings and drug peddling in such areas found willing recruits in the shape of unemployed and poverty-stricken youth residing in the slums.

Police and military troops patrol the streets at Karachi’s Club Road area during a 1968 strike called by opposition parties against the Ayub government. Resentment against Ayub among the Mohajir middle and lower middle-classes (for supposedly side-lining the Mohajir community), and the growing economic disparities and crime in the city’s Baloch and Mohajir dominated shanty towns turned Karachi into a fertile ground for left-wing student groups, radical labour unions and progressive opposition parties who began a concentrated movement against the Ayub regime in the late 1960s (across Pakistan). Ayub resigned in 1969.

Sleaze city: Fun and fire in the time of melancholia

Chairman of the left-wing PPP, ZA Bhutto addressing a rally in Karachi just before the 1970 election. The PPP became the country’s new ruling party in 1972. After the end of the ‘One Unit’ (and separation of East Pakistan), Karachi became the capital of Sindh. Bhutto was eager to win the support of Karachi’s Mohajir majority. In various memos written by him to the then Chief Minister of Sindh, Bhutto expressed his desire to once again make Karachi the ‘Paris of Asia.’

Karachi’s ‘Three Swords’ area in 1974. It was ‘beautified’ during the Bhutto regime but today has become a busy and congested artery connecting Clifton with the centre of the city. It was during the Bhutto government that the city’s first three-lane roads were constructed (Shara-e-Faisal), dotted with trees; the Clifton area was further beautified; foundation of the country’s first steel mill laid (in Karachi); and the construction of a large casino started (near the shores of the Clifton Beach) to accommodate the ever-growing traffic of European, American and Arab tourists.

A 1973 Karachi brochure for tourists who were visiting Karachi in the 1970s.

A newspaper report on the 1972 ‘Language Riots’ in Karachi: Bhutto failed to get the desired support of the Mohajirs. This was mainly due to his government’s ‘socialist’ policies that saw the nationalisation of large industries, banks, factories, educational institutions and insurance companies. This alienated the Mohajir business community and the city’s middle-classes. Also, since Bhutto was a Sindhi and the PPP had won a large number of seats from the Sindhi-speaking areas of Sindh, he encouraged the Sindhis to come to Karachi and participate in the city’s economic and governing activities. This created tensions between the city’s Mohajir majority and the Sindhis arriving in Karachi after Bhutto’s rise to power.

The insomniac metropolis: The city that never slept

Karachi in the 1970s gave a look of a city in a limbo - caught between its optimistic and enterprising past and a decadent present. It behaved like a city on the edge of some impending disaster or on the verge of an existential collapse.

Most Karachiites would go through the motions of traveling to work or study by the day, and by night they would plunge into the various chambers of its steamy and colourful nightlife …

From ‘elitist’ nightclubs …

… to seedy ‘low/middle-income’ dance and drink joints, Karachiites looked to escape a melancholic existence by heading towards the city’s many recreational outlets in the 1970s.

A 1973 press ad (in DAWN newspaper) of one of Karachi’s many famous nightclubs of the 1970s, The Oasis.

Nishat Cinema 1974: Cinemas in Karachi were usually packed with people in the 1970s.

Playland 1975: One of Karachi’s most famous recreational and amusement areas for families was the (now defunct) Playland.

Students at the Karachi University in 1973.

A group of students at the Karachi University in 1975.

Urdu news being delivered from Pakistan Television’s Karachi Studios (1974).

Crowd at a cricket Test match being played at Karachi’s National Stadium in 1976.

Karachi’s congested Merewether Tower area in 1976. A badly managed economy (through haphazard nationalisation), and the reluctance of the private sector to invest in the city’s once thriving businesses strengthened the unregulated aspects of a growing informal economy that began to serve the needs of the city’s population. The flip side of this informal economic enterprise was the creeping corruption in the police and other government institutions that began to extort money from these unfettered and informal businesses.

The rupture

Protesters go on a rampage during the anti-Bhutto movement in Karachi’s Nazimabad area (April 1977). In 1977 the city finally imploded. After a 9-party alliance, the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA) – that was led by the country’s three leading religious parties – refused to accept the results of the 1977 election; Karachi became the epicentre of the anti-Bhutto protest movement.

A policeman beats up a protesting shopkeeper in the city’s Saddar area during the PNA movement ( 1977). The protests were often violent and the government called in the army. The protests were squarely centred in areas largely populated by the Mohajir middle and lower middle classes. Apart from attacking police stations, mobs of angry/unemployed Mohajir youth also attacked cinemas, bars and nightclubs; as if the government’s economic policies had been the doing of Waheed Murad films and belly dancers! The bars and clubs were closed down in April 1977.

Future MQM chief Altaf Hussain on a Karachi University bus (1977): As the PNA protests led to the toppling of the Bhutto regime (through a reactionary military coup by General Ziaul Haq in July 1977), within a year a group of young Mohajirs were already exhibiting their disillusionment with the ‘PNA revolution.’ In 1978 two students at the Karachi University – Altaf Hussain and Azim Ahmed Tariq - formed the All Pakistan Mohajir Students Organization (APMSO). They accused the religious parties of using the Mohajirs as ladders to enter the corridors of power while doing nothing to address the economic plight of the community.

Prosperity, piety, plunder

The American contingent parade past spectators at the 1980 ‘Karachi Olympics’: Zia’s dictatorship managed to strengthen itself soon after the Soviet forces invaded neighbouring Afghanistan in December 1979. Once the US resolved to oppose the Soviet invasion, it (along with Saudi Arabia), began pumping in an unprecedented amount of financial and military aid into Pakistan.

Foreigners enjoy a cruise on the waters of Karachi’s Kemari area in 1982.

Future US President Barak Obama visited Karachi as a visiting university student and stayed with a roommate of his in Karachi (1981).

Apart from the fact that Karachi’s university and college campuses exploded with protests against Zia (and then violent clashes between progressive student groups and the pro-Zia right-wing outfits), the city largely returned to normalcy and its status of being Pakistan’s economic hub was revived.

The continuous flow of aid helped the Zia regime stabilise the country’s economy. But underneath this new normalcy something extremely troubling was already brewing.

Since most of the sophisticated weapons from the US (for the Afghan Mujahideen) were arriving at Karachi’s seaport, a whole clandestine enterprise involving overnight gunrunners and corrupt police and customs officials emerged that (after siphoning off chunks of the US consignments), began selling guns, grenades and rockets to militant students (both on the left and right sides of the divide) and to a new breed of criminal gangs.

From the northwest of Pakistan came the once little known drug called heroin, brought into Pakistan and then into Karachi by Afghan refugees who began pouring into the country soon after the beginning of the anti-Soviet Afghan insurgency in Afghanistan…

The Taj Mahal Hotel 1982: A number of newly-built hotels sprang up in Karachi during the economic boom of the early 1980s. However, many critics were of the view that most of them were built with ‘black money.’

Poverty and drug addiction saw an alarming increase in Karachi in the 1980s.

1985: School and college students chant slogans against the government and Karachi’s ‘transport mafia’ the day after a Mohajir student, Bushra Zaidi was run-over by a bus. The accident sparked a series of deadly riots between the Mohajirs and the Pakhtuns of Karachi.

Front-page news reports about the deadly 1986 Mohajir-Pakhtun riots in Urdu daily, Jang. As the armed student groups fought each other to near-extinction on the city’s campuses, the violence, now heightened by sophisticated weapons, became the domain of criminal gangs in the city’s Baloch and Pakhtun dominated areas. Most of these gangs had been operating as hoodlums peddling hashish, smuggled goods and running illegal prostitution dens in the 1970s. After the sale of alcohol (to Muslims) was banned in April 1977, they added the business of making and selling cheap whisky to their enterprise before they discovered the profitable wonders of selling guns and heroin. They were sometimes also used by political parties, as well as intelligence agencies for various political reasons.

Military personnel arrest a rioter in Karachi’s Orangi Town area in 1986. Working-class and lower-middle-class areas like Lyari and Orangi were the first two sections of the city to be hit by gang violence and heroin addiction in the 1980s.

The suddenly rich: Huge bungalows came up in the city’s ‘posh localities’ in the 1980s. A booming economy based on the continuous flow of financial aid arriving from the US and Saudi Arabia and generated by a somewhat anarchic form of capitalism paralleled urban prosperity with growing class disparities. It encouraged a free-for-all rush towards grabbing the chaotic political and economic fruits of such an economy.

Team of PTV’s social satire show, ‘Fifty-Fifty’ often parodied the rise of greed and corruption and the social idiosyncrasies of the ‘nonveau-riche’ that emerged from the 1980’s anarchic brand of capitalism.

Mohajir Qaumi Movement (MQM) chief, Altaf Hussain, speaking at a large party rally in Karachi in 1987. The mohajirs claimed that Karachi’s transport and real estate businesses had been taken over by gangs of Afghan gun and drug mafias and that the Mohajirs were being forcibly ousted from various areas of the city by refugees arriving in Karachi from Afghanistan. MQM decided to organise the Mohajir community into a cohesive ethnic whole.

A 1987 hoarding in Karachi’s Mohajir-dominated Nazimabad area. The deadly 1986 riots triggered the gradual formation of the city’s clustered diversity (see first section) as Karachi’s various ethnicities began to reside in areas where their respective ethnicities were in a majority.

A wall in Lyari plastered with PPP posters in 1988. Lyari remained to be the party’s main support base in Karachi. It also saw a number of anti-Zia protests throughout the 1980s.

Ziaul Haq during a visit to Karachi’s busy shipyard: In the early 1980s, though Karachi did return to becoming the country’s economic hub again, this time much of its booming economics was based on a parallel ‘black economy’ fuelled by the large amounts of money floated by drug, land and gun mafias. Instead of addressing such issues, the regime stuck to offering moralistic eyewashes through highly propagated and hyped postures of piety and certain draconian laws that were imposed in the name of morality and faith …

Women activists protesting against Zia’s ‘moral policing’ outside the Sindh Chief Minister House in Karachi (1986).

Chairperson of the PPP and Zia’s leading opponent, Benazir Bhutto, waves to the crowd during her wedding ceremony (held in Lyari) in 1986.

In 1987 a massive bomb exploded in the busy Saddar area of the city, killing dozens of people. This was the first such incident in a Pakistani city and Karachiites were left shocked and badly shaken. The regime accused ‘communist agents.’

As the exhilaration of the superficial and contradictory economic boom experienced by the city in the early and mid-1980s began to recede, Karachi looked like a city in shambles with a rapidly growing population and a crumbling infrastructure. Its slums and many low-income areas were now crawling with drug peddlers and drug addicts and its lower-middle-class areas taken-over by armed youth, patrolling the streets, extorting money in the name of protecting the areas from possible hostile infiltration by members of ‘enemy ethnicities.’ Prosperity had mutated into becoming paranoia.

Descent into chaos

A young MQM supporter wearing an Altaf Hussain T-Shirt in Karachi’s Liaqatabad area (1989). When the MQM swept the first post-Zia election in 1988 in Karachi, this was the first time (ever since the city’s status as capital of Pakistan was withdrawn in 1962) that its representatives became a direct part of the government at the centre and in Sindh. The PPP had been returned to power in the election and it formed a coalition government with the MQM.

Benazir and Asif Zardari meet Altaf Hussain in 1989 to form PPP-MQM coalition governments in the centre and Sindh. The new government struggled to come to grips with the shock that the country’s economy and politics experienced after generous hand-outs from the US and Saudi Arabia began to dry out considerably at the end of the so-called ‘anti-Soviet Afghan jihad.’

A Pajero belonging to a leader of a religious leader in 1990 in Karachi: The cultural dynamics of the society had been radically altered. Amoral and cynical materialism nonchalantly ran in conjunction with a two-fold rise in the need and impulse to stridently exhibit ones ‘piety.’

Najeeb Ahmed – the Karachi President of the PPP’s student-wing, the PSF – during a press conference in 1990. He was killed in an armed ambush: The permanent matter of Karachi’s ever-growing population, depleting resources and tensions between its various clustered ethnicities soon triggered a wave of violence as MQM and the PPP went to war in the streets and campuses of the city. The violence in Karachi became the pretext of the dismissal of Benazir Bhutto’s first regime and the controversial election of Mian Nawaz Sharif as the new prime minister in 1990.

Nawaz, Altaf and Jam Sadiq at a rally in Karachi in 1991: Sharif vowed to turn Karachi into an economic hub again and for this he chose a former PPP member, Jam Sadiq Ali, as Sindh’s new Chief Minister. Jam had been a member of the PPP till he was ousted by Benazir in 1986. Sharif used his grudge against the PPP to undermine the party’s influence in Sindh. In Karachi, Jam gave a free hand to the MQM. Though MQM used this opportunity to launch a number of developmental projects in the city’s mohajir-majority areas, at the same time it unleashed its activists against Jam’s ‘enemies’ (both real and imagined).

COAS General Asif Nawaz (left) and Nawaz Sharif in Karachi in 1992: By 1992, with the country’s economy still showing no signs of recovery, and the corruption that first began to rear its head in the 1980s was continuing to grow, Karachi now truly looked like a crumbling city held hostage to the whims and tantrums of the MQM-Jam nexus. Alarmed by the situation, the military forced Nawaz to launch an operation against extortionists and MQM activists. Nawaz reluctantly agreed and in 1992 the operation was launched.

Cops encircle a dead body of an MQM activist in Karachi’s Burns Road area during the Govt-Military operation in Karachi in 1992: Karachi would see a total of three intense operations against the MQM across the 1990s. This decade is still said to be the most violent in the city’s history. Hundreds of civilians, cops and members of paramilitary forces lost their lives.

Pakistan playing against South Africa at Karachi’s National Stadium during the 1996 Cricket World Cup.

A pop concert at Karachi’s KMC Complex in 1996.

1996: By the end of the 1990s, the city’s infrastructure had almost completely collapsed, crippled by ethnic and political violence, strikes and curfews. Major businesses began to move out from the city, factories began to close down and incidents of extra-judicial killings, revenge murders, extortion and kidnapping became a norm. Heaps of garbage dumps unattended for months symbolised what had become of this once ‘Paris of Asia’ and a bastion of economic ingenuity. The turmoil in the city finally came to a sudden end when General Pervez Musharraf toppled the second Nawaz Sharif government in 1999.

A brief interlude: The lights shine again

Musharraf distributing gifts to a child from one of Karachi’s slum areas in 2003. This was the year when the MQM regrouped and regenerated itself and got into an alliance with the Musharraf regime.

A fashion show being held at a Karachi hotel in 2003: In the first five years of his dictatorship, Musharraf managed to inject a sense of stability. Ethnic violence greatly receded, the economy bolstered, and neo-liberal capitalist manoeuvres strengthened the economic status of the middle-classes.

Karachi’s Seaview area in 2004.

The mall by the sea: The city’s largest shopping area, the Dolmen Mall, began being built during the Musharraf regime.

Karachi’s massive Bin Qasim Park was completed during the Musharraf era.

The Karachi Stock Exchange: During the first five years of the Musharraf regime, Karachiites were doing more business.

MQM’s Mustafa Kamal: As Mayor of Karachi during the Musharraf regime, he was largely successful in not only launching numerous developmental and recreational projects in the city, but also turned Karachi into a vibrant city once again.

The bubble bursts

Karachi, May 12, 2007: Body of a young man lies on a road. He was one of the many who died during clashes between MQM, PPP and ANP militants during Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s aborted visit to Karachi. By 2007, the upbeat economic and cultural disposition of the Musharraf regime and its achievements began to steadily crumble due to the gradual erosion and rollback of the economy. In 2007, this polarisation came out with a force when the economy began to fold and a wave of angry religious conservatism began to sweep the country. The regime came under attack from two sides: A powerful political movement (‘Lawyers Movement’) and the private media outlets on the one side, and a more violent and assertive brand of religious extremism on the other. The MQM did not support the anti-Musharraf movement.

The aftermath of a suicide bomb blast that targeted the procession accompanying Benazir Bhutto on Karachi’s Karsaz Road (2007). Dozens were killed in the carnage. Though Benazir survived the attack, she was finally taken out by terrorists in December 2007 in Rawalpindi. The Karsaz attack was also one of the first clear signs that banned extremists/sectarian organisations had begun to use Karachi as a base of their operations.

MQM supporters celebrate MQM’s victory in Karachi during the 2008 election. The party formed a coalition government with PPP and ANP in the centre and Sindh.

Hell on Earth?

When the MQM was regenerating itself during the Musharraf regime, it did not completely dismantle its problematic wings – despite the fact that the party’s appeal began to cut across all ethnic groups in Karachi during Kamal’s mayorship.

However, by 2008, the growth in the city’s Pakhtun population managed to give the Pakhtun nationalist party, the ANP, a greater sense of power in Karachi. To ward off the perceived threat from MQM and the growing tussle between the city’s Mohajir and Pakhtun communities over Karachi’s economic resources, ANP too decided to compete with the MQM at its own game.

The PPP, the third major political power in the city already had violent elements in its midst and even though all three parties were in a coalition government, they often fought for political and economic control of Karachi. Many members of the parties’ wings also began getting involved in major crimes, so much so that it became tough for even their party bosses to rein them in.

The PPP tried to dismantle its wing but by then the wing had already gotten embroiled in the vicious ‘gang wars’ in Lyari. The gangs got involved in drug and gun running, kidnappings, theft, muggings and ‘target killing.’ They often fought one another and the police.

ANP’s wing was wiped out along with the party in the areas where they enjoyed influence. This was not done by MQM or PPP, but by various groups of extremist and sectarian outfits that had begun to establish themselves in Karachi from 2009 onwards. They right away got involved in the many illegal activities and crimes that witnessed a dramatic increase, making Karachi one of the most crime-infested city in South Asia …

ANP’s Shahi Syed being welcomed by ANP supporters outside Karachi’s Jinnah Airport. Syed and ANP enjoyed a brief rise to power in Karachi after the 2008 election but was brutally cut to size by various extremist organisations that began to infiltrate the Pakhtun-dominated areas of the city.

Rangers get hold of a trouble-maker in Lyari – an area plagued by poverty and violent ‘gang wars.’ Though Lyari is a PPP strong-hold, action here was approved by the PPP regime in Sindh.

Fire rages from a naval base in Karachi that was attacked by extremists in 2012.

A Ranger’s van patrol one of Karachi’s many sensitive areas.

Hoping for a better tomorrow: Women waiting to cast their vote in Karachi during the 2013 election.

This article is about the city of Karachi. For other uses, see Karachi (disambiguation).


Clockwise from top: The tomb of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Frere Hall, a view of I. I. Chundrigar Road, the Karachi Port Trust Building, the Mohatta Palace, Port of Karachi

Nickname(s): City of the Quaid, Paris of Asia,[2][3] The City of Lights,[2] Bride of the Cities[4]


Location in Pakistan

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Karachi (Pakistan)

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Karachi (Asia)

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Karachi (Earth)

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Coordinates: 24°51′36″N67°0′36″E / 24.86000°N 67.01000°E / 24.86000; 67.01000Coordinates: 24°51′36″N67°0′36″E / 24.86000°N 67.01000°E / 24.86000; 67.01000
Metropolitan Corporation2011
City CouncilCity Complex, Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town
 • TypeMetropolitan City
 • Mayor of KarachiWaseem Akhtar
 • Deputy Mayor of KarachiArshad Vohra
 • Total3,780 km2 (1,460 sq mi)
Elevation8 m (26 ft)
Population (2017 Census)[10]
 • Total14,910,352[6] (provisional)
 • Rank1st in Pakistan
Time zonePKT (UTC+05:00)
Postal codes74XXX – 75XXX
Dialing code+9221-XXXX XXXX
GDP/PPP$113 billion (2014)[11]
HDI0.69 [12]
HDI CategoryMedium

Karachi (Urdu: کراچی‬‎; ALA-LC: Karācī, IPA: [kəˈraːtʃi] ( listen); Sindhi: ڪراچي‎) is the capital of the Pakistani province of Sindh. It is the most populous city in Pakistan,[13][14] and third most populous city proper in the world.[15][16] Ranked as a beta world city,[17][18] the city is Pakistan's premier industrial and financial centre.[19] Karachi is also Pakistan's most cosmopolitan city.[20] Situated on the Arabian Sea, Karachi serves as a transport hub, and is home to two of Pakistan's two largest seaports, the Port of Karachi and Port Bin Qasim, as well as the busiest airport in Pakistan.

Though the Karachi region has been inhabited for millennia,[21] the city was founded as the fortified village of Kolachi[22] in 1729.[23] The settlement drastically increased in importance with the arrival of British East India company in the mid 19th century, who not only embarked on major works to transform the city into a major seaport, but also connected it with their extensive railway network.[22] By the time of the Partition of British India, the city was the largest in Sindh with an estimated population of 400,000.[20] Following the independence of Pakistan, the city's population increased dramatically with the arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim refugees from India.[24] The city experienced rapid economic growth following independence, attracting migrants from throughout Pakistan and South Asia.[25]

Karachi is one of Pakistan's most secular and socially liberal cities.[26][27][28] It is also the most linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse city in Pakistan.[20] With a population of 14.9 million recorded in the 2017 Census of Pakistan,[6] Karachi is the world's 12th most populous metropolitan area.[29][30] Karachi is one of the world's fastest growing cities,[31] and has communities representing almost every ethnic group in Pakistan. Karachi is home to over 2 million Bangladeshi immigrants, 1 million Afghan refugees, and up to 400,000 Rohingyas from Myanmar.[32][33][34]

Karachi is now Pakistan's premier industrial and financial centre. The city has a formal economy estimated to be worth $113 billion as of 2014[update].[35] Karachi collects over a third of Pakistan's tax revenue,[36] and generates approximately 20% of Pakistan's GDP.[37][38] Approximately 30% of Pakistani industrial output is from Karachi,[39] while Karachi's ports handle approximately 95% of Pakistan's foreign trade.[40] Approximately 90% of the multinational corporations operating in Pakistan are headquartered in Karachi.[40] Up to 70% of Karachi's workforce is employed in the informal economy,[41] which is typically not included in GDP calculations.[42]

Known as the "City of Lights" in the 1960s and 1970s for its vibrant nightlife,[43] Karachi was beset by sharp ethnic, sectarian, and political conflict in the 1980s with the arrival of weaponry during the Soviet–Afghan War.[44] The city had become well known for its high rates of violent crime, but recorded crimes sharply decreased following a controversial crackdown operation against criminals, the MQM political party, and Islamist militants initiated in 2013 by the Pakistan Rangers.[45] The city's murder rate in 2015 had decreased by 75% compared to 2013, and kidnappings decreased by 90%,[46] with the improved security environment triggering sharp increases in real-estate prices.[47]


Karachi was reputedly founded in 1729 as the settlement of Kolachi.[23] The new settlement is said to have been named in honour of Mai Kolachi, whose son is said to have slain a man-eating crocodile in the village after his elder brothers had already been killed by it.[23]

The city's inhabitants are referred to by the demonymKarachiite in English, and Karāchīwālā in Urdu.


Main articles: History of Karachi and Timeline of Karachi history

Early history

Late Palaeolithic and Mesolithic sites discovered by a team from Karachi University on the Mulri Hills constitute one of the most important archaeological discoveries made in Sindh during the last 50 years. The earliest inhabitants of the Karachi region are believed to have been hunter-gatherers, with ancient flint tools discovered at several sites. A sea port called Barbarikon by the Greeks was situated in Karachi.

The Karachi region is believed to have been known to the ancient Greeks. The region may be the site of Krokola, where Alexander the Great once camped to prepare a fleet for Babylonia, as well as Morontobara which may possibly be Karachi's Manora neighbourhood.

In 711 CE, Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the Sindh and Indus Valley. The Karachi region is believed to have been known to the Arabs as Debal, from where Muhammad Bin Qasim launched his forces into South Asia in 712 C.E.[48]

Under Mirza Ghazi Beg, the Mughal administrator of Sindh, the development of coastal Sindh and the Indus delta was encouraged. Under his rule, fortifications in the region acted as a bulwark against Portuguese incursions into Sindh. The Ottomanadmiral, Seydi Ali Reis, mentioned Debal and Manora Island in his book Mir'ât ül Memâlik in 1554.

Kolachi settlement

Karachi was founded in 1729 as the settlement of Kolachi under the rule of the ethnically Baloch Talpur Mirs of Sindh.[23] The founders of the settlement are said to arrived from the nearby town of Karak Bandar after the harbour there silted in 1728 after heavy rains. The settlement was fortified, and defended with cannons imported by Sindhi sailors from Muscat, Oman. The name Karachee was used for the first time in a Dutch document from 1742, in which a merchant ship de Ridderkerk is shipwrecked near the original settlement.[49][50] The city continued to be ruled by the Talpur Mirs until it was occupied by forces under the command of John Keane in February 1839.

British Raj

The British East India Company captured Karachi on 3 February 1839 after the HMS Wellesley opened fire and quickly destroyed the local mud fort at Manora.[52] The town was annexed to British India in 1843 after Sindh was captured by Major General Charles James Napier in the Battle of Miani, with the city declared capital of the new British province.

The city was recognized for its strategic importance, prompting the British to establish the Port of Karachi in 1854. Karachi rapidly became a transportation hub for British India owing to newly built port and rail infrastructure, as well as the increase in agricultural exports from the opening of productive tracts of newly irrigated land in Punjab and interior Sindh.[53] The British also developed the Karachi Cantonment as a military garrison in order to aid the British war effort in the First Anglo-Afghan War.[54]

During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the 21st Native Infantry, then stationed in Karachi, mutinied and declared allegiance to rebel forces in September 1857, though the British were able to quickly defeat the rebels and reassert control over the city. Following the Rebellion, British colonial administrators continued to develop the city. In 1864, the first telegraphic message was sent from South Asia to England from Karachi.[55] Public building works were undertaken, including the construction of Frere Hall in 1865 and the later Empress Market. In 1878, the British Raj connected Karachi with the network of British India's vast railway system.

By 1899, Karachi had become the largest wheat-exporting port in the East.[56] British development projects in Karachi resulted in an influx of economic migrants from several ethnicities and religions, including Anglo-British, Parsis, Marathis, and Goan Christians, among others. Karachi's newly arrived Jewish population established the city's first synagogue in 1893.[57]Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born in Karachi's Wazir Mansion in 1876 to migrants from Gujarat. By the end of the 19th century, Karachi's population was estimated to be 105,000.[58]

Under British rule, the city's municipal government was established. Known as the Father of Modern Karachi, mayor Seth Harchandrai Vishandas led the municipal government to improve sanitary conditions in the Old City, as well as major infrastructure works in the New Town after his election in 1911.[2]


At the dawn of Pakistan's independence in 1947, Karachi was Sindh's largest city with a population of over 400,000.[20] Despite communal violence across India and Pakistan, Karachi remained relatively peaceful compared to cities further north in Punjab.[2] The city became the focus for the resettlement of MuslimMuhajirs migrating from India, leading to a dramatic expansion of the city's population. This migration lasted until the 1960s.[59] This immigration ultimately transformed the city's demographics and economy.

Karachi was selected as the first capital of Pakistan and served as such until the capital was shifted to Rawalpindi in 1958.[60] While foreign embassies shifted away from Karachi, the city is host to numerous consulates and honorary consulates.[61] Between 1958 and 1970, Karachi's role as capital of Sindh was ceased due to the One Unit programme enacted by President Iskander Mirza.[2]

Karachi of the 1960s was regarded as an economic role model around the world, with Seoul, South Korea borrowing from the city's second "Five-Year Plan."[62][63] The 1970s saw major labour struggles in Karachi's industrial estates. The 1980s and 1990s saw an influx of thousands of Afghan refugees from the Soviet war in Afghanistan into Karachi; who were in turn followed in smaller numbers by refugees escaping from post-revolution Iran.[64]

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, Karachi was rocked by political and conflict, while crime rates drastically increased with the arrival of weaponry from the War in Afghanistan.[44] Conflict between the MQM party, and ethnic Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Punjabis was sharp. The party and its vast network of supporters were targeted by Pakistani security forces as part of the controversial Operation Clean-up in 1992 – an effort to restore peace in the city that lasted until 1994.[65] Anti-Hindu riots also broke out in Karachi in 1992 in retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India by a group of Hindu nationalists earlier that year.[66] Karachi had become widely known for its high rates of violent crime, but recorded crimes sharply decreased following a controversial crackdown operation against criminals, the MQM party, and Islamist militants initiated in 2013 by the Pakistan Rangers.[45]


Main articles: Geography of Karachi and Environment of Karachi

Karachi is located on the coastline of Sindh province in southern Pakistan, along a natural harbour on the Arabian Sea. Karachi is built on a coastal plains with scattered rocky outcroppings, hills and coastal marshlands. Coastal mangrove forests grow in the brackish waters around the Karachi Harbour, and farther southeast towards the expansive Indus River Delta. West of Karachi city is the Cape Monze, locally known as Ras Muari, which is an area characterised by sea cliffs, rocky sandstone promontories and undeveloped beaches.

Within the city of Karachi are two small ranges: the Khasa Hills and Mulri Hills, which lie in the northwest and act as a barrier between North Nazimabad Town and Orangi Town.[67] Karachi's hills are barren and are part of the larger Kirthar Range, and have a maximum elevation of 528 metres (1,732 feet).

Between the hills are wide coastal plains interspersed with dry river beds and water channels. Karachi has developed around the Malir River and Lyari Rivers, with the Lyari shore being the site of the settlement for Kolachi. To the west of Karachi lies the Indus River flood plain.[68]


Main article: Climate of Karachi

Karachi has an arid climate (Köppen: BWh) dominated by a long "Summer Season" while moderated by oceanic influence from the Arabian Sea. The city has low annual average precipitation levels (approx. 250 mm (9.8 in) per annum), the bulk of which occurs during the July–August monsoon season. While the summers are hot and humid, cool sea breezes typically provide relief during hot summer months, though Karachi is prone to deadly heat waves,[69] though a text-message based early warning system is now in place that helped prevent any fatalities during an unusually strong heatwave in October 2017.[70] The winter climate is dry and lasts between December and February. It is dry and pleasant relative to the warm hot season, which starts in March and lasts until monsoons arrive in June. Proximity to the sea maintains humidity levels at near-constant levels year-round.

The city's highest monthly rainfall, 429.3 mm (16.90 in), occurred in July 1967.[71] The city's highest rainfall in 24 hours occurred on 7 August 1953, when about 278.1 millimetres (10.95 in) of rain lashed the city, resulting in major flooding.[72] Karachi's highest recorded temperature is 48 °C (118 °F) which was recorded on 9 May 1938,[73] and the lowest is 0 °C (32 °F) recorded on 21 January 1934.[71]

Climate data for Karachi
Record high °C (°F)32.8
Average high °C (°F)25.8
Daily mean °C (°F)18.1
Average low °C (°F)10.4
Record low °C (°F)0.0
Average rainfall mm (inches)6.0
Mean monthly sunshine hours270.7249.4271.6277.4299.1231.8155.0147.7218.8283.5273.3272.02,950.3
Source #1: NOAA[74]
Source #2: PMD (extremes)[75]


The city first developed around the Karachi Harbour, and owes much of its growth to its role as a seaport at the end of the 18th century,[76] contrasted with Pakistan's millennia-old cities such as Lahore, Multan, and Peshawar. Karachi's Mithadar neighbourhood represents the extent of Kolachi prior to British rule.

British Karachi was divided between the "New Town" and the "Old Town," with British investments focused primarily in the New Town.[54] The Old Town was a largely unplanned neighbourhood which housed most of the city's indigenous residents, and had no access to sewerage systems, electricity, and water.[54] The New Town was subdivided into residential, commercial, and military areas.[54] Given the strategic value of the city, the British developed the Karachi Cantonment as a military garrison in the New Town in order to aid the British war effort in the First Anglo-Afghan War.[54]

The city's development was largely confined to the area north of the Chinna Creek prior to independence, although the seaside area of Clifton was also developed as a posh locale under the British, and its large bungalows and estates remain some of the city's most desirable properties. The aforementioned historic areas form the oldest portions of Karachi, and contain its most important monuments and government buildings, with the I. I. Chundrigar Road being home to most of Pakistan's banks, including the Habib Bank Plaza which was Pakistan's tallest building from 1963 until the early 2000s.[2]

Situated on a coastal plain northwest of Karachi's historic core lies the sprawling district of Orangi Town. North of the historic core is the largely middle-class district of Nazimabad, and upper-middle class North Nazimabad, which were developed in the 1950s. To the east of the historic core is the area known as Defence – an expansive upscale suburb developed and administered by the Pakistan Army. Karachi's coastal plains along the Arabian Sea south of Clifton were also developed much later as part of the greater Defence Housing Authority project.

Karachi's city limits also include several islands, including Baba and Bhit Islands, Oyster Rocks, and Manora, a former island which is now connected to the mainland by a thin 12 kilometre long shoal known as Sandspit. The city has been described as one divided into sections for those able to afford to live in planned localities with access to urban amenities, and those who live in unplanned communities with inadequate access to such services.[77] Up to 60% of Karachi's residents live in such unplanned communities.[77]


Main article: Economy of Karachi

Karachi is Pakistan's financial and commercial capital.[78] Since Pakistan's independence, Karachi has been the centre of the nation's economy, and remain's Pakistan's largest urban economy despite the economic stagnation caused by sociopolitical unrest during the late 1980s and 1990s. The city forms the centre of an economic corridor stretching from Karachi to nearby Hyderabad, and Thatta.[79]

With an estimated GDP of $113 billion as of 2014[update],[35] Karachi contributes the bulk of Sindh's gross domestic product.[80][81][82][83] The city's competitiveness has declined relative to other Pakistani cities on account of poor infrastructure, corruption, and political instability.[79]

Following a controversial crackdown operation against criminals initiated in 2013 by the Pakistan Rangers,[45] crime rates have dramatically fallen in the city,[46] triggering sharp increases in real-estate prices.[47] In addition to increased land values, upmarket restaurants and cafés are described by Reuters as "overflowing."[84]


Karachi accounts for approximately 20% of the total GDP of Pakistan.[37][38] The city has a large informal economy which is not typically reflected in GDP estimates.[85] The informal economy may constitute up to 36% of Pakistan's total economy, versus 22% of India's economy, and 13% of the Chinese economy.[86] The informal sector employs up to 70% of the city's workforce.[41] An estimated 63% of the city's workforce is employed in trade and manufacturing.[79]

Finance and Banking

Most of Pakistan's public and private banks are headquartered on Karachi's I. I. Chundrigar Road, which is known as "Pakistan's Wall Street",[2] with a large percentage of the cashflow in the Pakistani economy taking place on I. I. Chundrigar Road. Most major foreign multinational corporations operating in Pakistan have their headquarters in Karachi. Karachi is also home to the Pakistan Stock Exchange, which was rated as Asia's best performing stock market in 2015 on the heels of Pakistan's upgrade to emerging-market status by MSCI.[87]

Media and Technology

Main articles: Media in Karachi, Cinema in Karachi, List of television stations in Karachi, List of magazines in Karachi, and List of newspapers in Karachi

Karachi has been the pioneer in cable networking in Pakistan with the most sophisticated of the cable networks of any city of Pakistan, and has seen an expansion of information and communications technology and electronic media. The city has become a software outsourcing hub for Pakistan.[citation needed] Several independent television and radio stations are based in Karachi, including Business Plus, AAJ News, Geo TV, KTN,[89]Sindh TV,[90]CNBC Pakistan, TV ONE, Express TV,[91]ARY Digital, Indus Television Network, Samaa TV, Abb Tak, BoL TV, and Dawn News, as well as several local stations.


Industry contributes a large portion of Karachi's economy, with the city home to several of Pakistan's largest companies dealing in textiles, cement, steel, heavy machinery, chemicals, and food products.[92] The city is home to approximately 30 percent of Pakistan's manufacturing sector,[39] and produces approximately 42 percent of Pakistan's value added in large scale manufacturing.[93] At least 4500 industrial units form Karachi's formal industrial economy.[94] Karachi's informal manufacturing sector employs far more people than the formal sector, though proxy data suggest that the capital employed and value added from such informal enterprises is far smaller than that offormal sector enterprises.[95]

Karachi Export Processing Zone, SITE, Korangi, Northern Bypass Industrial Zone, Bin Qasim and North Karachi serve as large industrial estates in Karachi.[96] The Karachi Expo Centre also complements Karachi's industrial economy by hosting regional and international exhibitions.[97]

Revenue collection

As home to Pakistan's largest ports and a large portion of its manufacturing base, Karachi contributes a large share of Pakistan's collected tax revenue. As most of Pakistan's large multinational corporations are based in Karachi, income taxes are paid in the city even though income may be generated from other parts of the country.[109] As home to the country's two largest ports, Pakistani customs officials collect the bulk of federal duty and tariffs at Karachi's ports, even if those imports are destined for one of Pakistan's other provinces.[110] Approximately 25% of Pakistan's national revenue is generated in Karachi.[37]

According to the Federal Board of Revenue's 2006–2007 year book, tax and customs units in Karachi were responsible for 46.75% of direct taxes, 33.65% of federal excise tax, and 23.38% of domestic sales tax.[111] Karachi accounts for 75.14% of customs duty and 79% of sales tax on imports,[111] and collects 53.38% of the total collections of the Federal Board of Revenue, of which 53.33% are customs duty and sales tax on imports.[111][112]


Main articles: Demographics of Karachi, Ethnic groups in Karachi, and Religion in Karachi

The 15th–18th century Chaukhandi tombs are located 29 km (18 mi) east of Karachi.
The former State Bank of Pakistan building was built during the colonial era.
Karachi Port Trust building
Satellite view of Karachi
The Arabian Sea influences Karachi's climate, providing the city with more moderate temperatures compared to interior Sindh province.
Central Karachi features several buildings dating from the colonial era.
A nighttime view of Karachi's posh seaside locality of Clifton.
Much of Karachi's skyline is decentralized, with some growth in traditionally suburban areas.
Karachi's financial heart is centered on I. I. Chundrigar Road


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