By Farahnaz ZahidiPublished: January 11, 2014
“Karachi is going back to tribalism,” said Dr Irsan. PHOTO MOHAMMAD SAQIB/EXPRESS/FILE
Karachi’s is a “Hobbesian society” declared Dr Manzoor Irsan of the Shaheed Zulfikar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology at the South Asian Cities Conference on Friday.
“No arts; no letters; no society; and which is worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death: and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short.” This terribly apt reference to philosopher Thomas Hobbes, the architect of social contract theory, surely carried a double meaning for the academics and their audience as it came a day after one of Karachi’s toughest crime-fighters was killed in a bomb attack. Indeed, crime was on their minds as the thinkers also pored over demographic transitions, bulging populations and infrastructure solutions for the throbbing metropolis that is Karachi.
The session titled “Urban Institutional Development & Governance” kicked off with Peter Ellis, a lead economist at the World Bank, sharing his experience of Indonesia’s urbanization and its implications for Pakistan. With 54 per cent of Indonesia’s population now in urban areas, the similarities between Karachi and Jakarta are jarring. But there are lessons to learn as well, as Indonesia has seen that districts with better connectivity show higher income growth.
In contrast was Dr Irsan’s presentation whose disgruntled tone was obvious from its title: “Karachi: The administrative black hole of Pakistan”. In his opinion, politics shape institutions, and unless the politics of any city is cleansed of ethnicity and sectarianism, cities and life in them cannot improve. “Karachi is going back to tribalism. If this continues, people like you and me will escape, because humans need peace to thrive,” he said. “Extractive societies like Karachi’s don’t grow. Karachi is stuck in a Malthusian trap.” (Roughly put, it is the idea that gains in income per person through technological advances are inevitably lost through subsequent population growth.)
Other speakers such as Shahnaz Arshad, a senior urban specialist with the World Bank, focused on incentives to improve local governance performance for municipal service delivery. Urban planner Farhan Anwar spoke of “Visioning a sustainable City Karachi: Landmarks for a new urban governance construct”.
Perhaps the most fascinating part of the session came from research associate Adil Sohail from Iqra University who talked about E-governance through enterprise resource planning. He explained ‘electronic governance’ as the use of information and communication technologies to enhance governance. His solution-oriented approach described phases of implementing E-governance models and ways in which they can facilitate local bodies in particular.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 11th, 2014.