Who suffers more?

By Zubeida Mustafa

ANALYSING the anatomy of violence in Karachi, Kaiser Bengali, a former adviser to the Sindh chief minister, wrote in this paper (Sept 8) about the breakdown of the social contract in the city.

He defines this as the essential, implicit agreement between all interest groups on the broad contours of governance. On the basis of this, all societies function, he writes.

Kaiser Bengali is spot on. He lists demographic changes, joblessness of the Lyari youth and the rise of religious militancy as the major battlefronts of the war resulting from the end of the social contract.

There is another overarching factor that cannot be ignored. It is the ‘rich-poor divide’ which casts its shadow over all other features of Karachi life. It was well highlighted by M.M.A Hossain in a letter to the editor in this newspaper the same day (Sept 8). The writer very succinctly describes how the rich are buying security for themselves by getting bullet-proof cars, armed guards and secure houses and may ultimately start living inside walled compounds — some of which already exist.

The phenomenon Mr Hossain describes is actually the real cause of the breakdown of the social contract Kaiser Bengali writes about. The fact of the matter is that ours is a heavily stratified society and the gap between the haves and the have-nots has been growing over the years. Neither of the stakeholders who are supposedly parties to the social contract have made a genuine effort to bridge this gap.

The rich-poor divide marks every group interest that exists in Karachi. Be they political parties, ethnic communities or religious parties, each of them comprises members of the haves who hold leadership positions and have the privilege of decision-making and the have-nots who are deprived and underprivileged. None of these interest groups have tried to improve the status of the underdogs in their own group.

They use the numerical strength of their have-not followers to strengthen their own hands to bargain with their competitors. Since the underprivileged inherently have no capacity and power to win their rights to life, employment and shelter, they seek the protection of the privileged of their own community. This leads to further fragmentation of society by strengthening the various groups whose members tend to cluster together.

Since the wealthy class within each group can buy all services they need from the private sector they do not need the kind of social contract Mr Bengali talks about. They can also interact on the social level with members of the other groups and parties quite amicably.

Emulating the rich of their group, the underprivileged adopt similar tactics and use their connections with the rich and the powerful to exploit those who are below them in the hierarchy of power. How this is done has been described vividly and effectively by Katherine Boo in her book Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death and Hope for a Mumbai Undercity.

Karachi is in the grip of a turf war the victims of which are generally the poor. That doesn’t mean that the rich have not been killed. But their numbers have been far less. The discriminatory treatment meted out to the oppressed of Karachi has cut across all party lines.

Here I would like to take up the case of education which is the key factor in the political, economic and social empowerment of people. The leadership of every group interest has worked hard to ensure that good education does not reach the common man. Who doesn’t know that education of the right kind is an equaliser? It opens the doors to unlimited opportunities and makes jobs easily accessible. Education planned and delivered with vision also creates social capital — that is, it produces citizens who work collectively and have the capacity to cooperate for a common cause. Unfortunately this kind of education is not what is provided to the common man of any party or group.

The public sector that is the biggest provider of education — though its role has been shrinking in Karachi — has failed miserably in its performance. Since the children of policymakers do not study in government schools there is no effort by them to frame effective education policies and actually implement them. This is most regrettable since all the major interest groups in Karachi have been in the government at one point or another.

Realising the importance of paper degrees, many have openly facilitated resort to unfair practices in examinations without bothering to understand how they have damaged the character and learning potential of their younger generations.

In spite of all the violence that is ripping Karachi apart, the city’s economic and social resilience helps it sustain its position as the industrial and commercial hub of the country that generates 68pc of the revenues collected in the country, as claimed by the president of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry. It is unlikely that this rosy situation can continue for long if violence is not checked.

The social contract that is the need of the hour has to be put together again. But it must be underwritten specifically by a commitment to reduce inequity in society and a pledge to undertake plans to provide quality education for all children. Until this is actually done, any military operation in Karachi or de-weaponisation plan will bring temporary respite from violence. What we need is a permanent solution.

Source: Dawn

6 thoughts on “Who suffers more?

  1. …agree completely!!…we need 'equalizing' reforms in the education & health sectors immediately!

  2. excellent analysis, although in such times real issues get transmogrified
    into reactionary concerns about cultural identity.
    badri raina

  3. PPP instead of giving 25,000 jobs to Lyari youth gave 50,000 arms. Karachi's need the following :- (1) No further housing projects, (2) complete clean up of encroachment as one of the biggest source of "batha." (3) immediate revival of circular railway instead of going back to Mass Transit (project which will never be completed). (4) Major police reformed and making Karachi traffic police on the pattern of Motorway police. (5) Immediate registration of people living in Katchi Abadis and banned on any such abadies. (5) Speedy trial court from lower to superior and completion of cases and appeal within six months (6) Heavy punishment for keeping illegal weapons up to 14 years and banned on display of legal or illegal arms. (7) Setting up Public Safety Commission. (8) Karachi must be under one Civic agency and Mayor or City Nazim should have control and authority of the city like any other metropolitan cities around the world. Here we have at least 13 civic agencies and Mayor only control 30 per cent. All this can be followed by targeted action throughout Sindh. PPP had the chance in five years but failed in evening doing the basic. Mazhar

    1. Bengali and other prominent Pakistanis who willingly become advisors or ministers lose their credibility as sincere activists. Moreover, when it comes to Karachi he readily includes the variables of poverty and inequality in his analysis. However, when he examines the situation in Afghanistan, he selectively ignore these variables. Please watch the film "Rethink Afghanistan" so that you can see the other side of the picture. It is the unequal distribution of resources among different socioeconomic groups in Afghanistan, exacerbated by American imperialism which is causing suffering and militancy among the Afghan people, particularly women. So just Taliban hunting and Pashtun bashing will not advance equity and women's rights. If Kaiser Bengali really wants to bring about change he has to change his social circle and do something practical, as opposed to writing coherent articles and reports in English (the language of imperialism all over the world). Same goes for the various women's rights organizations run by elite women in Pakistan. –Zoya Saeedy

  4. Kaiser Bengali is a member of the "HAVE" group, not the "HAVE-NOT." The proof is in the fact that he was holding the elite position of "Adviser to the Chief Minister." What good is his analysis if he has not taken any action to reduce the inequity in Karachi? What good is his well-written piece if he is actively socializing with the (English speaking) elite of the country who have damaged the cause of equity in Karachi? Library stacks around the world are full of analytical material on inequity. There is no dearth of scientific research on the political and social unrest in Karachi. Bengali and other prominent Pakistanis who willingly become advisors or ministers lose their credibility as sincere activists. Moreover, when it comes to Karachi he readily includes the variables of poverty and inequality in his analysis. However, when he examines the situation in Afghanistan, he selectively ignore these variables. Please watch the film "Rethink Afghanistan" so that you can see the other side of the picture. –Zoya Saeedy

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