A friend of mine referred to me a great series conducted by National Public Radio [NPR] this week. Entitled, “The Urban Frontier: Karachi,” Steve Inskeep, from NPR’s Morning Edition, aims to introduce people who are trying to reinvent one of Pakistan’s historic cities. NPR noted about Karachi, “It is a place where so many people live that population estimates run anywhere from 12 million to 18 million – all of them working for their piece of real estate in this seaport city. Yesterday, Inskeep profiled Syed Mustafa Kamal, the mayor of Karachi [otherwise known as the City Nazim]. According to the NPR show:
[Kamal] says he wants to reshape his sprawling, dirty city once known for its green, leafy parks. Since the population exploded, it has become better known for neighborhoods that stretch for miles in every direction. To do so, he must overcome a legacy of bad government – and violence.
Kamal first took office in 2006, after serving as Information Technology minister with the Sindh provincial government. Although he is relatively young, [he is 36 years old], he has been associated with the Muttahida Qaumi Movement [MQM], the most influential political party in Sindh, for over a decade, [see our past profiles on Pakistani political parties for more information]. According to Inskeep, when Kamal took office, he says “he warned his staff that ordinary Karachi residents believed that officials – themselves included – were corrupt.” He told NPR, “We have to show by our actions to the people of Karachi that we care for them.” As a result, Kamal ordered the city to speed up the construction of roads and bridges, so that now, 600 new cars hit the Karachi roads each day.
Moreover, Inskeep says that Kamal wants Karachi to be a model for development, noting the he is “cutting and pasting” ideas from around the world. NPR noted,
For example, rains often flood Karachi’s streets during the monsoon season. So the mayor went around London videotaping storm drains. Trash is also an issue in a place as dense as Karachi – “My city is a dirty city, it’s not clean. Garbage is the main problem,” Kamal says – so he studied the way it is collected in Shanghai, China, and plans to implement a similar system this summer.
Although Karachi has a history of political violence, NPR noted that efforts like these are positive steps to help fix one of the world’s most crowded cities. While I am not technically a Karachiite, (my father is from Karachi, but I grew up in Islamabad), I do feel that such stories are refreshing given the oft-negative imagery of Pakistan in the media. Although the main purpose of CHUP is to raise awareness on the issues affecting Pakistan, it is also to highlight and emphasize the positive aspects of society in order to break the polarizing, black-and-white depictions of our country. NPR has since interviewed Amber Alibhai, a public interest lawyer, Ardeshir Cowasjee, the columnist for Dawn newspaper, and Fatima Bhutto, the niece of the late Benazir Bhutto. Visit the series homepage for more details. [Image from NPR]