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A grim tale of two cities



It is difficult to compare apples to oranges but one must start somewhere. It seems that Karachi and Lahore, two of Pakistan's largest cities, are located in two separate countries. One city seems to be moving ahead at a rapid pace and another going back to the Stone Age.

Karachi is the capital of PPP-ruled Sindh province while Lahore is the capital of PML-N dominated Punjab. Despite the fact that Karachi pays almost three times the amount paid by Lahore in municipal taxes, there is little to show for this. The city is in a mess. In contrast, Lahore seems to be going places. Chief minister Shahbaz Sharif is changing the face of Lahore for the better. The city is soon to see a state of the art rapid urban transport system, one of several initiatives launched by the Punjab government.
Lahore is a beautiful city. It is green. It has parks and playgrounds. The streets are clean. Crime is low. Industry and commerce are flourishing. Law and order is under control.

Traffic is controlled and orderly. Education, transport and health have seen major improvements in the past five years. The city's administration is keen to improve the lives of people and the Chief Minister takes personal interest in public welfare projects.
Now let us compare this with Karachi. Much of the city has been encroached. Not only parks and playgrounds, now even public schools. Recently we saw the provincial government selling off a city school for a marriage hall. The government remained unshaken.

So bad is Karachi's transport system, which is run by private operators, that it is a common sight to see people sitting on top of buses. Hospitals and schools have been run into the ground. Corruption is rampant. Accountability, nil.

Law and order needs a separate chapter. The police is not in anyone's control. It is a business empire of its own. Home ministers who tried to interfere were removed.
The Sindh CM now looks after the home department himself. The police receive more bhatta in Karachi than all others combined.

Bhatta is a special feature of Karachi. Nowhere else in Pakistan are parchis sent with such flourish. No one is spared. Even schools and hospitals are also issued parchis. The government expresses its helplessness at controlling this.

The Quaid's city seems to be a source of unending revenue for everyone. Traffic police earns millions daily. This is done by allowing all sorts of public transport and vehicles on the roads under a token system racket. The resultant deaths in traffic accidents by over-speeding buses and dumper trucks are almost never followed up.

Billions are spent in Sindh on law and order. We have the police and the Rangers. But in the same city, men riding on motorcycles in clear view of the law enforcers shoot and kill people and calmly walk away. Thousands are mugged every month. The city's crime is at a record high. And there are fears that with elections approaching, things will get worse.
Kidnapping is a cottage industry here. Almost everyone has joined the bandwagon. And yet nothing seems to move the Sindh chief minister who lives in a state of self-denial. His only response has been to pay known personalities to appear on TV and praise his government. The bill footed by the taxpayer.

In January only, almost 20 days went to holidays or strikes. Billions were lost by industry. Valuable lives were taken. The police did nothing. A large percentage is tied up in VIP duty. Much of the government's resources are at the personal disposal of the ministers and government bureaucrats. So petty is the thinking of this government which claims that it is working for the good of the country that it ousted an efficient and popular city government only so that its own ministers could make money on kickbacks. The present city administrator, an unelected official appointed by a party that prides itself in its democratic credentials, has even sold the city's pavements to commercial interests. Almost no major project has been undertaken by him except for building security details around the houses of VIPs.

One can only hope for Karachi's future. Every time people make fun of Shahbaz Sharif, one is tempted to offer an exchange of chief ministers. It'll change Karachi's prospects for sure.


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