Karachi: Fast Track Transformation into a World Class City
By Pervaiz Lodhie
New Shopping Center
Normally, I write about my trip to Pakistan several days after the visit, but what I saw during my two weeks in Karachi this month was so soul-stirring and inspiring that I hastily wrote about the tour on my flight back to Los Angeles.
Although primarily there to oversee progress at Shaan Technologies, my labor-intensive assembly facility, I got the unique opportunity to be an International Election Observer, visiting nearly all parts of Karachi, from Malir to Denso Hall. This experience has greatly buoyed my optimism and hopes for the developing city of Karachi, and Pakistan.
New Office Buildings
Since I was going to be in the country during the historic 2008 Pakistan elections, the Government of Pakistan Foreign Office asked me to be an International Election Observer (IEO), and I gladly accepted the wonderful prospect. Karachi had received much negative global press due to a few disconcerting incidents, and word was spread that it was not safe to be in Karachi during and after the election. However, as an IEO anxious to dispel misleading media reports, I went to ten polling stations throughout Karachi on the election day, staying on at the last polling station till the final count for the National Assembly votes. With me at the last polling station was the Japanese Consul General. Curiously, I did not come across any other American IEOs.
An overhead bridge with the message 'Bringing the Internet Revolution to Pakistan
I was pleasantly surprised by the efficiency, organization, and professionalism with which the polling stations were set up. These conditions reinforced my belief that the Western media has been largely creating a negative image of events and happenings in Pakistan without citing corroborative, first-hand information.
Bad PR and a few isolated incidents have altered the global perception of Karachi from its true position as a vibrant city constantly progressing at exponentially higher degrees to quite the opposite view. Karachi is in reality a dynamic city with great potential and sizeable, quick returns for global investors in numerous fields such as real estate, hotels, manufacturing, assembly plants, low-cost engineering, and technology-based contract manufacturing.
Karachi Municipal Corporation
During the visit, I was able to meet the Deputy Mayor of Karachi, Nasreen Jalil, at the KMC building on old Bunder Road, now called M.A. Jinnah Road. While seated in the beautiful and well-maintained British-era KMC building, it became clear to me that Ms. Jalil, an elegant and professional woman, clearly has a big role in the city’s progress, and is representative of the many professionals working zestfully to improve Karachi.
Although some visitors to Karachi tend to narrowly focus on such aspects of the city as its dug-up roads, heavy emissions from vehicles, potholes, noisy rickshaws, and beggars, others see these disturbing metropolitan features changing – and changing fast for the better.
The skyline of Karachi gives a completely new view. Work that once would have taken 5-10 years is now being done in a little over one year. As in Dubai and other emerging super-cities, one can clearly see huge cranes help building the latest multistory buildings. World-class overpasses, on-ramps, and underpasses that would take over a year to be built are now being completed in less than six months! The once-impenetrable traffic jams are disappearing with the opening of each new overpass. Service lanes are solely dug up for placing sewage drains, cables, and waterlines. Heavy construction work is going on 24 hours a day, large equipment is being used everywhere, and more effective methods of construction are being actively put in place.
The environment-friendly, timely and responsible cleanup of Karachi’s air is also showing visible results. Almost all cars are now running on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), which is pollution-free and costs half as much as petrol (only used as a backup).
Old two-stroke smoke-emitting and noisy motorcycle rickshaws are now being replaced by new, quiet rickshaws that also run on CNG. These are made available at very low cost and financed through the President’s poverty removal scheme. Old mini-buses that create high levels of pollution are the most difficult to remove, but will soon be replaced by Green Buses running on CNG. A high-speed mass transit city train system may also be in its final stages of completion.
Cleanup and face-lifting of some old classic areas is taking place as well. One such project is the Empress Market in Saddar. The classic old building used to be invisible from multiple layers of shops and hoardings, while inside the market was a mess too. The market is now being cleared up and restored from outside as well as inside. Most amazingly, the hundreds of shops that had made a home at Empress Market for half a century, rather than suffering total displacement, are being moved to nearby multi-shop units. Everyone has certainly come out a winner in this laudable city improvement project.
Rickshaw with CNG
The story goes on at yet another important level of city planning and safety: new Karachi Highway Police, much like the Islamabad Highway Police, are now under training and starting to be deployed in some parts of the Karachi Highway. These higher paid, far more professional police are to serve the public, not the other way around as the situation previously used to be.
Finally, the biggest impact on the city’s progress is being made by expatriates returning from various countries. Most old, established factories in Karachi are now being run by these sons and daughters of the original owners. Factories that have antiquated manufacturing equipment, inefficient and low quality procedures, and employees set in their unchangeable ways, are a thing of the past; instead, the Expats are setting up brand new, ultra-modern factories with millions of dollars worth of new manufacturing machines. Gul Ahmed Textile Mills is a fine example of this new factory development by Expats, where a daughter of the original owner is now running the value-added stand-alone factory that makes stitched goods for the world market.
Of course, behind all these truly fantastic developments are the people who make them happen, such as Ms. Jalil, and others like Karachi Mayor Mustafa Kamal, who has been known to personally pay surprise visits to all city projects at any time of the day or night. Such dedication to ensuring high quality infrastructure development proves Karachi’s potential for continued positive progress contrary to the false claims of the Western media. The young Mayor and local body government have shown the way. Their example should be emulated by other cities of Pakistan. We are a nation on the march and the world should be cognizant of this fact.
My mind and heart are full of hope, supported by clear evidence of marked improvement, for my old home, and perhaps one day, future home of Karachi, Pakistan.