The Legacy of Kamal of Karachi
ByFarhana Mohamed, PhD
Los Angeles , CA
As the Mayor (Nazim) of Karachi, Syed Mustafa Kamal, a former provincial IT Minister, has made enormous achievements by any standard in mere four years (October 2005 to present). The 37-year old Mayor has also garnered international attention because of his youth and almost uncanny ability to make significant positive changes to a mega-metropolis busting at its seams due to decades of neglect and explosive growth. Since Kamal’s current tenure may probably end by December 2009 due to possible dismantling of the municipal government system (though there is powerful lobby against scrapping the current setup) in favor of appointment of career bureaucrats, it is appropriate to reflect on his legacy.
Some of Kamal’s enviable projects, which have given him enviable national and international stature, include infrastructure improvements such as a maze of overpasses, underpasses, signal free corridor, and multi lane highways; constructing and refurbishing of an archaic storm drain system for channeling stormwater runoff to the ocean; potable water delivery through ocean-submerged pipe to Bhit Island; availability of high-tech diagnostic equipment at some hospitals at affordable cost; eco-friendly parks, and an ISO-certified toll free 1339 Hotline. In addition, with foreign investment, a $200 million 47-story IT Tower is to be built by 2010 (this project is facing some uncertainties). Among other amenities, the IT Tower will accommodate up to 10,000 call center slots (largest in the world). Overall, during Kamal’s tenure, there was an influx of almost $3.0 billion to the infrastructure and public work projects.
Being a politician, Kamal has never been bashful in promoting his accomplishments (and pushing the blame of setbacks on others) when projecting Karachi at national and global platforms. However, toward the end of his four-year stint, he has somewhat mellowed down his feverish promotional pitch. This may be due to the fact that some projects have failed to perform when rubber met the road. Despite heavy investment in the infrastructure and record completion time, considerable deficiencies remain in fresh water, sewer, stormwater runoff, and mass transit projects. For instance, while Kamal was publicly confident that the refurbished storm drain system will not cause any more street flooding and traffic nightmares during the monsoon downpour, there was little relief during rainstorms. Some other important projects have hit snags such as the circular railway, delivery of 4,000 CNG-fueled clean buses, and building of state-of-the- art trash transfer and recovery facility which would have sort out recyclables from the trash with the refuse safely processed to produce energy. In defense of Kamal, federal funding channels and deteriorating law and order situation could be partly blamed for the delayed projects.
Some controversies have also hounded Kamal during his mayor-ship: the most conspicuous being claiming the honor of “world’s second best mayor” – a title never meant to be. His remarkable achievements have been somewhat clouded by his reticence to clearly declare that in fact he was never rated as the “world’s second best mayor” by the distinguished Foreign Policy Magazine (a bimonthly magazine belonging to the Washington Post & Newsweek family of publications). Following is an excerpt of the clarification issued by Joshua Keating of FP editorial board ( November 12, 2008):
“At issue is a sidebar from FP's recent Global Cities Index that names Kamal, Berlin's Klaus Wowereit, and Chongqing's Wang Hongju as ‘mayors of the moment’ who have found innovative ways to globalize their cities. The mayors are not ranked, nor are we implying that they are objectively ‘better’ than any other mayors, but that didn't stop the Karachi city government from issuing a press release on its web site (they've changed the text since being contacted by FP) congratulating Kamal for being the No. 2 mayor in the world. For the record, the three names are not listed in any particular order.”
By the way, FP acknowledged the aforementioned mayors as the “three of the world’s top mayors” but not “the three top mayors.” FP also ranked the three cities out of a total ranking of 60 of the world’s top cities: Berlin was #17, Karachi #57, and Chongqing #59. Thus selection of Kamal in this category (despite dismal rank given to Karachi) was in itself a big honor - had he or his MQM Party not jumped the gun. What resulted was a barrage of mostly negative blogs and letters sent to FP and elsewhere, which mostly defamed the Mayor, MQM, and tried to trivialize the superb work done by Kamal for uplifting Karachi from its urban decay.
Ironically, despite FP’s clarification, various organizations have continued recognizing Kamal for being “selected” as the best “Second Best Mayor” without making an effort to check the veracity of the accolade. For instance, one Los Angeles-based organization invited Mustafa Kamal in March, 2009; they chose to applaud Kamal during the program and on their website as the holder of the enviable title. Instead of clarifying the misunderstanding (which could have greatly enhanced his integrity), Kamal stayed silent or looked the other way.
In 2008, in an interview with Time magazine’s Aryn Baker, Kamal promised that “his city will rival Dubai in five years,” and “in five years time, I can turn the city around.” However, Kamal has since taken a 180 degree turn. For instance, he has been quoted saying, “I’ll beg my party not to make me Nazim again.” (Dawn, August 10, 2009). There is no doubt that in order to achieve so much in so little time, Kamal had to deal with a long list of hefty challenges but one expects some consistency in his statements.
Another problem with Kamal (as with most Pakistani politicians) is lack of generosity in extending the credit where it is due. For instance, several infrastructure projects (Lyari Expressway, Karachi Northern Bypass, and 100 MGD water supply projects) were all started during the era of Kamal’s predecessor, Niamthullah Khan (August 2001 – June 2005). During his tenure, Khan (belonging to MQM’s archrival Jamat-e-Islami Party) also raised Karachi’s revenue from $85 million to $729 million - mainly due to enhanced financial efficiency. He also made significant contributions to Karachi’s environmental, educational, and public health projects. Actually, Khan was also one of the 65 top listed global mayors in 2005. However, while young Kamal outshined his septuagenarian counterpart in solid accomplishments, it would have been gracious on the part of Kamal to recognize Khan’s notable achievements.
Regardless of the fate of municipal government setup, Mustafa Kamal will leave a luminous but somewhat bumpy legacy. If provided an opportunity, Kamal should muster strength to extend his term for another four years. He has strong credentials of converting Karachi into a world class city which would benefit Pakistan as a whole since Karachi is the financial hub and contributes at least 20% to the national GDP.