Once Upon A Time, A Peaceful Karachi Existed

by Asmatullah Niazi

Over the past few years, Karachi often makes the news for all the wrong reasons – violent crimes, riots, chaos, shootings, murder, kidnapping, terrorism and more. But that was not always the case of this beautiful seaport city that lies strategically on the Arabian Sea.

After Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Karachi became the nation’s first capital, and it served very well as the country’s capital. Compared to the other areas of Pakistan, Karachi was considered to be relatively peaceful, and it quickly became home to many Muhajirs who were escaping from the anti-Muslim sentiments that was evident in India.

At that point in history, Karachi was known to be a welcoming city, which was ready to embrace immigrants from diverse community. The differences were being celebrated, unlike today, where it has become one of the many causes for divide. Immigrants from other countries, such as China and the then Burma, were a common sight, as they roamed freely down street lanes, and interact with the locals. Many immigrants had chosen to set up home in Karachi because of the opportunity it offered.

Back in those days, Karachi was known as the “City of Lights”, due to its vibrant nightlife, the constant hustle and bustle of the Karachiites going about their lives in the evening. During those times, there was no fear of the possibility of being shot or kidnapped, or of a riot breaking out. Life was carefree and the city was fast progressing, becoming the most developed city in Pakistan, with the technologies of those days evident in the city.

In 1962, my father explained that trams ran only in Karachi. I was fascinated by this unique mode of transportation. The Karachi of the past was a haven for tourists, who flocked to the city to immerse themselves in the historical and modernity that the city had to offer. In fact, it was even considered to be part of the “Hippie Trail”, as many European and American hippies used to cross through Karachi, as they journeyed to embrace the more “organic” cultures that South Asia had to offer.

In those days, Karachi was deemed to be very modern, with some comparing it to New York City. The former city boosted over 500 cinemas, natural beaches, and stunning architecture. Karachi’s architecture has its own unique charm. Buildings made of  limestone can still be seen in old Karachi. Thus, it was no surprise that Karachi was a draw for many. Karachi was also a hotbed for concerts and theatre performances, with a thriving music and film industry, contrary to the Karachi we know of today.

However, things took a turn in the late 1980s, as the once peaceful city started facing political and racial conflicts, resulting in the start of chaos that is still going on, albeit on an on and off basis, till today.

My first memory of the riots was back in 1972, which was due to the Sindh Assembly declaring Sindhi the official langauge.

The  riots primarily took place in Nazimabad, Liaqatabad, Golimar and Lasbela areas of Karachi, which are now called district central with a massive Urdu speaking population.

Karachi’s worst riots, which was on the language issue, was the first dent in its peaceful atmosphere. The quota system further deepened in the 1970s. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s government decided to provide jobs on an urban/rural domicile basis, which had a large impact on the youth.

After the creation of the Mohajir Quomi Movement (MQM), led by Altaf Hussain, the mega city was permenantly divided. The 1992 operation against the MQM was the core resistance against its militant groups.

Karachi is now in a sad state of affairs, to say the least. But I personally think that there is still room for salvation if the authority takes proper actions. While it might be impossible to bring back the Karachi of the past, I think that if Karachiites unite and band together, we might be able to see an even better Karachi of the future.

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