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Jun 05, 2020 PRINT EDITION
BR Research

Clean Karachi – and then?

Pakistanis are charitable people. Once again, and not for the last time, they have now been lured to ‘donate’ for a nobl

August 06, 2019

Pakistanis are charitable people. Once again, and not for the last time, they have now been lured to ‘donate’ for a noble cause. This time it is about cleaning the city of lights. The so-called centre sponsored campaign initiated by the Maritime Affairs Minister. Ali Zaidi, will not be done without donations. And on cue, donations have started to pour in.

Karachi may well be cleaned in two weeks. But that is not even the point. What happens after two weeks is precisely the point. The Minister himself has made it clear that the idea is to show it could be done. The kind of logistics being deployed and the amount of donations being asked for, will certainly not last longer than two weeks anyways.

So what is it that the federal government will have achieved after two weeks? A cleaner Karachi for another two weeks, only to get back to the one that everyone is so used to in less than two weeks? That too, on money raised from pubic and corporations, involving the arm institutions completely dedicated to the task. If anything, the whole exercise stands to gain nothing more than a few political points over the rivals in the province – by taking on an unrealistic task, using unsustainable means.

Not that the campaign mode is entirely alien in the country’s history. The Supreme Court and the Prime Minister fund on dams is fresh in memory. And its fate (Rs10 bn collected for a task expected to cost Rs2000 bn) was never in doubt, yet, all sorts of patriotic and emotional investment was made to make it look workable.
It won’t be long before the dam find donations end up being financed for other calamities. And if the donors get lucky, they can get reimbursed, like those who fell for Nawaz Sharif’s ‘Qarz Utaro, Mulk Sanwaro’ scheme all those years ago. Then there are multiple export and agricultural ‘packages’ doled out year after year, without ever having to aim at systemic change.

Pakistan’s problems in all the aforementioned areas are deep rooted, and require nothing short of deep structural and systemic changes to get them sorted. The campaign and package mode will only be cosmetic, serving a few ultra-nationalist egos – and will never bring about societal and economic changes.

The counterargument often presented is the “awareness” bit. Who is not aware that filth is bad, cleanliness is good, debt is not good and water is important? All that campaigning aimed at awareness has only masked the real problem, which gets brushed under the carpet, and the optics take over, only for the real problem at hand, to come back to haunt. Clean Karachi for all you want, but let it be systemic and without the need to have public-funded campaigns.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2019