Dear Karachi, your wariness is understandable but the internally displaced Pakistanis need you

When I visited Sweden’s largest city Stockholm in 2011, I found it to be unbelievably non-diverse. Everyone was white and English was a language such few people spoke that sometimes I had to communicate in gestures. That appears to be changing, with Sweden taking in large numbers of immigrants particularly from conflict areas like Afghanistan, Ivory Coast, and Syria.

As all migration does, there was a sense of alarm among the Swedish people who were wary of the immigrants who were coming into their country from parts of the world that many Swedes have never even been to. On the other hand, the immigrants felt isolated and unwelcomed, unable to adjust to their new home with all its seemingly insurmountable cultural differences.

Today, I read a heartwarming story about a Swedish woman who used this cultural gap as an opportunity to bring together all the diverse cultures that were now beginning to form a presence in Sweden. She started by hosting small potluck dinners in Stockholm where she invited migrants from the suburbs and natives from the heart of the city. Naturally, once they had interacted in an informal, friendly environment, the two groups of people developed a level of comfort.

This reminded me of the mass-scale internal displacement in Pakistan right now due to a military operation against the Taliban in North Waziristan. While Punjab, the country’s strongest province by economy, has opened itself up for these internally displaced persons (IDPs), the smaller province of Sindh has responded with suspicion, even the people of ethnically-diverse city of Karachi.

It’s easy to see why, though no less dehumanizing and infuriating. The IDPs are predominantly Pashtuns, who in the world of Pakistani stereotypes have come to be associated with conservative ideology and a sympathetic corner for violence. Pashtuns already form a large part of the population in Sindh, where they inhabit the province’s largest city Karachi and pretty much own all of the city’s broken yet lucrative transportation sector. They are the second largest ethnicity in Karachi, and are widely stereotyped as having conservative Islamic views and a cultural acceptance of arms and violence.

It is primarily this clash of ethnicities that explains why protests have erupted in Sindh against this current wave of IDPs.

Let’s start with the Sindhis, a cultural rather than a geographical term. They are already a political and economic minority in the province because of non-Sindhi influence in the province’s largest city Karachi. They feel that with the arrival of thousands of more non-Sindhis they will become even more marginalized.

And who has the most influence over Karachi? The Muhajirs, ironically the people who themselves or whose ancestors have migrated from India into Pakistan ever since the two countries gained independence from the British in 1947. The Muhajirs who settled in Karachi were mostly from Urdu-speaking areas of India, such as Uttar Pradesh (UP), and have ultimately come to form the largest ethnic group in Karachi. In the aftermath of the partition, the Muhajirs became Pakistan’s ruling elite by default. But they also considered themselves the cultural elite and thus never adopted any of the cultural aspects of the Sindhis. Instead, they started to enforce their own language and lifestyle onto the few Sindhis who lived in Karachi. This has contributed to Sindhis’ phobia (for the lack of a better word) of migrants.

While these clashing ethnicities have been consistent themes in Karachi’s, and Sindh’s, governance problems, they also make this area of Pakistan the most diverse in the country. Karachi used to be described as “faqeer manash” – the city that provides a home to the poorest of the poor. Unfortunately, now the city mostly functions on auto-pilot while the political groups that claim to represent the clashing ethnicities of Karachi continue to quibble among themselves instead of trying to collaboratively govern the goldmine that they are sitting on.

All these factors, among others including deteriorating security in the province following an influx of IDPs from the Swat operation against Taliban, have contributed to suspicion towards migrants in Karachi and Sindh. But suspicion towards migrants fuels many of the problems of migration, turning the situation into a vicious cycle.

To be sure, the entry of migrants does cause economic, social, and political pressures and problems that make the lives of current residents difficult. But for all of those categories, there is also the healthy diversity that migration fosters.

Instead of pushing distressed people out just to selfishly further your own interests, residents can help ease migrants into the life of a city and ensure that they don’t have to resort to crime and terrorism in order to get by and feed their families.

Let’s not make an economic issue into a political one, for when we do, we create hostility in our own people for our own people. Suspicion is the last thing the IDPs deserve from us in their need of hour.


Vision 2025: A holistic view of where we are and where we need to be

For any project to be successful, there needs to be a comprehensive, well thought-out plan to get to the goal. The project in this case is a progressive, responsible, and stable 100-year-old Pakistan in 2047 and the Ministry of Planning, Development, and Reform’s Vision 2025 is the plan to create that country.

#Vision2025 is an attempt to break free from the cycle of economic despair that has hindered Pakistan’s growth since gaining independence in 1947. While recessions are part of the economic cycle of all economies in the world, the stronger ones are not only able to recover but also learn lessons along the way that strengthen them against the adverse effects of future recessions. This resilience – the ability to bounce back – is what Vision 2025 seeks to build into the Pakistani economic structure.

To this end, one of the crucial strengths of Vision 2025 is that it connects national security to not just the militant threat inside the country but also to seven other social and economic pillars that require equal attention and urgency to secure the nation’s future. It is these pillars that will create a Pakistani economy that is capable of recovering from economic, social, and political setbacks, the kind of which have slowly chipped away at our high-potential economy and left it weak and struggling.

The first pillar is to develop human and social capital, a top priority given Pakistan’s steadily-growing population, and within that the large number of people under the age of 25 who need not just employment opportunities but also educational training to excel at those jobs and increase productivity. This is an important point that Vision 2025 seeks to address by laying down specific goals for investment in primary and higher education, and public health.

The second pillar seeks to ensure that growth is not just sustained but also inclusive. Too often in economic success stories, we see that benefits of rapid economic growth end up being concentrated in the hands of the few rather than accrue to those at the margins who are most in need. Economic reform policies also historically tend to focus on groups that are easier to lift out of poverty. Thus, Vision 2025 places a special emphasis on vulnerable, needy groups that are harder to reach, such as women or members of religious minorities.

Keeping in step with the global trend of renewed focus on cities as engines of sustained economic growth, Vision 2025 seeks to transform Pakistan’s urban areas into “smart cities” that are adaptive and responsive to the needs of their citizens. Improved land use (i.e. vertical expansion), city governance, and zoning laws are just some of the thorny aspects of successful urban revitalization that Vision 2025 seeks to tackle. The seventh pillar seeks to connect Pakistan to the region through superior transportation infrastructure, from roads to ports. This will not only open up new markets, but also bring in more talent into Pakistan, making its cities hubs of cultural, political, and economic diversity, which requires good quality and affordable urban services such as housing and sanitation.

The third pillar leverages Pakistani pride in the seamless democratic transition the country made last year. It attempts to lay down a roadmap for modernization of Pakistan’s cumbersome bureaucracy and the public sector, through a new collaborative approach towards governance necessitated by increased provincial autonomy under the 18th Amendment. It seeks to shift focus towards an “open” form of governance, where instead of stepping in as provider of goods and services, the government concentrates on better regulation of private sector work.

This is directly connected to the fifth and sixth pillars, which seek to provide a conducive atmosphere for the private sector and developing an export base of value-added Pakistani goods. Vision 2025 seeks to support entrepreneurship-led growth, which can particularly help in the production of value-added goods, as innovation born from the entrepreneurial spirit can lead the Pakistani economy towards high-quality production techniques as well as innovative products.

The fourth pillar focuses on natural resources and Climate Change, and links the Pakistani economy’s competitiveness to them in terms of energy production, water supply and food security. Vision 2025 seeks to build on the progress already made on energy production, while promoting the use of a diversified mix of energy sources. It takes into account that we are fast moving towards the dangerous trend of water scarcity, and that food insecurity and malnutrition are causes for concern in terms of Pakistan’s economic progress.

Comprehensiveness aside, whether or not the plans laid out in Vision 2025 are implemented in their entirety, the document would have set Pakistan on an irreversible course towards reaching the end goal of a modern state. It would shift focus towards delivering economic and social benefits for all its people and also prove that brokering a consensus between provinces and stakeholders is not only possible but also beneficial for everyone.

This blog originally appeared here as part of a series of blogs about the Vision 2025 document written by summer interns at the Pakistan Planning Commission’s Young Development Fellows program.

The humanity competition: Pakistani first, Muslim later

If you were to follow just the news coming out of Pakistan about the outrage over Israel’s attack on Gaza, you would mistake us for the most humane people on earth. Yes, it would be a mistake as this very alarming story clearly demonstrates.

In Sindh, Pakistanis belonging to leftist, “progressive” parties held a protest against the influx of people from North Waziristan who have been displaced by the military operation Zarb-e-Azb in the area. Their complaint? The IDPs might, God forbid, settle in Sindh to provide a better lives for their families and choose not to return to North Waziristan even after the operation has ended.

Wah, what humanity. And we decry Israeli aggression in occupied Palestine territory day and night. Where is the talk of the “Muslim Ummah” mirage? Where are the analogies of the arbitrary Muslim Ummah being like a body, where if one part is in pain the entire body is in pain? Where are the self-righteous human rights crusaders now? Has the CAPS lock key on their computer keyboard finally died under the pressure of their vicious fingers typing out their outrage over the inhuman Israelis?

This is not to say that what Israel is doing is justified in any which way. It is a human rights violation of the highest order and the West – and other powerful states – should be ashamed of their silence. It is complicity in the genocide of a nation, its women and children, and for the most immoral reason of all – economic strength.

But what about our own people? Aren’t they caught in a conflict not of their own making? Are there no women and children affected? What moral reason do we have to protest against the inhuman treatment of people in a country thousands of miles away from us when we cannot be bothered about the well-being or guarantee our unequivocal support for those displaced within our own motherland? The Palestinians are dying for their motherland, yes. The IDPs – our very own people – are suffering for theirs (and ours) too. Why are the Palestinians more worthy of our support and emotion than the North Waziristanis?

If there is anything that Pakistanis’ loud pro-Palestine/anti-Israel protests show, it is our hypocrisy. I have heard the word “proportionality” being thrown around when criticizing Western leaders’ comments on “Israel has a right to defend itself”. Let’s apply that concept right here. Just look at the proportionality of the vigor with which we see support for Palestine and that with which we see support for Pakistanis.

It is time for us to put our house in order before extending our support to other suffering populations in the world. We are not a powerful enough country, we can barely provide for our own people. And that perverse resource competition, which is forcing the struggling Sindh province to complain about the influx of a huge number of underserved people, is killing our humanity as a nation little by little. These “anti-IDP” protests are just a glaring example of that.

More headlines on the issue that should break your heart:

[In Urdu]