Friday, July 31, 2009

The Laziest Headline Ever, And Ethnic-Bus Politics In Karachi

So I was browsing the website of The News and came across a story about the City District Government of Karachi's venture on starting a CNG bus service. How did I know this was a story about the City District Government of Karachi and their CNG bus service? Well, the headline gave me a clue, but only just:

Right then. Thanks for being so descriptive, Jang Group! I mean, really. What would be an equivalent headline on the BBC website? "US President Obama"?

Anyway, the story is actually pretty interesting. I remember a while back reading about the CNG-buses venture of uber-popular Mayor/Nazim of Karachi, Mustafa Kamal, who thought the buses would help both Karachi's pollution problem and Karachi's traffic problem (which, let me tell those who aren't familiar with Karachi, are pretty appreciable problems). I also remember reading about how the transportation mafia/union (depending on your point of view) were doing all they could to stop it, for obvious reasons that rhyme with "shmottom-pline".

Well as it turns out, the struggle is not yet over. Check out the report linked to above:
A few transporters, whose buses ply on the same route as that of the newly-inducted CNG buses of the City District Government Karachi (CDGK), are attempting to block the bus service through strong-arm tactics, The News learnt on Thursday.

The drivers and conductors of two minibuses (Niaz Coach and Khan Coach) attempted to block the CNG bus service at Patel Para, Business Recorder Road on Thursday. Passengers on board one of these coaches informed The News that the operators of the coaches also attempted to force two female passengers off the CDGK bus. He said the operators of the coaches were furious and hurled brazen threats and said that either they would ply on the route or the CDGK buses would.

It was learnt that transporters are also attempting to block the CNG buses from Surjani Town where the CNG buses terminal is situated.

I find those whole thing quite tragicomically ironic. Nazim Mustafa Kamal, as we all know, is a rising (or risen, I suppose) star of the MQM, a/the Mohajir party in Pakistan. The transportation sector in Karachi, on the other hand, is controlled by Pathans. Now, Mohajirs and Pathans haven't exactly enjoyed the warmest of relations in Karachi. In fact, their relationship has been tense for over two decades, tensions which bubbled to the surface in 1986 becaauuuuuseeee (wait for it)


transportation issues!

Remember Bushra Zaidi? She was a Mohajir girl, a young student, who was run over by a speeding bus (driven, quite naturally, by a Pathan). A number of accidents had taken place due to reckless driving by buses in Karachi, and Bushra's death was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. The underlying problems between the two ethnic groups were enflamed by the incident, riots took place as Mohajirs attacked Pathan transport workers and Pathans retaliated, and about 60 people died. Not-so-coincidentally, the MQM took off in the next couple of years and became a real political force, in Sindh if not nationally.

And now we're back. Mohajirs against Big Transport. By the way, I am not claiming that this latest episode is in any way identity-driven; it's about economic issues and profits and market control, and not what color your skin is and what language you speak. But, as I said, it's tragicomically ironic.


SAP Arbeiter said...

Don't all conflicts have underlying economic angles? Its just a matter of how far you are willing to dig.

Anonymous said...

Well, in his speech at this launching ceremony of the CDGK Buses, the Nazim blamed the Provincial and Federal governments to be riddled with corruption and claimed that was the reason for the delay in the CNG Buses in Karachi. How valid is that statement?

The Nazim was very proud to claim that the buses that the CDGK is launching for the people of Karachi AGAIN was independant of the Provincial or Federal Governments and was funded completely by the CDGK. btw the Nazim chose to use the word "AGAIN" in his speech over a dozen times. He sure must have had a reason for that.

Besides, was this a last ditch effort by the Nazim to take credit for bringing CNG buses to Karachi, at any cost, before the end of his term or the system of Nazims, whichever came first?

And what ever happened to the KMTC - Kaarchi Mass Transit Cell and its Director General, Mr. Malik Zaheer Ul-Islam and his diligent team of transport experts who have been working on a Bus Mass Transit system for Karachi for several years now?

Whatever happened to their lofty plans and the Expression of Interest, Statement of Qualifications, and the RFQ exercises that they put the suppliers and operators through? Was that all just a show and justify spending fo the Federal operating budgets that did not always get to them in time.?

Bus Mass Transit in Karachi has always been an interesting service to watch due to its politico-mafia under tones.

zak said...

The reality is successful mass transport schemes to be successful involve including the transporters and not their exclusion..

Karachi( and most pakistani big cities) desperately needs a mass transport system whether that involves dedicated bus lanes or rail is another point but it won't work by excluding one or the other.

Anonymous said...

The transport mafia in Karachi is against anything good for the commuters, because they want the overloaded buses with high fares.
This is 21st century and metropolitan city like Karachi there is no decent public transport system. Hope this time it become success despite the number of buses are too small.

Ahsan said...


Fair point. I guess with respect to the bus/transportation thing, it's a lot closer to the surface than it is with their other conflicts. But yes, I agree with your statement.


Yeah, completely agree. Provincial and federal level stuff, for whatever reason, doesn't work very well in Karachi. That's why I'm so pissed off about the end of local govt -- I'm going to write a post on that some time soon. It makes me very angry that the one thing that has worked in Khi is being removed for political reasons.


I agree with you in principle but if the existing transportation people don't want to help, then what is the other partner supposed to do? They just don't want any competition and want to keep monopolizing profits.


If it's successful, it will expand simply because of demand increasing. It's up to them to show good performance and make the lives of commuters better and easier.

Butters said...

Development has a civilizedness prerequisite. Unfortunately at the moment Pakistan doesn't fulfill it.

This is why I proposed the following hypothesis: all economic and otherwise success is a function of civilizedness. The latter is a necessary and sufficient condition for the former.

If my hypothesis is true, then Pakistan is wasting its time with 'revolution'. It needs to have an epicenter of good human beings, and not some uprising or whatever other utopian idea that's lying impotent and flailing like an injured dog at the fore of everyone's mind.

Sorry, that was my little rant against the 'revolutionaries' of Pakistan.

saesneg said...

The title looks like a strapline mistakingly left in as a headline...

Which is pretty poor on a major national news site.

darkcoldcoffee said...

Nice observation =D

Anonymous said...

Actually, Ahsan, the transport sector in Karachi is NOT under the control of Pakhtuns exclusively.

Since the 1990s, a very large part of the bus and coach services have been taken over by Hazarawals, who as you may know, are Hindko speakers and do not consider themselves Pakhtun. There are now competing transport unions/ mafias run by Pakhtuns and Hazarawals.

Also since the mid-1990s, after Nawaz Sharif's introduction of the yellow cab scheme, many of the taxi drivers are also Punjabis and Mohajirs, which was unthinkable in the Karachi of the 1970s and 80s.

Ahsan said...


I'm not exactly sure what you mean by "civilizedness". I feel like I would disagree with you, but for that to happen, I need to be precisely aware of what you mean by that term. Care to elaborate?


Thanks for the info on the Hazarawalas, which I did not know. As for the yellow cab thing, very few people actually use them and they don't really wield much influence on these issues, I don't think.

Butters said...


Come to think of it, my comment was rather ignorant. I retract.

karachi khatmal said...

i was actually going to second butters, until she retracted. but the general point holds - we need good people for good ideas to hold.

secondly, i read raza rumi's reasons for why the nazim system should go and it makes institutional sense. ironically, the case is once more one of things that work well in karachi (and parts of urban pakistan, like lahore) and fail miserably elsewhere.

Ali said...

Great article! Short, funny and informative.