Karachi Rising – The Utopian Lure Of The City


In theory, individuals migrate from low income to high income areas to maximize their earnings. Migration is an approach adopted by rural populations to improve family livelihoods and benefit from better services in urban areas. And those migrants with education and skills are likely to do well in urban areas.

A migrant population is characterized by aspirations of a better affluent future, fitting-in issues, separation anxiety, and a strong desire to keep connected to one’s roots.  They may live in a Metropolis  to earn a living but home is still always their home town (‘watan’ in vernacular).

 “Belonging is a complex concept for those who struggle to survive amid daily injustices.” – Gyan Prakash.

The merciless metropolis, the drudgery of routine, and the loneliness of separation from loved ones invoke  a desire to return to their ‘watan’ and while they have to be away to earn a living they devise interesting strategies to connect to their hometown, when they have to be away.

Karachi  ‘city of light’ the light of  hope and aspirations attracting migrants from rural areas across the  country. Karachi continues unabated to date. Karachi in past 67 years saw three major waves of migration from various parts of the region. According to notes sociologist Arif Hassan, all three had a definite social and political effects and played their respective roles in making the city it is now.  Between 1972 and 1978, some 350,000 refugees from what is now Bangladesh moved to Karachi. Though they spread to low and middle income settlements, they significantly increased the size of one of the largest ‘katchi abadis’ of Asia, namely Orangi Town, Unlike opther regular in-migrants to the city, mostly from KP (former NWFP) and Punjab, who find their job market in transport, shoe-shinning and milk businesses, these migrants from Bangladesh were urbanized and educated.

StockwoodDiscoveryCentreTruckArt_jpg_760x760_q85 6979050487_70659e13ce_z1

Between 1978 and 1998, 600,000 Afghan refugees were registered in Karachi by the National Alien Registeration Authoruty (NARA). Unlike the earlier two groups, intercity mobility was also observed in the case of Afghan migrants, as they first settled in refugee camps or with some relatives in Balochistan and KP (former NWFP), and then came to Karachi, due to a combinations of various push and pull factors.  It is claimed that their arrival strengthened religious factions and promoted the gun culture. Corrupt administrative practices helped them acquire valid NICs and passports. Before NADRA was established they could easily get those made unofficially. For the Pashto-speaking Afghan refugees it was relatively easier as compared to Tajiks and Uzbeks due to the difference in features. Unlike the two groups mentioned, the Pashtuns maintain economic relations with their families back home and remit substantial amounts of money to family members and relatives.


While they stay in Karachi they create imagery around  their workplaces, homes and colonies decorating them with scenery (for e.g wilderness, peacocks, lions, swans), typical patterns and objects  (for e,g ‘parandas’) from their hometown placing them as stickers, paintings and adornments all around them. Pashtun immigrants have their trucks/buses decorated in a customized manner as per their liking.

“Through these methods the immigrant lives his reality in the city by assembling an imaginary home with objects around him, putting together a world with irreconcilable things”– Gyan Prakash

After 9/11, a substantial number was added to the already existing number was added to the already existing numbers. After the Waziristan operation ‘Zarb-i-Azab’ more Pashtuns started coming to Karachi. New and Naïve to a metropolis, these die-hard entrepreneurs earn their livelihoods driving rickshaws, digging roads and performing other labor-intensive tasks. Rich ones from Waziristan are in the real estate  business as well.


According to a report Afghans in Karachi: Migration, Settlements and Social Network by a research institute “Collective for Social Science debut in March 2015, the number of Afghan refugees in three major trades (construction, whole and retail trade and transport) is approximately 10 percent of the estimated labor force in those trades.  Their capacity to do hard work makes them suited for laborious jobs. It is often alleged that they’re into illegal trade but they usually do it by selling stuff on the streets or acquired shops in major markets such Kurshid cloth market, Rabi Center, Ashiyana or Plaza in upscale areas of Karachi.


Afghans show a strong desire to settle with families, friends and the Pashto-speaking population, since these provide a network of social contacts and assist them in coping with life in new surroundings. This in turn results in an increased density in some areas and puts extra pressure on infrastructure .

Its infrastructure creaks under the growing population pressure. A megacity of 23 million inhabitants, Karachi grows unabated covering the landscape with apartment towers and utopian community living, residential complexes. Its troubles continue to mount since continues to draw migrants by its promise of an affluent life.

The Migration Research Group (MRG) Islamabad held a seminar in collaboration with ‘Karachi Institute of Technology and entrepreneurship’ (KITE) to share their research and expertise in the field of migration and its impact on socio-economic development. Mr. Arif Hasan provided evidence and analysis of internal migration and urbanization in Sindh. “Looking at Karachi’s 9.8 million population in 1998 that grew to 21.5 million in 2011, it can be safely said that Karachi is the fastest growing city in the world. But it has issues of density, lack of facilities, etc., due to lack of planning,” he said.

adv_saima-villas-residential-project-karachi_u_09-11-14  Bahria-Town-Karachi-Complete-Payment-Schedule3

The construction boom of 90s  aggressively sold people the dream of owning a home. People were bombarded with adverts of residential complexes playing on features like fool-proof security, easy installments, a definite possession date and a bunch of civic amenities that are associated with luxurious living standards. Selling a fantasy of luxurious living crashed by a reality of cage-like tenements. Eighty percent of Karachi’ites live in plots of 120 square yards or less. Houses on plots of between 400 and 2,000 square yards account for only 2 percent of the total housing stock. Yet, they occupy about 20 percent of Karachi’s residential area.

Thirty six point seven percent of Karachi’s land is currently utilized for residential purposes: 27% of which has been developed formally and 8.1 percent informally. The development process for the rest (which is 1.6 percent) is unclear. Sixty two percent of Karachi’s population lives on the 8.1 percent informally developed land referred to as ‘kachi abadis’.

The new low income settlements are far away from employment zones which makes it very difficult for women to work. Surveys show that people living in these settlements spend three to four hours travelling from home to work and back. Due to time spent in travelling, men cannot give time to their families and are tired and ill because of travelling in environmentally degraded and uncomfortable conditions.

Although land for housing is available in informal or semi-formal settlements, expanding families cannot access it easily as they did before this decade. The reason is that the cost of land in a newly developed katchi abadi in 1992 for one square meter was 1.7 times the cost of daily wage for unskilled labor at that time. Today it is 40 times the cost for unskilled labor.

As a result of these factors, the only affordable and secure option for an increasing number of families is to build upwards, densifying their settlements. Areas, such as Nawalane in Lyari, which in 1992 had a density of 620 persons per hectare, has a density of over 3,250 persons per hectare today. Similar conditions are emerging in most of the older informal settlements and in many formal settlements as well. Apartment complexes which had an average of 5 to 6 persons per apartment living in them a decade ago, now often have 12 to 15 persons. The abnormally high and unplanned densities emerging in the older settlements of Karachi are creating immense social and physical problems. These include family quarrels, rebellion among children and adolescents, promiscuity, inconvenience for married couples, breakdown of community cohesion, problems in use of toilets and kitchens which increasingly have to be shared, and an increasing gap in water demand and supply, communal tensions, high rate of unchecked crime and politics of economic control over Karachi’s resources and land. Breaking the dream of ‘Utopian’ living.


(Hasan, Arif, “Residential Density Issues: The Case of Karachi”, 2011)

(Prakash, Gyan, “Mumbai Fables”, 2010)

One thought on “Karachi Rising – The Utopian Lure Of The City

  1. 30% of this blog post is plagiarised and inadequately cited. It is unclear what this post is written in response to. What is the purpose of these descriptions? What reading are you commenting on? What ideas are you interested in? These need to be expanded and connected to the blog, class and to your own observations.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s