“A bad census will lead to bad urban planning”
CARACHI: Prof. Dr. S. Akbar Zaidi has been the Executive Director of the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) Karachi since January 2020. His tenure runs until January 2024.
A renowned political economist, his areas of research include political economy, development, social sciences and history. Dr. Zaidi received his PhD in History from the University of Cambridge in 2009. He also holds degrees in economics, social planning in developing countries and political science. He has written more than 80 academic articles in international journals as well as in books. He has been associated with many reputable institutions including World Bank, United Nations Development Program, State Bank of Pakistan, University of Oxford, Columbia University, Johns Hopkins University and UNICEF.
Here, Dr. Zaidi discusses Karachi and its myriad issues with News Bowl.
In a few simple words, what are the main attractions of Karachi for non-resident citizens, overseas Pakistanis and international tourists?
Domestically, immigrants arriving in Karachi see it as a place of diversity and economic opportunity. The ethnic constitution of the metropolis is not found in other urban areas. Overseas Pakistanis also have a significant presence here and foreigners come and go. However, Karachi is an underused and underdeveloped region. We have a beach like no other, but it lacks the necessary facilities for local and international tourism.
You have had the opportunity to live and settle abroad. Why choose Karachi over another place?
I was born and raised in this city, so when you belong to a place, you have a preference to live there. I don’t know of any other place that I could call home. Also, Karachi has the advantage of having a lot of work to do, and I see this as a place to continue my contributions. I have familiarity and comfort here and that makes me happy. Karachi is also the education hub.
What should be a priority for the metropolis – a higher GDP or a smaller, more manageable population?
I believe that the population of this city is doing well. There are many other cities like Delhi and Beijing which have a large population but are manageable. The population is therefore not the problem. As for higher economic output, we need to do more work to achieve that goal. Education plays a key role here.
We have seen over time that Karachi’s urban problems persist and we simply cannot wish for them. Resources are not sufficient and are not managed properly. The city administration does not cope with the influx of people arriving every day. There aren’t enough public goods and this city doesn’t even have sidewalks for people to walk around in peace.
What aspects of the 2017 census do you agree and disagree with?
To be fair to the people of my country, I strongly disagree with the 2017 census. The cosmopolitan city has between 22 and 26 million inhabitants, but some areas have been formally excluded from the 6th census of the population and housing of 2017. The systematic calculation and acquisition of information on the inhabitants and households of Karachi is a key instrument in the planning of the provincial capital. A bad census like the one in 2017 will obviously lead to bad urban planning.
What takes precedence: the beautification of the city or the living conditions of the working class?
We must first improve living conditions, there is no doubt about that. A city must first be livable. We need more parks, a beach that welcomes everyone, but more importantly, we need to solve our public transport problem, our public spaces as well as the spaces that host our cultural and academic gatherings.
Do you think politics in academia has held you back from moving forward to bring about positive change in the city?
I am not affiliated with any group, so no. I am an academic who cares deeply about the urban situation of Karachi. I have no unrealistic expectations or desires for Karachi. I just want a cleaner, livable city for everyone.
What are your predictions for Karachi in 2030, 2040 and 2050?
The metropolis will continue to grow as an economic hub. Unfortunately, this economic center of Pakistan will not get the kind of government it deserves. It is true that all the systems currently in place will continue in this way in the decades to come. Nothing substantial will change here.
Considering the climate crisis situation in Pakistan, do you think Karachi could be completely submerged in this century?
I don’t know where the climate crisis will take us but yes we are losing our mangroves, we are losing our shoreline. The most visible problems we’ve seen in this concrete jungle are that heat is more easily trapped in city structures and we don’t have the number of trees we need to survive. Temperatures are extreme throughout the year and then there is the issue of air quality.
Recently, the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics organized a workshop on “digital census” at the IBA. Does the government need IBA’s help with raising awareness for the 7th Population and Housing Census 2022?
So far, the government has not approached us for such help or collaboration. If they do, we’ll be happy to help.
What is the media lacking in its role of instigating meaningful social change in Karachi?
I think the media in Karachi and all over Pakistan is quite strong. He regularly exposes injustice, corruption and incompetent governance. So I think our news distribution is doing very well in the metropolis as well.
Is there a problem of lack of productivity, discipline or punctuality in the working class of Karachi?
No, no problem at all. Apart from the usual hassles found in the hustle and bustle of this big city, there is no problem with low individual productivity or lack of discipline. The people of Karachi are always on foot to work harder.
What disappoints you when you see today’s youth; What hurts you about your own generation?
Well, young people need to do more to revive the culture of reading books. Young people today don’t read as much. I noticed that their values have changed, which is good in some ways. However, young people unfortunately show no respect for scholars and are too quick to jump to conclusions about everything. They don’t listen to educated people as much as they should and have a know-it-all attitude. I will mention here that this does not take away from the fact that our youth is still vibrant and practical in many ways. But there is still room for improvement.
As for my own generation, it can also show goodwill by learning from today’s young people. Older people do not recognize new opportunities. We still have this societal problem where young girls are discouraged from exercising their right to quality education and work. Women work hard in all walks of life in Karachi. What public policy analysts need to do is have a single program to guarantee the economic, cultural and social rights of all women so that they no longer have to worry about obstacles coming from the stubborn and backward people of the older generation.