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Public Policies for an Urban Pakistan

January 2, 2013

Talks & Interviews

Arif Hasan


Mr. Arif Hasan, a leading commentator on urbanization and urban planning in Pakistan and author of Planning and Development Options for Karachi (2013) and The Scale and Causes of Urban Change in Pakistan (2006) was invited to deliver a talk on “Public Policies for an Urban Pakistan” at the CPPG on the 9th of March 2012.

Hasan opened his talk by describing the process of urbanization in Pakistan. He stated that the areas that constitute today’s Pakistan had a population of 28 million, 14.2 % of which was urban in 1941. A decade later, population had risen to 33 million with 18% urban and by 1998, 32.5% of the 130 million population was urban. However, he stated that the above numbers were not comparable as prior to 1981; Pakistan had followed the old colonial definition of “urban”, which was determined by three elements: settlement size, population density and the level of employment ratio between agriculture and non-agriculture professions. This definition underwent change in 1981, whereby a settlement could be classified as “urban” only if it had an urban governance structure leading to the classification of peri-urban areas as rural. Thus if the older definition was followed, Pakistan would be more than 50% urban today.

Hasan then delved into the impact of various waves of migration on urban demography. In 1947, 6.5 million people migrated from India to Pakistan while 4.7 million migrated the other way leading to a 6.3% increase in Pakistan’s population within a few months. 82% of these migrants settled in the Punjab with a 90-200% population increase in Punjab’s towns in a short period of one year. In Sindh, only Karachi and Hyderabad increased in size by 150% while in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Baluchistan and many parts of Sindh, there was de-urbanization because the leaving Hindus were not replaced by anyone. Overall, the 1951 census indicated that 48% of the urban population of Pakistan had originated in India, which was a colossal change but its repercussions were not adequately recognized or dealt with. The sociological impact of the 1947 migration was that the local self governance practiced through clans weakened considerably while increasing the upward mobility of the migrant population since it had been freed from its roots. Though in physical terms, houses in which one rich Hindu or Sikh family had lived now accommodated seven to eight poor Muslim families resulting in rapid degeneration of the housing stock. Migration had played a significant role in shaping the urban centers of Pakistan. He elaborated this by illustrating from the examples of Kashmir, Thar and Afghan migrations. Hasan remarked that the Kashmir migration was meaningful because of its size and the Thar migration as it changed the demography and sociology of the Thar region. Elaborating on the impact of the Afghan migration, Hasan stated that while the 1972 census indicated growth of Peshawar to be 1.95%, the 1994 projections based on the 1981 census indicate 9% annual growth owing mainly to the Afghan migration, which dropped to 3.3% in 1998. In the case of Karachi, the 1998 census showed that the city had 1.2 million migrants, out of which Afghan migrants had an overwhelming presence, numbering 600,000 Afghans.

The Green Revolution was another important aspect that fuelled migration transferring urban based capital inputs along with a demand for drivers, mechanics, electricians and the like to rural areas, thus causing urban to rural migration. However, as the Green Revolution generated a massive economic surplus in Punjab during the 1960’s, its rural areas became a market for industrially manufactured goods changing the entire complexion of rural society which in turn created the push factor for rural to urban migration. The same revolution reached Sindh and NWFP at a later stage. The 1970s were instead categorized by what Hasan called the “Suzuki Revolution” due to government’s initiation of loans to purchase Suzukis. Thus the position of Agriculture Market (mundi) towns changed, a lot of them disappeared while others expanded speeding up the urbanization process while creating a close link between rural credit providers and the transportation network.

These factors collectively changed the dynamics of migration towards larger cities while small towns suffered immensely because the elite of these towns had emigrated leading to a loss of political importance. While in 1981, 38% of the country’s population lived in cities of over 1 million, this figure had increased to 50% in 1998 and the projections for the next 10 years suggested a major decline in the number of small cities. To further elaborate, Hasan indicated that out of the 10.8 million migrants identified in the 1998 census, 64% went to urban areas and a staggering 24% went abroad. This migration to urban areas comprised 13% who went to Karachi alone while a total of 25% went to Karachi, Lahore and Rawalpindi collectively. Currently the yearly migration figures stand at 3.2 million of which Karachi alone receives 360,000 migrants yearly. Initially, migration to Karachi took place from areas where skills were available leading to a large migration of skilled workers from Punjab including motor mechanics, electricians, plumbers, carpenters and the like. Then in the second phase, migration took place from areas where feudal control was weak and resources were scarce such as the tribal areas. However, today migration to Karachi was largely from the Saraiki and Sindhi areas.

“Currently the yearly migration figures stand at 3.2 million of which Karachi alone receives 360,000 migrants yearly.”

Implications of Migration

Hasan then focused on the implications of migration on urban areas including character, population density, sociological changes, conflict, land availability, employment, education and transport to highlight the need for a comprehensive policy framework. He began with the issue of density stating that towns which had government land around them were expanding as low income settlements emerged around them while those without were increasing in density to the extent that living was becoming unbearable. All old low income settlements in Pakistan today were densifying because the people living there did not have the option of making their own home. This meant that 6-10 persons were living in one room with the implication that the father who was the main bread earner did not return home and slept somewhere outside the house; young couples seldom had a room of their own; and the mother preferred that children spend more time outside the house thus adversely impacting the family fabric and structure. Another issue was the settling of labor away from their place of work forcing the father to travel long distances everyday to get to his place of work incurring extra expense or sleeping at his work place. Consequently women in the household were unable to work, access to health or education centers became difficult and recreation impossible. He specifically gave the example of the Faisalabad-Chiniot corridor which represented numerous similar corridors emerging in the country. The villages within this corridor functioned as mere dormitories where people slept to go to work in the cities. Agriculture labor was not available in this entire belt gradually leading population from other villages to settle here.

The issue of density was linked to land availability. There was no land formally available for low-income settlements, for wholesale warehousing, and for transport related activities. Exemplifying Lahore, Hasan stated that since there was no land available for cargo and transport terminals, they had been developed in an ad hoc manner within the heritage areas of the city where they were originally located. Though the state had large land holdings, these were hoarded mainly for speculation and for elite and middleclass housing. In Karachi, despite the presence of 2,000 hectares of land within the city, the poorer sections of the population had been settled 30 kilometers away while the elite acquired such land through coercion, bribes, influence, and often illegally. Thus, land policy and planning had an inbuilt anti-poor, pro-speculation elite bias which became clearer through land use statistics. Of the total land in Karachi, 37% was residential. 27% of the land was formally developed while the 8% that was informally developed accommodated 62% of the city’s population. While 80% of Karachiites lived on 120 sq yards plots or less, only 2% who lived on plots of 400- 2000 sq yards occupied 21% of the total area. The unmet low-income housing demands led to informal settlements either in kachi abadis or through informal subdivision of agriculture land which often encroached on ecologically sensitive areas causing flooding.

The issues of urban transport were a byproduct of the absence of public transport. The country was being taken over by motorcycles as it was the cheapest form of transport. The figures from Karachi were astounding as the number of motorbikes had risen from 450,000 in 1990, to 500,000 in 2004, to over a million in 2010. In a survey conducted of men and women at bus stops, 86% men said that they wanted to buy a motorbike while 56% women said the same if they could get permission. Thus an innovative and sustainable public transport policy was key to the resolution of transportation issues.

“…small towns suffered immensely because the elite of these towns had emigrated leading to a loss of political importance.”

Urban Economy and Employment

In discussing urban economy and employment, Hasan mentioned that the share of urban informal employment in Pakistan had increased from 67% (2003-04) to 70% (2006-07). Although local commerce was the main supplier of employment, it lacked infrastructure, business credit, security of tenure, health and education benefits, and housing. He further added that 72% of Karachi’s population was employed in the informal sector but there were no bylaws covering it and this whole population had to survive on their own without any support system. Thus the garbage recycling industry which was one of the largest industries in the informal sector with Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Karachi and Hyderabad as its major centers, while providing employment to an estimated million plus people directly or indirectly not just lacked state support but was one of the most persecuted industries. Further arguing that foreign direct investment (FDI) had become essential for economic growth in the present era, Hasan argued that Pakistan lacked all three requirements needed to attract FDI including security, infrastructure and most importantly skills. There was a dearth of skills because of a lack of polytechnics and vocational schools. While an increasing number of universities were being set up, there were hardly any institutes providing technical skills with the result that Pakistan had more doctors than paramedics, more engineers than trained technicians, more textile engineers than people who could manage the shop floor.

Youth and Social Change

Hasan then delved into the transforming sociological patterns in the country as migrations brought in new ideas, concepts and methods of family relations to the rural and urban areas of Pakistan. Exemplified by trends in Karachi as indicated by the table below, he suggested that this was the first time in history that the city had an overwhelming majority of unmarried adolescents which was enough to entirely change family structures as well as gender relations. An evidence of the changing gender relations and marriage patterns was that while in 1992, 10-15 court marriage applications were made daily; by 2006 the number had reached to 200 applications per day which were mostly from rural Sindh. A reason for this emerging marriage pattern in the city was that the clan based marriage settlement system had all but finished.

Linking the changing urban dynamics to conflict, Hasan stated that by 1977 Pakistan’s urban areas were on the verge of a serious conflict as the old colonial concept of governance was becoming ineffective with the emergence of a new indigenous middleclass. While many other Asian countries were also going through a similar conflict, they were able to resolve it through negotiations, political discussion and discourse. However, dialogue and political negotiations stalled in Pakistan due to Zia-ul-Haq’s military regime. Perceptively analyzing the impact of the Zia Regime on Pakistani society, Hasan specifically highlighted the banning of extracurricular activities in public universities, closing down of places of public performances in an attempt to shut off all entertainment, and elimination of subjects like international history and geography from school curriculums. The outcome was that Pakistan stopped creating an indigenous educated leadership, the role universities previously played in politics and culture came to an end and lastly the function of the city to bring together various cultures and peoples to interact in a shared public space instead got splashed with barriers. This period instead produced a generation that suffered from megalomania, paranoia and narcissism and the entire society’s debate came to be dominated around these three aspects as a whole generation had lost the capacity of rationality.

Hasan concluded the talk with few policy prescriptions and suggestions. In terms of land use, he suggested that there was a need to conserve land through high-density and mixed housing. Additionally, creating multiclass public spaces was the need of the hour as a city divided would make it a place of violence. However, he argued that suggested prescriptions were dependent on the promotion of new societal values as a conflict existed between conventional values and new behavioral pattern which posed a serious hindrance to society’s advancement. When new behavioral patterns emerged, it became necessary to also formulate and inculcate new societal values to move forward. Lastly discussing the issue of planning, he stated that according to current trends in Karachi and Lahore, planning was being replaced by projects. He emphasized four basic principles for project implementation: one, to respect ecology of regions where the city was located; two, to promote land use on the basis of environment and sociological considerations and not on the basis of land value alone; three, to support the interests of the majority population; and four, to protect the tangible and intangible cultural heritage of communities that live in the city.

“There was no land formally available for low-income settlements, for wholesale warehousing, and for transport related activities”

The talk evoked a number of questions among the participants. Answering a question to further elaborate why family structures in Pakistan had changed, Hasan outlined reasons for the disintegration of extended family system underlying the point that the traditional patriarchal structure did not strictly hold anymore. While previously there was a sole earning member and the whole family was subservient to him, now with an increase in the number of earning members, the authority was instead contested. Another reason was that the women of poor families saw better opportunities in a nuclear family system while the joint family system restricted their choice to work and education. Thus a greater number of unmarried adolescents who wanted more independence were inclined to break away from the joint family system.

In reply to a question regarding increasing violence in Karachi, he suggested that the main reason behind this ethnic violence was dysfunctional government institutions leading people to turn to their respective ethnic and clan organizations thus accentuating ethnic divisions. He further emphasized the need for quality education through government institutions suggesting that the diffusion of conflict in the developed world had come through sound universal education by government institutions as without quality education it was difficult to promote the values of peace and harmony in a society. Pakistan had instead gone the other way as the state education system was consistently deteriorating while the private sector system was producing the new elite. With these parallel education systems, in 30 years Pakistan would have a generation in which there would be two classes at war with each other.

“There was a dearth of skills because of a lack of polytechnics and vocational schools … Pakistan had more doctors than paramedics, more engineers than trained technicians, more textile engineers than people who could manage the shop floor.”

Responding to a comment about urban mis-planning leading to unhindered expansion of cities on prime agricultural lands, Hasan articulated four policy prescriptions to counter it: one, a strategy to control current speculative development; two, convert low density developments to higher density; three, create new towns and set a cap on city size as the continual expansion of existing towns was unsustainable and detrimental; and lastly, devise a policy for urban agriculture. However, he argued that these prescriptions required sound institutions for proper implementation, which was not possible without massive public sector reforms as simple tampering of the old colonial system only made institutions less functional. He instead argued for a participatory decision-making system in Pakistan akin to participatory democracy born out of the long struggle of political parties in Latin America rather than the local government system where Nazims were given excessive undue authority making the system exploitative. He termed the system’s embedded strong anti-poor bias, and lack of accountability and transparency as the main cause behind the loss of large chunks of land to urban development.

“Zia’s period instead produced a generation that suffered from megalomania, paranoia and narcissism and the entire society’s debate came to be dominated around these three aspects as a whole generation had lost the capacity of rationality.”

Answering a question about the role of politics in planning with reference to Kachi Abadi regulations, Hasan pointed out that most urban planning decisions in Pakistan were political rather than administrative or planning decisions. Although the decisions were backed by law, the effectiveness depended on the procedures, rules and regulations which could potentially distort the law. Thus it was important to design appropriate regulations in line with the law to make the law both effective and productive. Discussing the larger issue of provision of low-cost housing, he asserted that it could either be done through the market system, the state or public private partnership. However, the basic issue was financial as access to credit was difficult and interest rates on loans too high for a poor man. Thus, a state subsidy was needed for either option.