Friday, 21 February 2014

Karachi, history and Pakistan's mighty Indus River

In Pakistan the mighty Indus River historically nourishes life around the country. To Singaporeans, the river may not be important enough to include in the menu of the zoo's River Safari attractions but it was important enough to spawn the Indus Valley civilization during 3300 - 1300 BC. At its peak, the civilization may have cradled up to five million people - a phenomenal number for its day.

A tributary of the Indus River in Pakistan's norther Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province
However, unlike Singapore where the Singapore River is never far from view, the Indus River is not normally visible from Pakistan's largest city, Karachi. (But then Pakistan is not a kampong, city and nation-state rolled into one entity!)

Fortunately, the Indus River cannot be blamed for the historical aberration, i.e. development of a large metropolis built away from the river's banks.

Karachi is a new city. The city's present population of twenty-three million is a far cry from the Karachi's 500,000 residents in 1947, the year of Pakistan's creation. Sindhis and Baloch, the historical inhabitants of Sindh province of which Karachi is the capital, are now virtually a minority in the province. Surely, this has created tensions between the city's 'old' and the 'new' (sound familiar Singapore?). These stresses will be worked out naturally over time, as a national 'Pakistani' consciousness develops over the course of a few more generations.

But a region's history stays with its people irrespective of their rulers or the color of its passport. Since the 1500s, Pakistan's territories have seen the Mughals, the British and umpteen 'independent' dynasties rule different areas for varying periods of time. Unfortunately for Pakistanis, many parts of Pakistan have historically been 'frontier' regions with violent warfare between different parties almost a part of the cultural landscape. Khyber Pukhtunkhwa province, formerly known as the Northwest Frontier Province, and Balochistan are cases in point. Both zones were frequently contested between Delhi and the Afghan / Persian kingdoms respectively.

Some of the warring continues to this day. The ideological battle between militant, bearded Islam and ordinary Pakistanis has spilt much blood during the last decade. While Pakistan's Fashion Week takes place in one part of Karachi, the 'jahil' mullahs' self proclaimed 'enforcers of civilization' attack polio vaccination teams in other parts of the city and country!

The good news: forces of progress and moderation are in the ascendancy while the religious bigots are desperately seeking to hang on to the limited space made available to them through intimidation and threats. The bad news: the physical and ideological battle will continue for years to come. The soil around the Indus River will soak in much more innocent - and not so innocent - blood before the war ends.

The banks of the river Indus are hazy with clouds and dust
Added to it is the fire of war
Kindled by us, we burnt each other
Now that it has spread far and wide
We are too weary to put it out

Poem by Mir Bijar, a 16th century Balochi poet.

Translated from Balochi by Parveen Talpur. 'Footnotes: Selected Verses of Great Poets,' Parveen Talpur. Ferozsons, 2006.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of regional businesses. He can be reached at

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