Optimism about Karachi 2

August 5 2007

Optimism about Karachi

Toynbee’s post-war travel writings show a naïve and unshaded, newsreel-like belief in the probability of near-term progress in the emerging post-colonial world. Many in the West shared this the ’50s and early ’60s. Did they start to lose their innocence with the Congo Crisis?

The strength of Northern Nigeria is not to be reckoned in musters of knights wearing quilted armour and mounted on richly carpisoned horses [a reference to the installation of a Fulani amir at Kano in February 1964]; it is to be reckoned in terms of the cubic capacity of those mountains of ground-nuts waiting, outside Kano, to be exported.


The Nigerians, like the rest of us, are making mistakes, besides achieving successes. No doubt they will make more mistakes – perhaps serious – in the course of their difficult transit from a tribal way of life to a cosmopolitan one. On the whole, though, we and they can feel hopeful about their future.


Of all the constructive enterprises that have been started in Ethiopia since her liberation from the short-lived Italian régime, the Haile Sellassie (sic) University is the one that holds the greatest promise for Ethiopia’s future.

There are chapters in the same book called The Industrial Revolution at Assuan and An Ancient Land Looks Forward. From an earlier book:

So long as they possibly could, the Muslims held aloof from the West and took a sedate pleasure in their sense of superiority. “Whizz, whizz, all by steam! Whirr, whirr, all by wheels!” as the Pasha expressed it to Kinglake. [He is remembering Eothen.] These restless inquisitive Franks might monkey very ingeniously with the works of the Creator, but they would not be able to change one jot or tittle of His decrees. And had He not decreed that Islam was the True Faith and the Islamic community the Chosen People? The Unbelievers were playing their pranks on sufferance. In the sight of God they were beyond the Pale. Dar-al-Islam was the orbis terrarum; the Muslims were Mankind.

That attitude died hard in the Islamic World; but I believe it is stone-dead now; and though, if you looked in the right places, you could doubtless find some old-fashioned Islamic Fundamentalists still lingering on, you would also find that their influence was negligible. The vast majority of Muslims have succeeded in making a profound mental readjustment. They have perceived, at last, that while they have been looking on superciliously the Franks have made the planet their own and have laid the foundations of a world order which will develop, for good or evil, on the Western pattern. The Muslims have discovered with a shock that it is now they and not the Franks who are “a peculiar people.” And since it is irksome and boring to be peculiar, when once you realize that you are, the Muslims are endeavouring to become as other men are, and not as that Pharisee, their former self.

Which says something about the acceptance of Western trappings, but less about the religious outlook per se. Toynbee might have answered that one thing leads to another and that the former modifies the latter. The passage was written in 1929. He may not by then have heard about the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been founded in Egypt in the previous year. Though his views may have been modified, he did not foresee Islamic extremism in the way we have it now. The Muslim Brotherhood, anyway, rejects the label “fundamentalist”. It is the largest Islamist group in the Sunni world and a mainstream party in many countries.

In 1955, he seems to have edited (he isn’t credited as editor) a book about Pakistan, Crescent and Green. He wrote a foreword and the first chapter, Pakistan as an Historian Sees Her. V Gordon Childe, Mortimer Wheeler and others, including some Pakistanis, contributed. (The book appeared just before the foundation of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. That happened in 1956. India changed from Dominion to Republic in just over two years – two years was thereafter the norm when a colony became independent – but Pakistan took nearly nine. The Queen of England was still Queen of Pakistan in 1955, though she didn’t appear on the banknotes.)

In the first chapter, which cannot have taken more than fifteen minutes to write, he imagines the Pathan highlanders as being on the verge of a similar social transformation to the one which overtook the Scottish highlanders after the Clearances. (Pakistan does, incidentally, make and export Scottish bagpipes.)

When I look at Pakistan, I see in her a characteristic sample of the contemporary world. Pakistan is the child of encounter and strife, and the rest of the contemporary world has been moulded by the same forces.

The world as a whole is suffering to-day from the sudden confrontation, at close quarters, of races, civilizations, and religions that have lived in isolation from one another in the past. Suddenly – as a result of “the annihilation of distance” by technology – we have been compelled to live together on intimate terms, before we have had time to get to know and to understand one another and to adjust our behaviour to our neighbours’ behaviour. This is a dangerous situation, and it is bound to last for some time, since technology has brought us all into physical juxtaposition far more quickly than the human psyche can adapt itself to this new physical situation. The psyche has a pace of its own, and, like a goat’s or a mule’s pace, this is a slow pace that cannot be speeded up.

Now in Pakistan I see the modern world’s situation and problem in miniature. Pakistan is a child of the strife that has arisen from the impact of Islam upon Hinduism. It is nearly a thousand years since Islam began to establish itself in India as a whole, and more than twelve hundred years since it gained its first footing in Sind and Multan. Yet the pace of the psyche’s self-adjustment is so slow that, in A.D. 1947, the Muslim community in the Indian sub-continent decided that there was still not enough common ground between Muslims and Hindus to enable the two communities to remain united under a single government; now the people of the former British Indian Empire were to be fully self-governing.

This is – no doubt in crude and over-simplified terms – a true account, I believe, of the feeling that brought Pakistan into existence as a State. Now that Pakistan is a going concern, what is she going to live for and to work for?

One thing that Pakistan obviously does stand for already is the transcending of physical and linguistic differences by a common religion. If, in Pakistan, political allegiance were to be decided on lines of race or language, Pakistan would immediately fall to pieces. [It did in 1971.] Fortunately, a common adherence to Islam has proved itself a stronger spiritual force among Pakistani Muslims than differences which otherwise might have been disruptive.

A common adherence to Islam is manifestly a force that binds a majority of the people of Pakistan together; but now I am going to venture onto more controversial ground. I should say that it would be a calamity if Pakistan were ever to become a Muslim state in an exclusive and intolerant way, for then Islam might become a far more disruptive force than the racial and linguistic differences which Islam at present overrides. For one thing, Pakistani Islam is not unitary; the Shi’ah and the Ahmadiyah, as well as the Sunnah, are represented in it, and for this reason, so it seems to me, Pakistan could never be identified, as some Islamic countries can be, with some particular Islamic sect. And then Pakistan contains numerous and valuable minorities – particularly a Hindu minority and a Sikh one.

But the Sikh minority is, and presumably was, tiny. The Bahá’í minoity is larger.  

There are nearly as many Christians as Hindus, with a particular concentration in Karachi.

The majority community and the several minority communities in Pakistan have the task of living together as fellow citizens and, more than that, as friends. In so far as they succeed in achieving this, they will be doing a piece of pioneer spiritual work, not only for themselves, but for the world as a whole.

Moreover, Pakistan cannot live without good relations, not only between her own citizens, but between herself and her
neighbours. While there is a Hindu and a Sikh minority in Pakistan, there is also a Muslim minority in the Indian Union. If all goes well, these minorities across the frontier should be, not hostages, but ambassadors and interpreters, helping Pakistan and the Indian Union to live as good neighbours. Pakistan and the Indian Union are tied to one another by unalterable facts of geography; for nothing can alter the fact that the Indian Union has portions of Pakistan on both sides of her; while, conversely, Eastern Pakistan is separated from the Indus Valley by the whole breadth of the Indian Union. Pakistan is, of course, also closely bound up with the Islamic countries immediately to the west of her. On her frontier with Afghanistan, the British bequeathed to Pakistan the unsolved problem of the Pathan highlanders. This problem – which is perhaps, at bottom, not a military but an economic one – is a common concern of Pakistan and Afghanistan. The highlanders along this frontier are, I suppose, to-day in much the same stage of social development as the Scottish highlanders were in, let us say, 1753. At that date the Scottish highlanders were on the eve of a rapid social transformation. Perhaps the same destiny is awaiting the Pathan highlanders now.

When I look at the present political map of Pakistan and her neighbours, I am reminded of older political maps of the same region. Pakistan and Afghanistan, between them, cover much the same area as the Kushan Empire in the first and second centuries of the Christian Era and as the Bactrian Greek Empire in the second century B.C. A landlocked country astride the Hindu Kush finds its easiest outlet to the sea at the mouth of the River Indus. I should guess that Karachi has a great future as a port with a vast economic hinterland, besides her future as the political capital of a country of eighty million inhabitants whose population is still rapidly increasing.

Perhaps this population problem will be the most serious one that Pakistan will have to grapple with in the next chapter of her history. The pressure of population is, I suppose, already acute in Eastern Pakistan, and even in Western Pakistan the future possibilities of water conservation and irrigation are not unlimited. This, too, is a problem that is common to the whole world, and we have no hope of solving it without world-wide co-operation.

The optimism I illustrated in the last post was based on Karachi’s success in absorbing the huge influx of refugees on and after Partition – the Mohajir-Urdu, or Moslems who came in from India, some 6-7 million, not all settling in Karachi. Pakistan absorbed a further 3-4 million from Afghanistan in the years after the Soviet invasion, again rather impressively on the logistical side.

The refugee-settlement planning by Doxiadis may have been impressive. Most planning in Karachi has been very poor. The UAE property company Emaar and its like are trying to implant Dubai-like settlements for the middle class. Emaar’s projects in Karachi include the development of Bundal Island (initial estimate $43 billion) and the Crescent Bay high-rise zone. I am sure the Port Tower Complex on the Clifton shoreline will have some UAE money behind it. I hate Emaar-style architecture, but as agents of change, even political change, these projects outdo any earlier architecture of the post-colonial era.




Two computer-generated impressions of Port Tower Complex and one of Crescent Bay

Between Niger and Nile, OUP, 1965 (first three)

A Journey to China, or Things Which Are Seen, Constable, 1931 (the passage probably appeared, before that, in The Atlantic Monthly)

Editor, Crescent and Green, A Miscellany of Writings on Pakistan, Cassell, 1955

5 Responses to “Optimism about Karachi 2”

  1. Rajiv Says:

    Pakistan has become a failed state. see


    There is nothing +ve about pakistan.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    The property crash of 2008 stemmed the Emaar tide, at least for a time.

  3. Max Says:

    Actually if Pakistan fix’s its political corruption and successfully eliminates the Taliban’s entrance from the north and the remaining militants. Pakistan could proceed into success and begin to have a global economic impact.

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