Karachi: Gateway to Pakistan

Karachi is famous as “land of opportunities” in Pakistan. During my period of initial orientation – tea used to be served for four annas per quarter cup then – and continuous visits later; I have found Karachi is constantly reinventing itself. It is a land of superlatives: Pakistan’s biggest and one of the most prosperous cosmopolitan cities, home to universities and colleges, historic, cultural, and commercial center. It has been a land of plenty since centuries.

The history of Karachi, until its occupation by the Talpurs during late eightieth century (1795), is lost in the haze of past. At the time of its annexation by the Talpurs, Karachi was a little more than a fishing village and the dominant tribes of fishermen were the Kulachis, hence the name.

History has it that Karachi was ceded by the Kalhora rules to the Khan of Kalat in 1785 as a compensation for the death of Khan of Kalat’s brother-in-law. The Talpurs took back Karachi in 1795 after having overthrown the Kalhoras. In 1797, fort was built by Fateh Ali Talpur at Manora. In order to gain a foothold, the British established a factory on the banks of the Lyari River in 1799 near the present day site. However, the Mir grew suspicious of the British and expelled them the following year and the factory had to close down. Karachi was taken over by the British in 1839, four years before the annexation of Sindh.

A contemporary British account of the invasion reads, “Our occupation of Kurrachee (as it was called then) resulted from the military operations in connection with the Afghan War of 1838. During Lord Auckland’s Administration it was resolved to oppose Dost Muhammad, the Talpurs, who were then in power, showed themselves so extremely inimical to us and so incapable of maintaining an orderly government,that Sir John Keane, the Commander in Chief, received instructions to send a force into the country. His first step was to seize upon Kurrachee.”

Upon the annexation of Sindh in 1843, Napier shifted the capital from Hyderabad to Karachi. As a first step the British established the present cantonments at that time outside the town limits. Municipal limits were extended to 74 square miles to allow for expansion although the town was only 4 square miles. Napier had earlier started a water supply to the city from Malir and established a basic police and judicial level. The population of Karachi grew slowly, but steadily, throughout the nineteenth century. By the beginning of the twentieth century it had crossed one hundred thousand, of which 55 percent was Muslim and 41 percent was Hindu.

Endowed with a natural harbour, fair weather, and plenty of space, Karachi always had the potential to become a great metropolis. It has every thing for those take their chances to this place.

More than two thousand yeas ago, Alexander, who stayed here for 27 days on his way back to Macedonia (he had come from the north), recognized the enormous potential in terms of commerce and trade of the immediate hinterland of Karachi and called this place “the bridge between east and west,” It still is. Since the days of Alexander, the port of Karachi continues to enjoy a strategic importance. It is through this way that Muslim general Muhammad bin Qasim entered what is now Pakistan and brought divine religion Islam here. Arab historians had also recounted the importance of Karachi. Once again the city began to assume prime importance towards the end of the eighteenth century. A new deep sea port Gawadar is being developed there near Karachi.

Except for the 15 years of “One Unit” from 1955 to 1970, Karachi has been the capital of Sindh province ever since 1937. It was also the first capital of Pakistan. As the port and commercial capital of the country, the role of Karachi in the country is more than that of a mere provincial capital. During the Second World War, Karachi assumed strategic importance as it became the air gateway to the Subcontinent. But it was still a quiet town with an efficient municipality. The population of the city was relatively stable until the coming of independence.

The face of the city changed after the Independence in 1947. No other city took the brunt of the migration as much as Karachi because every one wanted to be in capital and urban areas. After the emigration of the partition ceased, a second wave of exodus started from the rest of the country to Karachi: in search of better opportunities. It continues!

What a city of unique colonial architectural curiosities, wide sunny beaches, deep sea fishing, yachting needs is an introduction to what it can offer to travellers and site seers. It has every thing else.

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