Nearchus was a commander in ancient Greek king, Alexander’s army which had invaded India. In 325 BCE, Nearchus exited India with his section of the army by sailing over the Indus and exiting from Balochistan.
He entered Balochistan by first reaching the mouth of Indus which emptied the river’s waters in the Arabian Sea. Historians believe this was where the coastal Manora area is in Karachi today.
A great storm from raging and Nearchus found a fishing village here led by a matriarch. He named the place Morontobara (Greek for Woman’s Harbour).
In 1839, Karachi was just an insignificant dot on world maps. It was a small fishing town ruled by the Sindhi-Baloch dynasty (the Talpurs). It had a fort made of dry mud and an underdeveloped harbour. The town had no paved roads and no sanitation or garbage-collecting system.
It had a population of about 20,000 people who were mostly involved in the fish trade. Crime was high, and disease was rampant. The bulk of the population was made up of Sindhi, Balochi and Gujarati-speaking Hindus and Muslims.
The city’s worsening sanitation conditions fed the infected rats which arrived on ships from elsewhere in India. Hundreds of people perished from the plague. The British began work on providing the city with an effective sanitation and sewerage system.
By the mid-1900s, Karachi had grown into an impressive trading post. The British developed Karachi’s harbour and it became one of the busiest in India. The British also built a robust infrastructure (roads, bridges, hospitals, parks, railways, etc.); and introduced modern policing and city governing systems.
The crime rate saw a sharp decline; and the city’s economy boomed. Fifty-one per cent of the city’s population was Hindu; 40% was Muslim; and there were also large Christian and Zoroastrian communities.
There was a Jew community too, apart from thousands of British officers, doctors, engineers and administrators and their families residing here. It was during this period that Karachi became known as The Paris of Asia.
The statue of the British Queen was shipped to Karachi all the way from London. The ceremony was attended by British and local officials of the city government, British military personnel, Karachi’s wealthy Hindu, Muslim and Zoroastrian dignitaries and the general public.
A few years later, a statue of King Edward, too, was placed here. Both the statues remained in place when Karachi became a part of Pakistan in 1947. However, the statues were removed in 1956 when Pakistan’s first constitution declared the country a republic.
Karachi became the capital of Pakistan in August 1947. It witnessed a huge influx of Muslim refugees arriving from various Indian cities and towns. Karachi did not have the resources to accommodate such an influx. Many of its buildings were packed to capacity. Many civil servants, police personnel and ministers of the new country shifted to these tents from where (for almost a year and a half) they navigated the fate of Pakistan and its capital city.
The city began to recover from the early demographic tremors caused by the dramatic influx of refugees when Karachi became the capital of Pakistan after independence from British rule and partition from India.
Another reason for the recovery was the sudden boom that the city’s economy enjoyed when Pakistan became a leading exporter of jute, cotton and other agricultural goods to the US troops stationed in Korea during the Korean War. The bulk of the goods were exported through cargo ships leaving from the city’s harbour.
The brief economic boom that the city enjoyed (see previous picture and text), facilitated the government to erect some much needed buildings to house the growing number of government officials and refugees (Urdu-speaking Mohajirs).
In the early 1950s, a bulk of the city’s labour force was made up of the working-class sections of the refugees. By the late 1950s, much of the force comprised Pakhtun migrants arriving from the North-West Frontier Province (present-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).
The country's first constitution, passed in 1956, declared the country a republic and promised Pakistan’s first election based on adult franchise. Assembly members were all indirectly elected, and consisted of legislators from the centre-right Muslim League, the centrist Republican Party and the left-leaning Awami League.
The assembly also consisted a few members from the left-wing Azad Pakistan Party. An alliance of centre-left outfits called the United Front had the second largest number of members in the assembly after Muslim League. The assembly did not have any member to form a religious party, even though the small Nizam-e-Islam Party (based in East Pakistan) was part of the United Front.
Till the late 1950s, refugee camps were still in existence and street plays on the horrors of the partition were staged here. Crime, exploitation and a sense of alienation were ripe in the camps. They were emphatically depicted by famous Urdu novelist Shaukat Siddique in his 1956 novel, Khuda Ki Basti (God’s Abode).
According to a 1957 newspaper article in America’s Washington Post, Karachi’s beaches were some of the "cleanest beaches in Asia". Tiny working-class settlements (gohts) near these beaches began to expand.
The settlements were largely populated by Sindhi and Baloch fishermen and their families. They slowly began to venture into other areas of business as well, such as selling beer, soft-drinks and snacks to passing visitors, become caretakers of the huts, and invest in buying horses and camels to provide joy rides to bathers.
Pakistan military chief, Field Marshal Ayub Khan, had come to power through a military coup. He ordered a crackdown against corruption and crime in Karachi which had grown ever since the city’s economy had begun to struggle from the mid-1950s onward.
Restaurants and eateries offering spicy North Indian dishes had begun to come up here and by the 1970s, the area would become a famous food street – but highly populated and congested. By the 1980s, though it remained famous for its eateries, it was mostly populated by lower-middle-class segments of Karachi.
New buildings housing the Karachi Stock Exchange, banks, insurance companies, newspaper offices, other financial institutions and advertising agencies sprang up.
Between 1959 and 1965, streets of this area were regularly washed with water. Later, the area was renamed II Chundrigar Road and has become extremely congested and polluted.
The hard-working Pakhtuns immediately populated the city’s labour force and also began to operate businesses involved in providing public transport. However, tensions began to mount between the city’s Mohajir majority and the new Pakhtun arrivals. The city eventually witnessed its first Mohajir-Pashtun riot in 1965.
Ayub Khan (Muslim League-Convention) defeated Fatima Jinnah (of Combined Opposition Parties – an alliance of anti-Ayub left and right outfits) and was re-elected as President. However, Karachi was the only city which voted against Ayub.
In the 1960s, Pakistan International Airlines rapidly emerged as one of the top airlines in the world and the Karachi Airport became "the gateway to Asia".
The Intercontinental Hotel was a popular high-end hotel in a city enjoying an economic boom and a rising number of foreign dignitaries, business personnel and tourists arriving for work and play to Karachi.
The hotel was re-named Pearl Continental in the 1990s. It is now mostly surrounded by tall barricades and security guards due to rise of terrorism and militancy in the city from 2004 onward.
The community had grown in size in the early 1900s, but began to shrink from the 1950s onward. By the 1960s, only a handful of Jews remained in Karachi. They completely vanished after late 1960s (moving abroad).
Members of Karachi’s Jew community spoke fluent Hebrew, English, Urdu and even some Arabic.
The Ayub regime’s industrialisation project and pro-business policies had triggered an economic boom. But this boom had a flip side to it as well.
It also created severe economic disparities and gaps between classes and the expansion of slums like this one. The slums did not have any running water, sewerage system or electricity and were riddled with poverty, rising crime and alcoholism.
These tensions were expressed by an intense anti-Ayub movement in 1968-69, largely orchestrated by left-wing student outfits, labour unions and populist political parties. The movement forced Ayub to resign in early 1969.
The populist ZA Bhutto regime, which took power in December 1971, would go on to regularise most of Karachi’s slums by providing them with some amenities, and ownership of land to those residing here. The Bhutto regime would also go on to build walls around such slums to stem their physical growth.
Though the Pakistani passport was always green (ever since the country’s creation in 1947), the full name of the country inscribed on it kept changing.
From 1947 till 1955, "Pakistan Passport"was inscribed (in Urdu, Bengali and English) on the cover. This was changed to ‘Republic of Pakistan’ in 1956, and then to ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’ in 1958.
In 1960, the Ayub regime reverted it to "Republic of Pakistan". In 1969, the inscription was changed back to the simple "Pakistan Passport". This was changed in 1973 to "Islamic Republic of Pakistan" by the Bhutto regime (now written only in Urdu and English, because the Bengali-dominated East Pakistan had broken away in 1971).
This has remained, even though the Musharraf regime (1999-2008) did try to revert the inscription back to "Republic of Pakistan", but his move was opposed by conservative opposition parties.
A majority of pop bands of the kind seen in this picture, which played regularly at hotels and nightclubs of the city, consisted of members of Karachi’s vibrant Christian community. The community was largely Catholic and its ancestors had begun to arrive in Karachi in the early 1900s. Most had come from Goa where they had been converted to Christianity by Portuguese colonialists.
Karachi’s Christian community largely resided in the Saddar areas and was involved in education. The late 1960s and 1970s were the heydays of Christian pop bands, and most Christian youth made their living through this.
However, after nightclubs were closed down in April 1977 and a reactionary dictatorship came to power in July 1977, such bands struggled to find work. Many from these bands slipped into depression and alcoholism and died young, or migrated abroad. By the 1990s and 2000s, a majority of Karachi’s Christians had migrated.
Though it was still being called the Wall Street of Pakistan, the economy of the country which had boomed in the early and mid-1960s had already begun to falter.
Major industries and capital, which were concentrated in private hands, began to take flight and were stashed abroad after the Bhutto regime implemented its so-called socialist policies.
Most banks and insurance companies situated on this road were nationalised and fell into disarray. The economy also struggled to come to terms with the dramatic rise in global oil prices.
The 1970s were a surreal and flamboyant era in the city. Exaggerated and extroverted displays of one’s personality were common among the youth.
Pakistan's first nuclear-powered plan, which Bhutto inaugurated in Karachi in 1972, is still operational.
The iconic Nishat Cinema thrived in the 1970s and even survived the impact of the VCR invasion in the 1980s. However, in the 2000s, it was completely destroyed and set on fire by militant mobs incited by religious outfits. It has not been reconstructed.
Saddar had been an upscale shopping area during British Raj. From the mid-1960s, it began evolving as the epicentre of Karachi’s nightlife.
Its streets were lined with trendy restaurants, shops, bars and nightclubs, mostly catering to Karachi’s middle-classes. By the 1980s, it began to fall into disarray and suffer severe congestion. Today, it is a pale and an ill reflection of what it used to be.
Karachi always had a prominent fishing industry (fisheries), and it still does. However, ironically, it is perhaps the only major coastal city in the world where seafood is not all that popular.
Though small seafood eateries thrive near the port, and in the city’s historical coastal areas, such as Kemari, exclusive seafood restaurants are rare in Karachi.
This is mostly due to the fact that after the creation of Pakistan in 1947, the majority group of the city was made up of refugees arriving from various cities and towns of India. Many of these cities and towns were landlocked and never fully developed a taste for seafood.
The Bhutto regime regularised many such slums by providing their residents land ownership and some amenities. Bhutto also got walls built around the slums to stem their growth, but the increasing rate of population in Karachi, inflation, and unemployment, could not stem swelling of poverty and economic desperation.
Criminal gangs dealing in drugs (mostly hashish), prostitution, pick-pocketing, gambling and black marketing grew two-fold in such slums, one of which was situated in the Lyari area. Paradoxically, Lyari had become a bastion of Bhutto’s Pakistan Peoples Party from 1970 onward.
Pakistan International Airlines continued to grow into a world-class airline, and was making handsome profits since the mid-1960s. Karachi Airport, too, remained one of the busiest in the region, accommodating flights belonging to all the leading airlines of the world. But from the late 1980s onwards, the airline began to face a gradual decline. Its quality of service deteriorated and by the 2000s, it was on the verge of bankruptcy. It still is.
The airport in Karachi, too, lost out its "gateway to Asia" status to Dubai. And due to rising incidents of terrorism in Pakistan, traffic at the airport was drastically reduced, despite the fact that the airport was shifted to a brand new building in 1992.
With rising violence in Beirut in the mid-1970s, the Bhutto regime planned to divert the wealthy European and Arab tourists from the crumbling casinos of Beirut to Karachi. For this purpose, the Bhutto government began building a large 5-star hotel in the heart of Karachi (Hayat Hotel), and an equally large casino situated on the shoes of the city’s Clifton Beach area.
By 1977, both buildings were almost complete when Bhutto was overthrown in a reactionary military coup. Work on the hotel and casino was halted. The empty casino building was finally torn down in the 2000s, whereas the incomplete structure of the hotel still stands, rather aimlessly.
The so-called recreational wealth that Bhutto was trying to attract to Karachi eventually moved to Dubai.
Its appearance symbolised a brief respite from economic turmoil which the city had fallen into in the late 1970s. The Ziaul Haq dictatorship was replenished with US and Saudi aid (at the start of the Afghan Civil War), and it also began to dismantle Bhutto’s rather ill-formed socialist economic policies.
A new class of nouveau-riche began to emerge, which was comfortable with combining the accumulation of wealth and material exuberance with exhibitions of public piety encouraged by the Zia dictatorship.
Many members of this new class could be found holding business lunches and dinners at the Taj Mahal. The hotel still exists but in a more depleted state. It is now called the Regent Plaza and has become a 2-star resort.
Much of this area, located along the Clifton Beach, had just been about the sea, sand and shrubs. But in the early 1980s, town-houses and small bungalows began to come up, mostly catering to the growing middle-class sections of Karachi.
Today, it has become a widespread residential area with shopping malls, exotic restaurants and tall office buildings. However, the sea water here has become extremely polluted.
Funded by Prince Karim Agha Khan, the Agha Khan hospital has remained Karachi’s largest and most sophisticated surgical and treatment facility. It also has an excellent medical university attached to it.
The first picture is from 1983 and second from 1984. The Orangi Pilot Project was an initiative of Akhtar Hameed Khan, a social scientist. He began a "bottom-up community development program" in Orangi which, at the time, was a large slum.
He registered the Orangi Pilot Project as an NGO and then generated funds and plans for the upliftment of Orangi. He mobilised the area’s people and involved them in various self-help schemes aimed at building an effective sewerage and sanitation system, paved streets, low-income housing, schools and medical facilities.
He often got into tussles with the many land-grabbing, extortion and drug gangs operating here. The gangs utilised the area’s religious figures to intimidate him. But the Orangi Pilot Project was a huge success.
The Hockey Club of Pakistan is a state-of-the-art hockey stadium and headquarters of Pakistan’s hockey federation. Situated off Shara-e-Faisal Road in Karachi, it was inaugurated in 1979 and was the first hockey ground in the country to have an Astroturf field.
The club held various international tournaments between 1980 and 1992. Most of them were won by Pakistan which was a force in international field hockey between the 1960s and early 1990s.
Pakistan’s fortunes, in this respect, began to plummet after 1994, so much so that by the 2000s, this once international hockey power and winner of three hockey World Cups was even struggling to qualify for the sport’s major events. The Hockey Club of Pakistan stopped holding international events. The last major event here was actually a pop concert in 1995.
On April 15, 1985, 20-year-old Mojahir student Bushra Zaidi was run over by a bus while getting off a mini-bus. The accident sparked a series of deadly riots between the Mohajirs and the Pakhtuns of Karachi.
Hundreds of people lost their lives. These riots triggered a cycle of ethnic conflicts which became an uncomfortable norm in the city. The riots were initially the result of Karachi’s resources coming under great stress due to the unchecked influx of Afghan refugees.
Drug and land-grabbing mafias became interwoven with corrupt security personnel and some politicians and guns became easily available on the black market. This was also the start of ethnic ghettoisation in Karachi, in which ethnic communities began residing in areas mostly populated by their respective ethnic group.
Karachi was the destination of the first-ever Emirates flight to Pakistan, which arrived from Dubai. Emirates, which would go on to become one of the leading airlines in the world, was initially set up by the UAE government with the help of engineers, pilots and administrators belonging to Pakistan’s national airline, Pakistan International Airlines.
Ironically, from the late 1980s, as Emirates was beginning its gradual rise, Pakistan International Airlines had already begun its eventual decline.
A Pan Am plane, which was scheduled to take-off from Karachi to JFK Airport in New York (via Frankfurt), was stormed by four radical Palestinian militants belonging to the notorious Marxist Abu Nidal group on September 5, 1986. The militants had entered the plane dressed as security personnel.
They shot dead an airhostess from India, Neerja Bhanot, before Pakistani army commandos entered the plane in the dead of the night. Twenty passengers lost their lives in the gun fight between the commandos and the militants. The dead included Indian, Mexican, American and Pakistani passengers. The militants were captured alive.
The 1987 World Cup was the first major cricket tournament held in Pakistan (jointly held with India). Both Pakistan and India reached the semi-finals of the event but lost. Australia beat England in the final to win its first cricket World Cup trophy. It would go on to win it four more times!
The National Stadium had a history of crowd trouble. But when in 1987, the stadium was upgraded and a roof constructed over the general stands (to keep out the angry Karachi sun), incidents of pitch invasion and crowd violence decreased dramatically.
Heroin addiction was almost non-existent in Karachi till 1979. But by the end of the 1980s, Karachi had one of the largest number of addicts in Pakistan, numbering in millions.
Heroin first began proliferating in the metropolis when it was introduced by drug peddlers, who had accompanied Afghan refugees arriving in Karachi after the start of the Afghan Civil War in December 1979. Peddlers first handed out the drug free of cost calling it meethi chars (sweet hashish).
Users were not told it was physically addictive. But once the users were hooked, the peddlers began to charge them. Growth in drug addiction also led to more violent drug gangs and crime among addicts who soon ran out of money to satisfy their addiction.
The heroin menace cut across classes. In the late 1990s, when the price of heroin became even steeper, most addicts began to inject it. This led to the spread of diseases such as Aids and fatal forms of hepatitis. Karachi still suffers from a major heroin problem.
When the state and government launched an operation against the alleged militant wings of the city’s largest party, the MQM, strikes became common in Karachi.
Throughout the 1990s, strikes shut down businesses and Karachi’s economy and law and order situation deteriorated drastically. Hundreds of policemen and members of the MQM died in the conflict.
The scene pictured above was for the biopic of Pakistan’s founder Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
England cricketer Dermot Reeve came to Karachi as part of the England cricket squad which toured Pakistan in 2000 for Test and One-Day International series.
In May 2002, a bus carrying French engineers was targeted, killing many.
Dozens of bystanders were killed. The Musharraf regime acknowledged that a new form of terror and violence has struck Pakistan.
The Musharraf regime greatly liberalised the economy and offered easy loans. The urban middle-classes benefited from this and their ranks grew rapidly.
But just as had happened during the Ayub regime, this time too, an economic boom had a flip side. Apart from giving more consumption powers to the urban middle-classes, it further widened economic disparities as well.
The monsoon in the city in 2006 was extraordinarily harsh, causing severe urban flooding and deaths. The monsoon season in Karachi is normally very mild. But after every five years or so, Karachi receives heavy rains from ‘cloud bursts’.
Weather experts suggest that heavy monsoons in Karachi are not a norm because monsoon rains in the city are ‘mainly due to meteorological accidents’. By this they mean that heavy rains only occur in Karachi due to some unexpected weather conditions in the Arabian Sea or over the Gujarat province in neighbouring India.
The 2006 rains broke various previous records. They were compared to the record rains Karachi had received during the monsoon seasons of 1901,1967, 1976-77 and 1994.
In 2007, terrorist attacks on civilians and security forces by clandestine extremist outfits increased twofold, and clashes between supporters of the Musharraf regime and opponents led to many deaths.
Karachi’s economy, which had enjoyed a brief boom in the early 2000s, had begun to buckle.
For the next many years, crime in the city would rise to unprecedented levels, forcing the military, the federal government (now led by Nawaz Sharif’s centre-right PML-N), and Sindh’s PPP-led provincial regime to initiate an extensive operation against terrorists and criminal gangs.
Till the late 1970s, this area was a long stretch of sea, sand and shrubs. Today, it is one of the most thriving residential, commercial and recreational areas of Karachi.
Multiplex cinemas mushroomed across the city from the mid-2000s onward. As conventional cinemas went out of fashion, multiplexes have been enjoying the return of middle-class audiences to watch films on the big screen.
Built in 1977, the Prince Cinema was the country’s largest cinema and the first one which had a 70 mm screen, and Dolby sound system.
It was also the most expensive. However, decades later, it has been struggling to come to terms with the challenges posed by multiplexes. It survived the crisis of the 1980s when the VCR made sure to keep audiences seated in their homes, and it also survived when a rabid mob of extremists went on a rampage a few years ago and burned down a number of cinemas (Prince, Bambino, Nishat, Capri).
Nishat never reopened. Such cinemas now squarely cater to working-class audiences who can’t afford tickets at multiplexes.
Called the Icon Tower, this is going to be city and country's tallest building and is situated in the New Clifton area of the city (near the famous shrine of Sufi saint, Abdullah Shah Ghazi).
It is going to be 60-stories-high and is expected to be completed by early 2017. So far, the tallest building in Pakistan is Karachi’s MCB Tower on II Chundrigarh Road. Built in the 2000s, it broke the record held by Habib Bank Plaza (also located on the same road). The Habib Bank Plaza (now HBL Plaza) was built in the early 1960s.
This article first appeared on Dawn.