Civil society consortium formed for peace

Well-known members of civil society announce their union in a cultural movement to restore peace to Karachi.—White Star

KARACHI: Looking to bring peace to Karachi in present times of unrest, 20 concerned members of civil society and over 25 partner organisations came together at a hotel on Wednesday to announce the formation of a consortium and launch a peace campaign titled ‘I am Karachi’.

Two men walking down the beach happen to notice an inscription in the wet sand: ‘Mein Karachi’. They read it aloud, laugh, repeat it a few times until the real meaning of the words dawns and they join hands to become united in what they have to do to own their city. The message of owning the city was loud and clear in the 30-second documentary shown at the beginning of the press conference.

“All of us here have a connection to Karachi. Each one of us has a responsibility to the next generation. They shouldn’t want to stone our graves and curse us because we didn’t come forward to reclaim the culture and heritage of our forefathers,” said Oscar-winning documentary film maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy after reading out a portion of a write-up by Syed Abdul Haider recalling what Karachi was like in 1954.

He wrote about open roads, trams ... bumping into Fatima Jinnah in Saddar. “This is the Karachi we aspire to go back to. The new year is about to begin. Will 2015 be that year when we got together to do something?” asked Ms Obaid-Chinoy. Senior journalist Ghazi Salahuddin said: “We can both celebrate Karachi and mourn Karachi.”

Commenting that Karachi’s sorrows were different in its own way, he said the city story started from divides. “This city bore the burden of displaced people and grew with them,” he said, explaining that the original middle-class residents of Karachi were the Hindus who left the city during Partition. Then those who came in their place couldn’t grow strong roots here, with the result that the true sense of ownership was never there.

“What happened in Peshawar meant that now civil society has to rise together to assert itself and oppose the extremists and terrorists. We just have to,” he stressed.

Writer and artist Rumana Husain said they all did different things, which gave them separate identities. “But we all share pride for this city of 22 million to meet on a single platform to initiate a dialogue on how to achieve peace while talking about taboo subjects such as targeted killing, drug mafia, etc,” she said.

About the diverse population of the mega city, she said: “We need to accept each other and develop an understanding about each other. It is not a few people, it is all of us. We need to celebrate the richness, the diversity of this city.”

Highlighting the need to involve people at all levels, business executive Saad Amanullah Khan educated others about the various projects they had carried out so far and plan to come up in future. “We held the ‘I am Karachi’ youth festival, we bring out the Purr Aman Karachi newsletter from the Karachi Commissioner’s office. There was the Lyari sports programme. And many more social and cultural activities are in the pipeline for which we will also be involving people with disabilities. We would be publishing a calender of our activities, too,” he said.

Business tycoon Amin Hashwani said they had a 20-people consortium at present but it would be growing as they reached out to more stakeholders. “Karachi has a lot of potential that needs to be channelled into concrete action, otherwise it will just remain untapped ‘potential’,” he said.

“We are a social and cultural response to the problem of violence in Karachi. ‘I’ or ‘mein’ is one part and ‘am Karachi’, the second part of this movement that we are starting today, is the city’s identity linked with our existence,” said Nida Butt, founder of various preforming arts organisations.

“Joining hands for peace on the eve of Dec 25, the Quaid-i-Azam’s birthday, is the biggest gift that we can give him,” said Jameel Yusuf, industrialist and founder and former chief of the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee.

“In philanthropy, Pakistan is the top country in the world. America and Germany come second and third. There is so much good happening in Pakistan now such as work of social welfare organisations like Edhi and Chhipa, teachers’ training, TCF schools, book festivals, the CPLC, etc. How to harness all this goodness and hope?” he asked.

“We the civil society pay the most taxes but remains the most deprived. Joining hands we will teach the government institutions good governance while gaining ownership of our city through self-discipline,” he said.

“I’m a Khoja businessman. If I can catch criminals working with the CPLC, you all can do so much more. Remember, we are doers. All we need is will and motivation,” Mr Yusuf added.

New institution

While Mr Yusuf was speaking at the press conference, he was requested by other members of the consortium to share information about a new institution that he is founding.

“Well, it is a victims’ assistance foundation. Normally, after a calamity, you hear about the government announcing Rs300,000 or something like it for the victims’ families. Are you aware that many of these people don’t even know how to fill out forms.

So we through this new institution will rebuild victims’ families. The education of their children will be free, the corporate sector will be engaged to provide them medicines, too, free of charge,” he explained.

Writer and critic Dr Asif Farrukhi, actor and music composer Arshad Mahmood, management consultant Imran Ali, photojournalist Khaula Jamil, film producer Mazhar Zaidi, TV anchor Rizwan Jaffar, classical dancer and social activist Sheema Kermani, communication designer Saima Zaidi, educationalist Zara Basharat and entrepreneur Ziad Bashir complete the consortium of 20.

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