Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah called on Prime Minister Imran Khan in Karachi on January 27, 2020

Something is cooking in Karachi. Plans are big, promises bigger. Neither are new. So what’s different this time?

Prime Minister Imran Khan will arrive in the metropolis in a day. Opposition leader Shahbaz Sharif has already reached. Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa landed on Tuesday and has been following a packed schedule. Punjab governor also flew into the province to add to the flurry of this high-level activity in the rain-ravaged city.

The torrential downpour and widespread flooding have jolted authorities to their bones. There is concern; there is worry; and there is opportunity.

Opportunity beckons initiative.ARTICLE CONTINUES AFTER AD

The good news about the initiative, as per officials in Islamabad, is that there is a basic level of understanding between the federal and provincial governments about moving forward to resolve long-standing problems of Karachi. A plan has indeed been drafted and shared with all relevant people, money has been arranged and a rough sketch of who will do what has also been drawn up.

The plan envisages short-term, medium-term and relatively long-term goals and objectives. These range from removal of encroachments to cleaning nullahs to lining the waterways with new roads to restructuring the governance structure in the city. There is even a timeline: first phase to be completed within three years and the second phase with longer term targets to be reached within seven years.

All this sounds rather welcome — though the exhausted residents of the city will surely not be faulted for not bringing out the garlands. Once the prime minister unveils the details of the plan along with its budgetary aspects, and once the chief minister of Sindh signs off on it, only then will these tall promises begin to exhale some reality. Or perhaps not even then. Plans have never been a problem. In fact, we have had too many of these plans resting peacefully in dusty files. The issue here is how to turn them into reality.

The PTI, PPP and MQM are not a love triangle. Not by a margin. Expecting them to join hands is expecting almost too much. Almost. Each has a significant vote bank in Karachi. This vote bank comes accompanied with vested interests of the political and commercial kind. Then there’s land. And turf. And property. A potent cocktail, if ever there was one. How will this trio — with many smaller stakeholders nipping at their heels — get difficult things done?

The huge pressure of expectations is a motivating factor. Federal government officials say this is a tailor-made opportunity for the prime minister to achieve two objectives: one, get involved in Karachi with a constructive approach at a time when the city residents need things to improve the most; and second, show that he can cooperate with his rivals — PPP in this case — when a need arises.

Equally important is the government’s utilisation of the military. The army chief’s presence in Karachi illustrates the critical role that military is expected to play in the implementation of the joint federal and provincial government plan. Officials say there is now a consensus among all key stakeholders that the major problems of Karachi must be solved and in this respect whatever steps need to be taken — howsoever politically difficult and unmanageable — must be taken.

PPP may not have much of a choice after the battering it has received for the abysmal state of governance in Karachi. Party officials are justified in saying other stakeholders also share the blame, but the party cannot escape the lion’s share of the scorn coming from the people. Under pressure, PPP is likely to agree on many components of the plan it would have resisted in normal times. Officials say the PPP government will lead this new initiative while the federal government will play a supportive role.

And yet the PPP leadership is torn between two conflicting demands that have coincided with Karachi’s governance debacle. Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah will be joining hands with PTI to resolve Karachi’s issues but he is also joining hands with PML-N to finalise the agenda and dates for the All Parties Conference (APC) aimed at resisting the PTI government with all available options. Shahbaz Sharif’s long-awaited meeting with PPP co-chairman Asif Zardari in Karachi on Wednesday has propelled the opposition to stitch up its plan and get organised for joint actions.

But there are complications. PML-N insiders say all APC plans are now dependent on the decision about the return of their leader Nawaz Sharif from London. Will he or won’t he? This dilemma — for this is what it is for now — will consume all party planning for the next few days. The Rehbar Committee of the opposition parties will meet as announced but strategic decisions will stay on hold till the big decision about Nawaz Sharif’s plans is made.

This uncertainty suits the PTI government. Officials say an unclear opposition gives them the space and time to launch big plans in Karachi and channelise the momentum on their side. The prime minister may have missed out on an early visit to Karachi but his aides hope the plans he unveils would compensate for the delay in his visit. These officials are exuding confidence that this time around things will actually move in Karachi. The undercurrents of political rivalries will keep flowing fast and furious but the compulsion to make the change may force these rivals to act.

About time they did.