Compiled By: Rtn. Gangaram Shamdas Purswani (P.H.F.)
Karachi is the capital of the Pakistan Province of Sindh. It is the Largest city in Pakistan and seventh largest city proper in the world. Ranked as a beta-global city. The city is Pakistan’s premier industrial and financial centre, with an estimated GDP of $114 billion as of 2014. Karachi is Pakistan’s most cosmopolitan city, its most linguistically, ethnically, and religiously diverse city, as well as one of Pakistan’s most secular and socially liberal cities. With its location on the Arabian Sea Karachi serves as a transport hub, and is home to Pakistan’s two largest seaports, the Port of Karachi and Port Bin Qasim, as well as Pakistan’s busiest airport, Jinnah International Airport.
Though the Karachi region has been inhabited for millennia,[ the city was founded as the fortified village of Kolachi in 1729. The settlement drastically increased in importance with the arrival of British East India Company in the mid 19th century. The British embarked on major works to transform the city into a major seaport, and connected it with their extensive railway network. By the time of the Partition of British India, the city was the largest in Sindh with an estimated population of 400,000. Karachi is now Pakistan’s premier industrial and financial centre. The city has a formal economy estimated to be worth $114 billion as of 2014 which is the largest in Pakistan. Karachi collects more than a third of Pakistan’s tax revenue, and generates approximately 20% of Pakistan’s GDP. Approximately 30% of Pakistani industrial output is from Karachi, while Karachi’s ports handle approximately 95% of Pakistan’s foreign trade. Approximately 90% of the multinational corporations operating in Pakistan are headquartered in Karachi. Karachi is considered to be Pakistan’s fashion capital, and has hosted the annual Karachi Fashion Week since 2009. Known as the “City of Lights” in the 1960s and 1970s for its vibrant night life.
Modern Karachi was reputedly founded in 1729 as the settlement of Kolachi-jo-Goth. The new settlement is said to have been named in honour of Mai Kolachi, whose son is said to have slain a man-eating crocodile in the village after his elder brothers had already been killed by it. The name Karachee, a shortened and corrupted version the original name Kolachi-jo-Goth, was used for the first time in a Dutch report from 1742 about a shipwreck near the settlement.
The region around Karachi has been the site of human habitation for millennia. Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic sites have been excavated in the Mulri Hills along Karachi’s northern outskirts. These earliest inhabitants are believed to have been hunter-gatherers, with ancient flint tools discovered at several sites.
The expansive Karachi region is believed to have been known to the ancient Greeks, and may have been the site of Barbarikon, an ancient seaport which was located at the nearby mouth of the Indus River. Karachi may also have been referred to as Ramya in ancient Greek texts.
The ancient site of Krokola, a natural harbor west of the Indus where Alexander the Great sailed his a fleet for Achaemenid Assyria, may have been located near the mouth of Karachi’s Malir River though some believe it was located near Gizri. No other natural harbor exists near the mouth of the Indus that could accommodate a large fleet. Nearchus, who commanded Alexander’s naval fleet, also mentioned a hilly island by the name of Morontobara and an adjacent flat island named Bibakta, which colonial historians identified as Karachi’s Manora Point and Kiamari (or Clifton), respectively, based on Greek descriptions.[ Both areas were island until well into the colonial era, when silting in led to them being connected to the mainland
In 711 CE, Muhammad bin Qasim conquered the Sindh and Indus Valley and the port of Debal, from where he launched his forces further into the Indus Valley in 712. Some have identified the port with Karachi, though some argue the location was somewhere between Karachi and the nearby city of Thatta.
Under Mirza Ghazi Beg, the Mughal administrator of Sindh, the development of coastal Sindh and the Indus River Delta was encouraged. Under his rule, fortifications in the region acted as a bulwark against Portuguese incursions into Sindh. In 1553–54, Ottoman admiral Seydi Ali Reis, mentioned a small port along the Sindh coast by the name of Kaurashi which may have been Karachi. The Chaukhandi tombs in Karachi’s modern suburbs were built around this time between the 15th and 18th centuries.
19th century Karachi historian Seth Naomal Hotchand recorded that a small settlement of 20–25 huts existed along the Karachi Harbour that was known as Dibro, which was situated along a pool of water known as Kolachi-jo-Kun. In 1725, a band of Balochi settlers from Makran and Kalat had settled in the hamlet after fleeing droughts and tribal feuds.
A new settlement was built in 1729 at the site of Dibro, which came to be known as Kolachi-jo-Goth (“The village of Kolachi”). The new settlement is said to have been named in honour of Mai Kolachi, a resident of the old settlement whose son is said to have slain a man-eating crocodile. Kolachi was about 40 hectares in size, with some smaller fishing villages scattered in its vicinity. The founders of the new fortified settlement were Sindhi Baniyas, and are said to arrived from the nearby town of Kharak Bandar after the harbour there silted in 1728 after heavy rains. Kolachi was fortified, and defended with cannons imported from Muscat, Oman. Under the Talpurs, the Rah-i-Bandar road was built to connect the city’s port to the caravan terminals. This road would eventually be further developed by the British into Bandar Road, which was renamed Muhammad Ali Jinnah Road.
The name Karachee was used for the first time in a Dutch document from 1742, in which a merchant ship de Ridderkerk is shipwrecked near the settlement. In 1770s, Karachi came under the control of the Khan of Kalat, which attracted a second wave of Balochi settlers. In 1795, Karachi was annexed by the Talpurs, triggering a third wave of Balochi settlers who arrived from interior Sindh and southern Punjab. The Talpurs built the Manora Fort in 1797, which was used to protect Karachi’s Harbor from al-Qasimi pirates.
Karachi is located on the coastline of Sindh province in southern Pakistan, along the Karachi Harbour, a natural harbour on the Arabian Sea.Karachi is built on a coastal plain with scattered rocky outcroppings, hills & marshlands. Mangrove forests grow in the brackish waters around the Karachi Harbour, and farther southeast towards the expansive Indus River Delta. West of Karachi city is the Cape Monze, locally known as Ras Muari, which is an area characterised by sea cliffs, rocky sandstone promontories, and undeveloped beaches. Within the city of Karachi are two small ranges: the Khasa Hills and Mulri Hills, which lie in the northwest and act as a barrier between North Nazimabad and Orangi. Karachi’s hills are barren and are part of the larger Kirthar Range, and have a maximum elevation of 528 meters (1,732 feet).
Between the hills are wide coastal plains interspersed with dry river beds and water channels. Karachi has developed around the Malir River and Lyari Rivers, with the Lyari shore being the site of the settlement for Kolachi. To the west of Karachi lies the Indus River flood plain.
In 1799 or 1800, the founder of the Talpur dynasty, Mir Fateh Ali Khan, allowed the East India Company under Nathan Crow to establish a trading post in Karachi. He was allowed to build a house for himself in Karachi at that time, but by 1802 was ordered to leave the city. The city continued to be ruled by the Talpurs until it was occupied by forces under the command of John Keane in February 1839.
The British East India Company captured Karachi on 3 February 1839 after HMS Wellesley opened fire and quickly destroyed Manora Fort, which guarded Karachi Harbour at Manora Point. Karachi’s population at the time was an estimated 8,000 to 14,000, and was confined to the walled city in Mithadar, with suburbs in what is now the Serai Quarter. British troops, known as the “Company Bahadur” established a camp to the east of the captured city, which became the precursor to the modern Karachi Cantonment. The British further developed the Karachi Cantonment as a military garrison to aid the British war effort in the First Anglo-Afghan War.
Sindh’s capital was shifted from Hyderabad to Karachi in 1840 until 1843, when Karachi was annexed to the British Empire after Major General Charles James Napier captured the rest of Sindh following his victory against the Talpurs at the Battle of Miani. Following the 1843 annexation, the entire province was amalgamated into the Bombay Presidency for the next 93 years. A few years later in 1846, Karachi suffered a large cholera outbreak, which led to the establishment of the Karachi Cholera Board (predecessor to the city’s civic government).
The city grew under the administration of its new Commissioner, Henry Bartle Edward Frere, who was appointed in 1850s. Karachi was recognized for its strategic importance, prompting the British to establish the Port of Karachi in 1854. Karachi rapidly became a transportation hub for British India owing to newly built port and rail infrastructure, as well as the increase in agricultural exports from the opening of productive tracts of newly irrigated land in Punjab and interior Sindh. By 1856, the value of goods traded through Karachi reached ₤855,103, leading to the establishment of merchant offices and warehouses. The population in 1856 is estimated to have been 57,000. During the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the 21st Native Infantry, then stationed in Karachi, mutinied and declared allegiance to rebel forces in September 1857, though the British were able to quickly defeat the rebels and reassert control over the city.
Following the Rebellion, British colonial administrators continued to develop the city’s infrastructure, but continued to neglect localities like Lyari, which was home to the city’s original population of Sindhi fishermen and Balochi nomads. At the outbreak of the American Civil War, Karachi’s port became an important cotton-exporting port, with Indus Steam Flotilla and Orient Inland Steam Navigation Company established to transport cotton from interior Sindh to Karachi’s port, and onwards to textile mills in England. With increased economic opportunities, economic migrants from several ethnicities and religions, including Anglo-British, Parsis, Marathis, and Goan Christians, among others, established themselves in Karachi, with many setting-up businesses in the new commercial district of Saddar. Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born in Karachi’s Wazir Mansion in 1876 to such migrants from Gujarat. Public building works were undertaken at this time in Gothic and Indo-Saracenic styles, including the construction of Frere Hall in 1865 and the later Empress Market in 1889.
With the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, Karachi’s position as a major port increased even further. In 1878, the British Raj connected Karachi with the network of British India’s vast railway system. In 1887, Karachi Port underwent radical improvements with connection to the railways, along with expansion and dredging of the port, and construction of a breakwater. Karachi’s first synagogue was established in 1893. By 1899, Karachi had become the largest wheat-exporting port in the East. In 1901, Karachi’s population was 117,000 with a further 109,000 included in the Municipal area.
Under the British, the city’s municipal government was established. Known as the Father of Modern Karachi, mayor Seth Harchandrai Vishandas led the municipal government to improve sanitary conditions in the Old City, as well as major infrastructure works in the New Town after his election in 1911. In 1914, Karachi had become the largest wheat-exporting port of the entire British Empire, after large irrigation works in interior Sindh were initiated to increase wheat and cotton yields. By 1924, the Drigh Road Aerodrome was established, now the Faisal Air Force Base.
Karachi’s increasing importance as a cosmopolitan transportation hub lead to the influence of non-Sindhis in Sindh’s administration. Half the city was born outside of Karachi by as early as 1921. Native Sindhis were upset by this influence, and so 1936, Sindh was re-established as a province separate from the Bombay Presidency with Karachi was once again made capital of Sindh. In 1941, the population of the city had risen to 387,000.
At the dawn of independence following the success of the Pakistan Movement in 1947, Karachi was Sindh’s largest city with a population of over 400,000. Partition resulted in the exodus of much of the city’s Hindu population, though Karachi, like most of Sindh, remained relatively peaceful compared to cities in Punjab. Riots erupted on 6 January 1948, after which most of Sindh’s Hindu population left for India, with assistance of the Indian government.
Karachi became the focus for the resettlement of middle-class Muslim Muhajir refugees who fled India, with 470,000 refugees in Karachi by May 1948, leading to a drastic alteration of the city’s demography. In 1941, Muslims were 42% of Karachi’s population, but by 1951 made up 96% of the city’s population. The city’s population had tripled between 1941 and 1951. Urdu replaced Sindhi as Karachi’s most widely spoken language; Sindhi was the mother tongue of 51% of Karachi in 1941, but only 8.5% in 1951, while Urdu grew to become the mother tongue of 51% of Karachi’s population. 100,000 Muhajir refugees arrived annually in Karachi until 1952.
Karachi was selected as the first capital of Pakistan, and was administered as a federal district separate from Sindh beginning in 1948, until the capital was shifted to Rawalpindi in 1958. While foreign embassies shifted away from Karachi, the city is host to numerous consulates and honorary consulates. Between 1958 and 1970, Karachi’s role as capital of Sindh was ceased due to the One Unit programme enacted by President Iskander Mirza.
Karachi of the 1960s was regarded as an economic role model around the world, with Seoul, South Korea, borrowing from the city’s second “Five-Year Plan”. Several examples of Modernist architect were built in Karachi during this period, including the Mazar-e-Quaid mausoleum, the distinct Masjid-e-Tooba, and the Habib Bank Plaza (the tallest building in all of South Asia at the time). The city’s population by 1961 had grown 369% compared to 1941. By the mid 1960s, Karachi began to attract large numbers of Pashtun and Punjabis from northern Pakistan.
The 1970s saw a construction boom funded by remittances and investments from the Gulf States, and the appearance of apartment buildings in the city. Real-estate prices soared during this period, leading to a worsening housing crisis. The period also saw labour unrest in Karachi’s industrial estates beginning in 1970 that were violently repressed by the government of President Zulfikar Ali Bhutto from 1972 onwards. To appease conservative forces, Bhutto banned alcohol in Pakistan, and cracked-down of Karachi’s discotheques and cabarets – leading to the closure of Karachi’s once-lively nightlife. The city’s art scene was further repressed during the rule of dictator General Zia-ul-Haq. Zia’s Islamization policies lead the Westernized upper-middle classes of Karachi to largely withdraw from the public sphere, and instead form their own social venues that became inaccessible to the poor.
The 1980s and 1990s saw an influx of almost one million Afghan refugees into Karachi fleeing the Soviet–Afghan War who were in turn followed in smaller numbers by refugees escaping from post-revolution Iran. At this time, Karachi was also rocked by political conflict, while crime rates drastically increased with the arrival of weaponry from the War in Afghanistan. Conflict between the MQM party, and ethnic Sindhis, Pashtuns, and Punjabis was sharp. The party and its vast network of supporters were targeted by Pakistani security forces as part of the controversial Operation Clean-up in 1992 – an effort to restore peace in the city that lasted until 1994 Anti-Hindu riots also broke out in Karachi in 1992 in retaliation for the demolition of the Babri Mosque in India by a group of Hindu nationalists earlier that year