From One Flooding Crisis to the Next: Negotiating ‘the Maybe’ in Unequal Karachi
Ahmad Kaker, Sobia
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Every few years, Karachi floods during the summer monsoon. The flooding brings latent manoeuvrings by political actors looking to establish their hold over the city to the surface. Politicians, urban administrators, and relevant state and non-state institutions blame historical planning failures, informal and illegal constructions, institutional conflict, incapable municipal governance, and widespread corruption for the flooding. They move quickly to establish authority and consolidate power while offering ‘fixes’. Eviction drives against ‘illegal settlements’ built along storm-water drains, heavy taxes, fines, and demolitions of non-conforming constructions, institutional reforms, budget allocations, and project approvals for new infrastructure all happen at once. Once the emergency ceases, key players in urban politics – resident groups, community associations, political parties, municipal authorities, land developers, planners, international non-governmental organisations, and military institutions – start working on projects of accumulation and entrenchment, in preparation for the next crisis. In this paper, we look at the space–time of Karachi's certain and yet uncertain flooding crisis as a moment to study the politics of the maybe in the Pakistani megacity. Outlining marginal and affluent residents' lived experiences in a flooding city and relating their politics with governmental responses to immediate and possible future floods, we study the conditions of inhabitation, citizenship claims, and governmental relations in Karachi. We argue that the monsoon's expectant arrival becomes a locus for articulating and modulating different kinds of popular vernaculars, governmental practices, and political manoeuvrings for institutional and individual actors seeking profit and power in and through Karachi. The politics of the maybe hinges on actors entrenching their political positions without care, taking away any possibility for a shared, coherent worldview for all Karachiites. In conclusion, we argue that distant interests and logics of this politics of governance and inhabitation are inherently exploitative, threatening to pull apart the very city they thrive on.