In Karachi, New Aspirations To Be A Global Player The grandest expression of the world's population growth is the word "megacity." In them, people and ideas clash: The ancient collides with the modern; secular with religious; global with local. In Karachi, Pakistan, those forces can be seen in the story of a single piece of real estate.

In Karachi, New Aspirations To Be A Global Player

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This week we're asking what it really means to live in a world with seven billion people. The United Nations estimates we reached that milestone on Monday.


On Tuesday we heard an observation about where all those billions of people are going.

NAOMI PORAT: The population all around the world is moving toward the cities.

MONTAGNE: That's an entrepreneur who wants to design new, more efficient buildings for the world's growing cities. Today, we'll hear about the competition between the cities in which more and more of humanity lives.

INSKEEP: Many cities attract people without trying - poor migrants from the countryside. Cities contend with each other to attract the wealthy, or those who create wealth. We know the perennial winners in that global competition: cities like New York, London, Hong Kong, Dubai. This morning, we'll visit one of many cities struggling to play the game - Karachi, Pakistan, which in recent decades has grown from a few hundred thousand to more than 13 million. Going down a tree-line avenue here.


INSKEEP: We drove through the city with Tony Tufail Shaikh, entertainer, entrepreneur and one-time waterfront developer in Karachi. He's guiding us through an upscale district of consulates and hotels and stone buildings from British colonial times. This is also a district with a security problem. Gunmen stand at many gates. Were there always so many guards in this city?

SHAIKH: No way. There were no guards; not a single guard. One time, the city was full of life. People could walk on the street at 4:00 in the morning; the gates were open, there were no guards.

INSKEEP: This city has changed since the 1970s, when it seemed to have a brighter future. We can trace that change by learning the story of a single piece of real estate - beachfront property that Tony Tufail once owned. It was Tufail's vision to attract global elites by turning Karachi into an entertainment capital. It would be anchored by a casino on land his SUV is now passing.

SHAIKH: When I built this casino, there was no building here.

INSKEEP: Where all these houses are now?

SHAIKH: Yes, all this, on the left and right both. Not one building.

INSKEEP: Tony Tufail was once a nightclub owner; he served drinks and brought in dancing girls. But he had bigger visions of a city as lovely as Paris and as alluring as Beirut. He wanted to attract Arab oil sheiks, who'd lately become wealthy providing the fuel for the expanding economy of an expanding world population. Tufail was actually able to build his casino in this Muslim country, with a vast roof curving like two wings of a bird. He had the backing of Pakistan's prime minister, who had once been a customer of his nightclub. And you had it completely furnished.

SHAIKH: Everything was ready. We had printed invitation cards; I was just waiting for the date from the prime minister, Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, to give me a date for the opening.

INSKEEP: He was waiting for the opening when a moment came that shifted many fortunes in this part of the world. In 1977, Tony Tufail got a phone call in the middle of the night; his political sponsor had just been overthrown in a military coup.

SHAIKH: In those days I had a drink and then I was just thinking, what now? So then again, I thought, you'll have to start all over again.

INSKEEP: The new military ruler was a religious conservative. And in an era of rising fundamentalism, Tufail's casino was never allowed to open. Karachi did not become the playground of Persian Gulf elites in the 1970s. That role slipped instead to the glittering, swiftly growing city of Dubai. For all of its flaws, Dubai managed to mix global and local ideas, secular and religious concerns, in a way that Tony Tufail's Karachi did not. It's been 30 years. You're not over this even now, are you?

SHAIKH: No, no, I'm not. I still feel sorry for people, for the future generation - you know, where are they heading?

INSKEEP: Many of Pakistan's new generation are heading to Karachi. For poor workers it's an opportunity, but life is hard. If you want a cautionary tale about living in a world with more than seven billion people, Karachi could be it. Millions live essentially beyond the law in unauthorized settlements that sprawl for miles. People turn coastal swamps into neighborhoods, live alongside open sewers and fish in the same sea that takes much of the city's industrial pollution. The population has outgrown the infrastructure. People face constant shortages of electricity and worry about the water supply. Religious conflicts, terrorism and political chaos make it hard to focus on those basic problems. Still, at Tony Tufail's old waterfront property, people are making another bid to claim a share of the global economy.


INSKEEP: Years ago, his stillborn casino was torn down, and now men are working on metal-pipe scaffolding inside a vast new structure.


INSKEEP: The new owner, like the old one, wants to attract the wealthy. Workmen are building glass towers and cutting stone tiles for a shopping mall - one million square feet of Western chain stores and upscale restaurants.

JABIR HUSSAIN DADA: We expect many foreigners and multinational chief executives, and et cetera. They'll be dining over here in the lunchtime, and obviously it will be full in the evening, all because they are going to come along with their families. And the area...

INSKEEP: The man showing off the mall under construction is Jabir Hussain Dada, the sales manager.

DADA: This is the area for the banquet hall. Easily 1,500 people can be accommodated over here.

INSKEEP: And with a view of the Arabian Sea.

DADA: Indeed, indeed, indeed.

INSKEEP: The mall and office complex are modeled after Dubai - that center of wealth and entertainment that Karachi has already missed one chance to be. The owner of this project travels often to Dubai for inspiration. And one of his new office towers is shaped like a sail, somewhat like one of Dubai's landmark buildings. There remains the problem that this is not Dubai, but rather a city in a vast and growing country increasingly at war with itself. How would you describe the timing of this project?

DADA: Do you mean like this is not a good time to launch a project?

INSKEEP: I'm asking if it is.

DADA: OK. See, we are very hopeful that it's going to be a turnaround in a year or so, so what we are doing, that we are developing very rapidly all the structures, so when the good time comes, everything should be operational.

INSKEEP: So the workmen keep on cutting stone tiles, pausing every now and again to kneel on mats on the concrete floor and pray.


INSKEEP: Jabber Hussain Dada leads the way into an office-tower elevator. Of course the elevators must run on electricity in a city and a nation that have outgrown the power supply. Karachi suffers hours of blackouts every single day. Do you have any assurances from the government about the power supply?

DADA: False assurances, yes. Actually, we do not rely on - we are like - it's like something we have realized that we have to do it ourselves. Whatever government is giving us, we are happy with it.

INSKEEP: And for what the governments doesn't provide, the project will have to include generators. It may only get harder to obtain basic services as Pakistan's population keeps expanding. In a world of over seven billion, some people, some cities, some nations will surely come out winners. Others may be scrambling just to keep on the lights. Tomorrow we'll continue our reporting on a world of seven billion people with a look at places that need more people. This is NPR News.

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