Mapping Power: the Political Instrumentality of the Map in Karachi

By Ayeza Qureshi

Karachi, one of the world’s largest urban agglomerations, is spread over 3527 square kilometers and has a population estimated to be greater than 20 million, yet it is arguably a city without a map. Since partition, in 1947, the colonial City’s inherited forms of organization and representation have steadily declined. Under the relatively new State of Pakistan, this decline has resulted in the absence of a comprehensive master plan and a legible map of the contemporary city in the public domain.

This thesis explores the political instrumentality of the map in the increasingly polarized and conflicted megacity of Karachi. A comparative, chronological analysis focuses on the association between maps, power and politics—how the map affects the city’s capacity for communication and decision-making. The thesis addresses an emerging cast of actors who stand to benefit from mapping in Karachi, as well as those who have discovered political instrumentality in a lack of mapping . The study explores the interdependencies between individual gains and the success of the rising megacity, that have thus far, supported its development in the absence of a legible image of the city.

The study is structured chronologically around three periods; the rule of Empires prior to 1947, focusing on the city’s interaction with colonial rule (Chapter 1), the formation of the politics of mapping in the independent State of Pakistan and the impact of regional, national and city government politics on the production and dissemination of a holistic image of the city (Chapter 2) the impact of the map on communication and decision making for the users of the city, questioning its contribution to the resilience of Karachi’s politics, economy and people (Chapter 3). Archival research at the India Office Records at the British Library and the Sindh Archives in Karachi together with fieldwork (detailed interviews with governmental and non-governmental organizations and citizens) informs the work.

If the map is to be useful for governance in fragmented and conflicted environments, what does the history suggest about its future as a technology for mediating complexity, conflict and human wellbeing?