The area of Karachi was known to the ancient Greeks by many names: Krokola, the place where Alexander the Great camped to prepare a fleet for Babylonia after his campaign in the Indus Valley; ‘Morontobara’ (probably Manora island near Karachi harbour), from whence Alexander’s admiral Nearchus set sail; and Barbarikon, a port of the Indo-Greek Bactrian kingdom. It was later known to the Arabs as Debal, the starting point for Muhammad bin Qasim and his army in 712 AD. Karachi was founded as ;Kolachi; by Baloch tribes from Balochistan and Makran, who established a small fishing community in the area. Descendants of the original community still live in the area on the small island of Abdullah Goth, which is located near the Karachi Port. The original name ;Kolachi; survives in the name of a well-known Karachi locality named ;Mai Kolachi;. The city was visited by Ottoman Admiral Seydi Ali Reis in 1550s and mentioned in his book Mirat ul Memalik (The Mirror of Countries), 1557 AD. The present city started life as a fishing settlement when a Balochi fisherwoman called Mai Kolachi took up residence and started a family. The village that later grew out of this settlement was known as Kolachi-jo-Goth (Village of Kolachi in Sindhi). By the late 1720s, the village was trading across the Arabian Sea with Muscat and the Persian Gulf region. A small fort was constructed for its protection, armed with cannons imported from Muscat. The fort had two main gateways: one facing the sea, known as Kharra Darwaaza (Brackish Gate) (Kharadar) and the other facing the Lyari River known as the Meet’ha Darwaaza (Sweet Gate) (Mithadar). The location of these gates correspond to the modern areas of Kharadar (Kh;r; Dar) and Mithadar (;;; Dar).
After sending a couple of exploratory missions to the area, the British East India Company conquered the town when HMS Wellesley anchored off Manora island on 1 February 1839. Two days later, the little fort surrendered. The town was later annexed to the British Indian Empire when Sindh was conquered by Charles James Napier in Battle of Miani on 17 February 1843. On his departure in 1847, he is said to have remarked, ;Would that I could come again to see you in your grandeur!; Karachi was made the capital of Sindh in the 1840s. On Napier’s departure, it was added along with the rest of Sindh to the Bombay Presidency, a move that caused considerable resentment among the native Sindhis. The British realised the importance of the city as a military cantonment and as a port for exporting the produce of the Indus Riverbasin, and rapidly developed its harbour for shipping. The foundations of a city municipal government were laid down and infrastructure development was undertaken. New businesses started opening up and the population of the town began rising rapidly. The arrival of the troops of the Kumpany Bahadur in 1839 spawned the foundation of the new section, the military cantonment. The cantonment formed the basis of the ‘white’ city, where the Indians were not allowed free access. The ‘white’ town was modeled after English industrial parent-cities, where work and residential spaces were separated, as were residential from recreational places. Karachi was divided into two major poles. The ‘black’ town in the northwest, now enlarged to accommodate the burgeoning Indian mercantile population. In 1857, the First Indian War for Independence broke out in South Asia and the 21st Native Infantry stationed in Karachi declared allegiance to rebels, joining their cause on 10 September 1857. Nevertheless, the British were able to quickly reassert control over Karachi and defeat the uprising.
Karachi Airport in 1943 during World War II
In 1864, the first telegraphic message was sent from India to England, when a direct telegraph connection was laid between Karachi and London. In 1878, the city was connected to the rest of British India by rail. Public building projects, such as Frere Hall (1865) and the Empress Market (1890), were undertaken. In 1876, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan, was born in the city, which by now had become a bustling city with mosques, churches, courthouses, kota, paved streets and a magnificent harbour. By 1899, Karachi had become the largest wheat exporting port in the East. The population of the city was about 105,000 inhabitants by the end of the 19th century, with a cosmopolitan mix of Muslims, Hindus, Zoroastrians, Christians and Jews. There were various linguistic groups, such as Urdu speakers, Punjabis as well as Pashtuns and Balochis. The multi-ethnic mix can be imagined from the fact that there are more Pashtuns in Karachi than in any city of the North-West Frontier Province. In addition to local groups, there were immigrants of Persian, Lebanese, and European backgrounds. By the turn of the century, the city faced street congestion, which led to Southwest Asia’s first tramway system being laid down in 1900. British colonialists embarked on a number of public works of sanitation and transportation; such as gravel paved streets, proper drains, street sweepers, and a network of trams and horse-drawn trolleys. Colonial administrators set up military camps, a European inhabited quarter, and organised marketplaces, of which the Empress Market is most notable.
By the time the new country of Pakistan was formed in 1947 Karachi had become a bustling metropolis with beautiful classical and colonial European styled buildings, lining the citys thoroughfares. Karachi was chosen as the capital of Pakistan, which at the time included modern day Bangladesh, a region located more than 1,000km (620;mi) away, and not physically connected to Pakistan. In 1947, Karachi was the focus for settlement by Muslim migrants from India, who drastically expanded the city’s population and transformed the demographics and economy. In 1958, the capital of Pakistan was moved from Karachi to Rawalpindi and then in 1960, to the newly built Islamabad. This marked the start of a long period of decline in the city, marked by a lack of development. Karachi had both a municipal corporation and a Karachi Divisional Council in the 1960s, which developed plans for schools, colleges, roads, municipal gardens, and parks. The Karachi Divisional Council had separate working committees for education, roads, and residential societies development and planning. During the 1960s, Karachi was seen as an economic role model around the world. Many countries sought to emulate Pakistan’s economic planning strategy and one of them, South Korea, copied the city’s second Five-Year Plan and World Financial Centre in Seoul is designed and modeled after Karachi.
The 1970s saw major labour struggles in Karachi’s industrial estates, (see: Karachi labour unrest of 1972). The 1980s and 1990s saw an influx of refugees from the Soviet war in Afghanistan into Karachi, they were followed in smaller numbers by refugees escaping from Iran. Political tensions between the Muhajir and other native groups (e.g. Sindhis, Punjabis, Pashtuns, and others), erupted and the city was wracked with political and racial violence. The period from 1992 to 1994 is regarded as the bloodiest period in the history of the city, when the Army commenced its Operation Clean-up against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement. Most of these tensions have now simmered down. Today, Karachi continues to be an important financial and industrial centre and handles most of the overseas trade of Pakistan and the other Central Asian countries. It accounts for a lion’s share of the GDP of Pakistan, and a large proportion of the country’s white collar workers.