Night falls on Karachi

Taimur Khan in The National:

Karachi Even though Karachi smouldered for most of the decade, the perennial narratives of Pakistan as a chaos-ridden failed state permanently on the brink of becoming Talibanistan were flawed; local resilience and toughness proved them only half true. During my visits, I saw the shrines of Sufi saints, unique to South Asian Islam and especially to Sindhi culture, teeming with worshippers; the Urdu bazaar in the old city was packed with people buying books; and when the Indian cricket team finally came to play, the city revelled for days. After September 11, the economy grew at a pace that rivalled India’s, and, as in India, there was for the first time the formation of a broad middle class. Last year, an outburst of bourgeois consciousness helped force out Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s military ruler, and demanded elections that many hoped signalled a meaningful shift towards democracy and away from military-feudal rule. The West was outwardly enthralled because it seemed that Pakistan was finally on the teleological road to liberal democracy, the only modernity it cares about.

Two weeks ago I visited family in Karachi for the first time in three years. The fragile optimism I encountered in 2005 has evaporated. In the Nineties the upper middle class was comforted by the fact that no matter how bad things became in the short term, the status quo would always reassert itself: the military would always intervene to protect its interests, which overlapped with theirs. The army and intelligence agencies may have been fighting proxy wars in Afghanistan and on the border with India, but internally, the state maintained a surface equilibrium. But now the military is fighting a full-scale war on its home turf with the Pakistani Taliban. The idea that the army can maintain internal control has been revealed as fiction.

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