Letter from Karachi

Alia Ahmed in The Hudson Review:

Dear H,

What is it about the word Partition? Singularly clean and tidy. Surgical even, for an event that undammed tides of blood, changing what may have been the equally tidy course of Karachi. A blameless word, really. In French, it refers to sheet music, sound split neatly into sections. Useful for, say, breakups, where blame bubbles in the air. “Oh him? We partitioned a while ago.” A fresher take on the overused “Mistakes were made.”

The first change manifested itself before I’d even landed: a section for Chinese visitors on the disembarkation cards. Tick here if your visit is related to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), there if related to a non-CPEC project. One of the most ambitious power and rail initiatives for regional integration in Asia, CPEC has dominated news coverage in Pakistan for years. It has been spoken of in glowing terms, equally by the prime minister, though a minority express skepticism over the actual benefit to the country, and of Chinese bullying. The English-speaking intelligentsia resent certain aspects of the increased Chinese presence in the city, referring to them as “our new colonial masters.” In the end though is the feeling that nobody really knows what’s going on. Mostly, it annoys the Americans, as attempts at regional cooperation naturally do. But America needn’t chafe. One thing hasn’t changed. Stepping out of Jinnah International Airport into the middle of an uncharacteristically brisk January night, beyond the small crowd seeking loved ones or holding up placards for strangers, beyond the dark parking lot, glow the yellow arches of the current world order, McDonald’s, spelled out in English and Urdu. The second change slaps me some days later.

More here.