Emad's Blog (Under Renovation)

Sunday, May 13, 2007

A Price Tag Too Big?

Yesterday was a dark day in Pakistani history. The largest city, the economic capital of the country, Karachi, was hit by a series of unprecedented events that shook the very way of life.

If you switched on the TV in any country in the world, you probably saw international news channels reporting 'Pakistan Unrest – Karachi Erupts'. Thank you all for your concerned calls and emails. Really meant a lot. But I’m fine and no one I know has been unlucky to have been caught up in the middle of that racket.

It’s been an emotional couple of days and while I was planning to write this post yesterday, I’m glad I waited for certain things to sink in.

The situation in a nutshell:

36 people dead, 150 injured, Key road in Karachi blocked, Flights rescheduled, Karachi comes to a standstill.

Rallies being held by pro- and anti-government ‘political’ factions, turning violent. Same day as the suspended Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Pakistan plans to be in the city to conduct his ‘political’ rally.

The media across the world talked about the situation around Karachi’s ‘Eruption’. No. Karachi did not erupt. Karachi was scared. 14.6 million people were hidden in their homes. Karachi did not go to work. Karachi lost 150 billion in revenue. Karachi Got Tainted, Mocked, and Battered.

Who is to blame in all of this? I’m not sure – and my confusion is a fair reflection of the feeling of an average Pakistani. The media ran a story on how an ambulance carrying some injured people was stopped by armed ‘political’ party members and the driver shot, the injured killed. The media also showed the pictures of the horrors on the streets. An Australian newspaper went as far as to compare Karachi with Baghdad! Even more shameful is the state of the local media, that for it’s own coverage is going beyond the boundaries of any kind of responsible journalism, showing pictures of wounded and dead people, and coloring them with the channels own ‘political’ interests.

I watched in absolute amazement two pieces of news that were covered on TV. The first one was thousands of people affiliating to a ‘political party’ sitting in a rally in Karachi being addressed by their ‘leader’, a fugitive in London, over the phone. A friend of mine rightly said: ‘The man sounds like Satan!’. Actually, with the hatred in his voice and in his words, I am sure he’s giving Satan a few pointers! The appalling thing wasn’t his views, but the blatantly ignorant message that was being received by these people. I refuse to believe that any rational person can even sit through such a string of crap.

The second one was another group of thousands of people at a rally in Islamabad that was being held by the government, by President Musharraf. While they talked about the fact that the situation was not going to escalate and that no state of emergency will be declared, they were saying this while standing behind a podium with a bullet proof shield in front of them. Never in my life have I seen a setup of bulletproof material over a stage in this manner before. Shame!

I had another interesting chat with a very well-educated and dear friend of mine. She represented the views of another batch of people that have me frustrated – the educated elite that don’t live in Karachi. You’d be surprised how many they are! She talked about how this was great for the country. She said it entails the forces of democracy are now in motion. She said revolutions sometimes have to be bloody for systemic changes to occur. She compared it to other societies that are today considered advanced democracy, but only reached that stage as a result of similar revolutions.

I beg to differ.

We do not live in the same world that those societies went through this process in. The ends don’t justify the means. This IS too high a price to pay, even for democracy. I am skeptical of the ability, and moreso, it’s intent to even achieve the end goal of democracy. ‘Politics’, I don’t think so. Another form of self-interest, most likely. Today, I have hope on other grounds. The longest standing conflict in Europe, Northern Ireland, just got resolved peacefully. Things do get better in this world. And they no longer do so on gunpoint.

A little over a decade ago, Karachi was a mess. The ‘political party’ I was referring to with the Satanic leader, was being cracked down by the federal government in a very direct way. Its armed members were being sought out and hunted down. (Maybe it’s a job the government should have completed?) Today that party is in office in the Government of Karachi. The federal government is taking a complete hands-off approach this time, for the risk of escalating tensions similar to 1996. There are reports that the police watched passively as law and order became non-existent and these groups continued their dogfights.

A couple of weeks ago, I was engaged in a discussion with someone from the UN. He told me how the security risk rating of Karachi had been lowered from Moderate Risk Zone to Low Risk Zone. And it makes me proud to be able to run into foreigners every day seamlessly and very comfortably walking around the streets of Karachi. My job requires me to, in a very direct way, assist in improving the negative perceptions that the world has for Pakistan. The people that I work with, the students in the top universities in the country are working really hard to achieve that, and to showcase to the world, that Pakistan is not the way CNN describes it. Karachi’s certainly not a Kabul or Baghdad! The events of yesterday and how that played in international press did not help us. I feel like a lot of my work got undone, and that’s very frustrating.

This is the year of general elections in Pakistan. It’s the first time that an National Assembly in the country will complete its 5 year term, in our 60 years of history.

But the average Pakistani does not care. The average Pakistani has learned to like peace. He’s learned that peace means economic activity and it means that there will be food on his table. The average Pakistani does not support any of this nonsense. The average Pakistani is thrilled by the opportunity to showcase his country to people from around the world, by hosting them here. He is even more thrilled by being in a foreign land and being able to be proud of his country. When things happen as they did yesterday, the average Pakistani is scared and frustrated.

Tomorrow is a general strike, but I think the average Pakistani does not want to sit at home and let that strike be a success.

Now most of these events happen in a fairly peculiar part of town, quite far from where I live and work. I don’t even recall knowing a person from the ‘other’ side of town. Here is peaceful. Yet I know that people around the world are concerned because Karachi is making headlines for all the wrong reasons and once again, a lot more work will have to be done to be able to communicate that to Experience Pakistan is to experience hospitality that is unseen anywhere in the world, to see culture and heritage from the classiest of Mughal Eras, to see traces of the early Indus civilizations, to see economic activity and to see the foothills of the Himalayas. One bad day pulls a curtain over all of that. Shame!

Whose fault is it? Who am I fighting?


  • I think it's about time I put into action my grand plan hatched up during NPM in your room. Off to Islamabad, it is then!

    By Blogger Sohaib, At 14/5/07 01:18  

  • ahh dude.
    No worries. I would experience pakstian anyday.
    Beauty still there...just because there's some negative media doesnt mean I wont adventure and dare to come to an awsome place in Pakistan.
    At least there's one person in the world who's willing to Experience Pakistan right now..
    not all hope is lost ..and should be lost.
    Juanita in Cameroon
    Glad all is well with you.

    By Blogger Life is beautiful, At 14/5/07 05:18  

  • Add me as another who loves your country and who spreads the good news to his friends and family. Your post is really important, I too was wondering what exactly was going on, knowing that although I hear one thing in the media that the real state of affairs was to be gained through you guys on the ground.

    Great post mate, I'm forwarding this to my friends.

    By Blogger Nic, At 14/5/07 08:06  

  • Nice post Emad... it made so much sense..

    The problem with CNN and the Beeb is that they tend to have datelines that read 'Karachi, Pakistan' and not 'XXX Street, Karachi'.

    By Blogger Pierre, At 14/5/07 12:57  

  • Democracy does not come through violence. Revolutions don't necessarily bring Dreamed about results.
    I've had my portion of revolution - the one I believed in & fully took part in. And I have my despise in people who believe that protest, strike, camping on streets can change situation overnight.
    Democracy does NOT come in one week demonstration!! It comes through the mind and it can NEVER come through revolution only through EVOLUTION...

    Democracy is also not the ability to vote.It is the ability of a citizen to be mature and take responsibility for the development of the country. And Maturing does NOT come overnight...

    Sadly as it is, but witnessed on my own..

    Babe, my thoughts are with you and Pakistan these troubling days!
    And surely you can count on one more person who's planning to visit your country after her MCP term!

    Tons of hugs,
    Same old

    By Blogger Oksana, At 14/5/07 18:56  

  • Thank you for your post!!!We around the world...we that got to love your country so much...we really needed to hear this!I feel with you and all the other "average" Pakistani and I wont stop spreading "the other side" of what Pakistan really is all about! hugs from Switzerland!!! Lena

    By Blogger Lena, At 15/5/07 19:08  

  • Your post was really nice. I also come from a country where political factions cause so much unrest among the people.

    I pray for the souls of the departed.

    By Blogger Erica Cleofe, At 16/5/07 17:53  

  • Emad darling, I can only reiterate what the others have already said about this great post of yours. I will definetely forward it to family and friends...I am convinced of the beauty of country, even though I haven't been there yet. Definetely will visit someday soon! I missed the chance to attend the wedding of AIESEC friends in Karachi in Summer 2005, but my trip to Pakistan hopefully isn't far away anymore :-)

    Thanks so much for this post, huge hugs from Switzerland

    By Blogger Carissa )i(, At 16/5/07 18:48  

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