Indeed, the city has always managed to pull itself back from the brink of implosion, despite a history of stress testing worthy of the roll-out of a new super jumbo jet.
Karachi’s ability to survive amid endless turf wars, as well as collected and targeted violence, is contained in the subtitle of Laurent Gayer’s book: ‘ordered disorder’. Everyone is aware of the risks of putting a foot wrong with political or gangland opponents (often one and the same) and it’s in no-one’s interest to inflict too much havoc on this lucrative power base. As the author points out, the violence is contained within boundaries and doesn’t prevent democratic order and a thriving economy.
The city’s chief power broker is the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), the secular party that, since its foundation 30 years ago, has dominated Karachi’s political life, as well as a good deal of its criminal economy, from drugs and extortion to the torture and killing of its opponents. To the outside world, Pakistan is synonymous with religious fundamentalism, yet one of the MQM’s most hated enemies is the Taliban, who’ve been operating in the city since the days of the Afghan jihad.
Since 2007, violence in Karachi has grown horrifically, with the Taliban replicating the MQM’s style of bombings and killings. This escalation confirms that ‘the checks and balances… are no longer in order’. Hence, Gayer has little hope for Karachi’s future, apart from the ‘disordered order’ and people’s uncanny ability to adjust to the constant threat of political, criminal and ethnic violence as a way of life.
KARACHI: Ordered Disorder and the Struggle for the City by Laurent Gayer, Hurst, £25