Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi
NPR host Steve Inskeep writes about Karachi – a sprawling, striving, fractured city on the rise.
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The other major conflict in Pakistan is ethnic, and Inskeep shows why it has played out in Karachi more than elsewhere. Because Karachi, located in southeastern Pakistan, served as a destination for hundreds of thousands of Mohajirs (migrants) from India during the 1947 partition, friction arose with the different ethnic groups already inhabiting the city. Soon, political parties were formed on ethnic lines, and competition over land and (scarce) government services took on an ethnic hue.Skip to next paragraph
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It’s not all bad news. Plunging into the immensity of Karachi and its mushrooming population, Inskeep finds individuals selflessly dedicated to improving life in their beleaguered city. Consider 80-plus Abdul Sattar Edhi, owner (and still active director) of a trusty ambulance service, and Dr. Seemin Jamali, indefatigable head of the emergency ward at Jinnah Hospital. Or take activists such as Perween Rahman, who works on slum development, and Amber Alibhai, who campaigns on behalf of the environment (and whose colleague Nisar Baloch was murdered for trying to prevent further housing encroachment on Gutter Baghicha national park). Husband and wife team Adnan and Mahboob Asdar also come to mind. He is a corporate executive, she is an architect; their commendable joint ambition is to create affordable housing for the poor.
Admittedly, this book’s structure could have used some tightening. "Instant City" starts out focused – using an attack on Shiites as a launching pad for a discussion of Karachi’s ethno-religious ills – but soon begins to expand in all directions. This makes it a bit unwieldy, but simultaneously attests to the author’s refusal to be trammeled by conventional style or form. In this respect, the book is reminiscent of Karachi itself. A recurring theme of "Instant City," one that paradoxically elicits admiration for Karachi’s resourceful inhabitants even as it induces a feeling of helplessness regarding their disorderly actions, is that Karachi’s growth has consistently outpaced – and thereby often rendered useless – city planners’ designs.