Friday, May 29, 2009

In Search of Defense

Yesterday’s attacks in Peshawar (now seven blasts in Pakistan since I got here last Monday) and the Taliban-issued warnings brought a moment of tension in my family.  So far, the conflict hasn’t reached Karachi, but they fear it is getting closer.

The Taliban’s warning is to civilians: leave the northern cities (Islamabad, Lahore) as we escalate attacks on government and security facilities based there.  Undoubtedly, those who can leave will trickle out—those with foreign passports, visas, education, and means.  The exodus has been going on for years, but war threatens to be the final drain on Pakistan’s human and financial capital.   

My uncle cautiously asked me last night to return with him to New Jersey.  Over the past few years, my relatives who always lived in Pakistan have been setting up a second residence there.  

I was torn.  I have loved every moment of my past two weeks in Pakistan and the only question in my mind has been if I should come back to the States at all when the summer is over.  The idea of things getting so bad here that I have to leave is depressing.  I want to stay. 

And I am not the only one.  So I will do what the rest do: move to Defense.  Defense Housing Authority, like most secure areas of town, is a residential district developed by the military.  It is where most of Karachi’s elite and western classes live and play.  In Defense, people throw lavish parties and spend thousands on dinner, while on the other side of town women wear burkas in the streets, beggars plague cars for 10 rupees (less than a dime), and mobs burn cars.

But it is not all hedonism—it reflects a Western standard of living, and it is as much a part of Pakistan as the mullahs and the madrassas.  It is also how life goes on in a city otherwise full of violence, poverty, and lawlessness.  And as much as the IDP camps and slums, it is a side of Karachi that I want to explore. 

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