Why Karachi burns again and again

Published: April 8, 2012

The writer teaches physics and political science at LUMS and has a doctorate in physics from MIT

Orgies of blood-letting bring Karachi to a grinding halt from time to time. The first three months of the present year have seen 300 violent killings; the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan estimates the 2011 toll at 1,715, which averages to 33 per week. Whether prompted by the crash of a rashly-driven bus, long periods of loadshedding, or a political murder, a horde of homicidal maniacs suddenly descends from apparently nowhere to fill the streets. AK-47s chatter away. Then a sudden quiet follows. Life returns to normal — until the next time.

What turned an idyllically clean and peaceful city of earlier decades — one that I grew up in and loved — into today’s hell-hole? Is there even a remote possibility that Karachi can once again give safety, security, and a wholesome existence to the majority of its people? Perhaps the science of behaviour just might help us understand what went wrong. Finding solutions is, however, a different matter.

Scientists who study fish habits say cramped aquarium conditions hugely increase fish-on-fish violence. When the tanks are large enough, or the fish few enough, the inhabitants are perfectly peaceful; the fish flutter their eyes as they sweetly swim past each other. But keep adding more, and bumps become frequent. They now flare fins to convey annoyance. Road rage from close encounters builds and ultimately many are driven to pester, injure, and even kill their fellow tank-dwellers.

A recent pioneering study says fish need their space — and they become upset when it isn’t there. Ronald Oldfield, the biologist who did the research, says that fish in their natural ecological environments sometimes aggressively compete for food or shelter. But in an aquarium such resources are not scarce. Why then, he asked, does one observe aggressive behaviour?

The answer turns out to be that aquarium fish are driven by two goals: they want to increase access to available space (corresponding to the size of the fish tank), and to the amount of habitat complexity (corresponding to the presence of obstacles and hiding places like rocks and plants) within the tank. As more fish are added, these become less available. Each individual becomes more defensive of its tiny alcove. Signs of aggression usually start at a low simmer. Then fins start flaring and, ultimately, the anger boils over.

Okay, maybe fish are very different from humans. So how does it work for mammals? In a paper entitled “Housing and welfare in laboratory rats: effects of cage stocking density and behavioural predictors of welfare”, researchers at the University of Nottingham find closely similar results. Although the confined rats are adequately fed, too many packed together results in a hatred for their fellow beings.

Confined females have the roughest deal: “Density had a very highly-significant effect on the total frequency of aggressive acts initially received per female. Chewing at cage bars showed particularly strong correlations with aggressive social stress and with pathophysiological responses… individuals in single-sex groups experiencing a high degree of social stress in the form of aggression received, spent less time sleeping and more time exploring the enclosure and attempting to escape.”

Now let’s read the above in the context of Karachi: a city with few parks, little amusement, stifling summer heat, unrelenting traffic noise, loud apartment-block neighbours, segregation and sexual frustrations, polluted air, dirty water, no toilets for millions, and frequent electricity breakdowns.Unsurprisingly, Pakistan’s supposed melting pot has turned into a boiling cauldron of hate and anger. Put a lid on it if you will, but a volcano cannot be capped.

Of course, the above is not the whole story. Critical as the population factor is, an explosive mix requires other elements too. After all, mega cities of similar size exist elsewhere — New York, Tokyo, Bangkok, Shanghai, Bombay, etc. But their violence, while significant, is nowhere comparable to Karachi’s. What sets Karachi apart?

Local politics matters much. In 1995, Eqbal Ahmed wrote that “Karachi is starved of the wealth it generates. The city contributes more than sixty per cent of the federal and Sindh governments’ revenues. Only a fraction of it is invested back in building its infrastructure. To make matters worse, under successive Karachi governments, land and other resources have been prey to the greed of those in power.”

Well, ditto for today. The difference is that Karachi was about nine million when these lines were written; today it is estimated at around 19 million. Rural to urban migration is a component, but the explosive growth is countrywide. The area that is now Pakistan had 28 million in 1947.But in 2011, according to a yet-to-be published survey, it held a staggering total of 192,288,944.

A dysfunctional state that cannot provide essential infrastructure, religious parties that oppose birth control, and an uncaring elite are squarely responsible for Karachi’s descent into chaos. In this cesspool of frustration and human misery, average household monthly incomes are estimated at a paltry Rs3,000-6,000 with most new immigrants being irregularly employed as labourers. This creates the ideal habitat for different varieties of criminal and extortionist groups, as well as political parties with paramilitary wings.

Sindhis, who formed the bulk of Karachi’s population before Partition, now no longer matter. But it is now the turn of the mohajirs, who had displaced them, to be worried. The MQM, fearing that the city will escape its control, tries to make the city unwelcome for a flood of Pakhtuns flowing in from the north. The MQM’s rival is now the ANP, which went silent on its socialist rhetoric a long time ago. It is now a frankly ethnic party operating in a city which is now 20-25 per cent Pakhtun. But the violence of the MQM and ANP cannot compare with that of the TTP, now steadily moving into Karachi. Its avowed goal is to destroy everything first and then capture state power.

A recommendation: the next time Rehman Malik says that some hidden hand is setting Karachi ablaze — or when Imran Khan, Munawar Hasan, and Hafiz Saeed lay the blame upon America or India — just tell them about the fish and the rats. Those who breed like flies die like flies.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2012.

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Reader Comments (87)

  • fus
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:19PM

    Interesting analogy and pretty much true. Provide food, shelter and clothing, and no one will fight. If justifi the govt. spend money on this city and provide enough for everyone, all these issues would die down gradually. But again for them it is just a cash cow.


  • Falcon
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:20PM

    Informative article in general but bad choice of words at the end.


  • Apr 8, 2012 - 11:27PM

    incorrect and illogical article hoodboy …. karachi is not lahore .. its not bahawalpur … its not peshawar…. its not quetta… the beauty of karachi and karachiites lie in the fact that we can accept anyone at any time without asking a single question .. we are like madinah … and Masha Allah say we do fine … its political agendas and criminals that hold us at bay .. the common man is happy to earn a living in the city of lights .. . and works his socks of more than any other part of Pakistan … a little better policing and light on karachi will help us …. Recommend

  • manji wich daang
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:34PM

    “But the violence of the MQM and ANP cannot compare with that of the TTP, now steadily moving into Karachi. Its avowed goal is to destroy everything first and then capture state power.”……saying in effect that the violence which has thus far not been committed (reminds one of tom cruise in minority report, in which Tom Cruise works for “Precrime,” a special unit of the police department that arrests murderers before they have committed the actual crime) is much more grotesque than the one which is already being perpetrated…because the current violence in Karachi is either turf-warfare or unchecked urbanization (hence a passive act, inevitable so-to-speak & hence not the doing of ‘secular’ political forces like ANP & MQM because then that would not sit well with the liberal narrative, a world where all violence is somehow or the other a corollary of religious imperatives)…>Recommend

  • Shahzad Khan
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:36PM

    Every neighbourhood is treated as part of the territory of the militant wings of various parties sitting in parliament.One ethnic group’s person can’t go into the area of another ethnic group.Streets,markets,industrial areas are carefully divided between all the parties who treat them as their personal fiefdoms.Bhatta,chanda,donation,Eidi collection are all dependent on how much area you occupy.It’s a fight for the control of karachi and the money its inhabitants have.


  • adam
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:36PM

    I’ve never been to Karachi, so I won’t comment on Karachi at all. But talking of shrinking space in mega-cities, I think space is not just the physical space, people can be calm and composed for short periods in crowded conditions too. If their basic needs are satisfied people might adjust to crowded conditions over longer periods too.
    One major aspect of sense of space is mental space or a sense of personal freedom, a person who has too many conditions imposed by society/family, who really cannot express himself openly and freely out of fear of what others might think or react, now that has a much bigger impact on any person’s sense of well being. I think the problem with developing countries is that people are torn between tradition and modernity. Technology is changing fast, demanding faster and more efficient responses, but society is still very traditional and refuses to budge and adapt to the modern world. Another aspect is that the educational system is geared towards following tradition and not asking any deep questions about norms laid down by society, which means that the attitude is still to treat the general student as an immature child, not a mature questioning thinking adult. Many people, even educated ones, still do things blindly rather than out of their own personal understanding. A person is told from morning to night what he should or shouldn’t do and his attitude is to blindly follow, now these norms can no longer cope with the modern world, so obviously this leads to frustration.
    I had read about a scientific experiment with monkeys. The monkeys were trained to press a button to get food, so whenever they wanted some food they would press the button. Now the scientists changed the button so that the monkeys would no longer get food on pressing that button. The monkeys still caught in their habit, kept on pressing the button even though food wasn’t forthcoming. This led to them being frustrated.
    Now human beings having evolved from the animal, there are certain aspects of this in us too, isn’t it so?


  • Aamer Khawaja
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:40PM

    So the people of lahore, bahawalpur, peshawar, quetta dont accept outsiders? There a good child hood line for that,”look who’s talking” a karachite?
    FYI karachi is infact the only city that repels outsiders since the first influx of outsiders


  • rsaad
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:45PM

    I totally agree with your last line,”Those who breed like flies die like flies.”


  • faraz
    Apr 8, 2012 - 11:47PM

    There is no differene between TTP and these militant wings of political parties; all are murderers.


  • Apr 8, 2012 - 11:51PM

    @aamer khwaja… can u please tell the ammount of Baluchis working in ur city :p … then speakk .. karachi is no joke … it is the only ethnically accepting cityRecommend

  • Apr 8, 2012 - 11:54PM

    yes dear … the 20 percent pashtuns are not immigrants … the 2 percent baluch are not immigrants … the 50 percent muhajirs are not immigrants… and yes the ever increasing punjabis are not immigrants … please see the reality karachi has doubled in 10 years and half of it and more has to be blamed on the migration thing.. they are no longer migrants but karachiites …


  • Ali Tanoli
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:01AM

    pervez the muhajir is the reason for ever increasing of pakhtun population in karachi he started war in north now just deal it or cry it.Recommend

  • saleem khan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:07AM

    An excellent article, Each time I have visited karachi,since migration to USA in 1983, I have found the city going bad to worse . MQM may claim building fly overs etc: but unfortunately have enhanced a cultural war . Pakistan as a nation has lost that desire to survive as a healthy,
    developing nation. It appears impossible for Pakistan to return from the brink of current anarchy and destruction . Though as an ex-Pakistani , even in my wildest dreams I do not want to see this ultimate end to a beautiful country of fiftees and sixtees. Everything started to fall apart after 1971 and cessation of East Pakistan. Despite being a nuclear power Political leadership in Pakistan will have to accept India as a big and stronger brotherly nation next door. Similar to what Canada has accepted of USA . Stop supporting Kashmir (A dead horse) Stop extremism. Stop nurturing terrorists . Control political desires of their army and lastly but not the least stop living in the past megalomania of Islamic glory.


  • Aftab Afridi
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:09AM

    your racist mentality is exactly the problem karachi faces today.You are so obsessed with racial hate that you are spouting falsehoods to spin a false narrative.Karachi didn’t welcome ppl with open arms.Pakhtuns fleeing KPK due to the war on terror were not allowed to enter karachi,they were shot at while sitting at tea hotels,their buses,rickshaws are deliberately burnt,carpet and hardware stores owned by pakhtuns are set on fire regularly.
    Repeating lies again and again won’t change the truth,everyone in pakistan knows how welcoming karachi was to pakhtuns in the last decade.


  • elementary
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:09AM

    I would beg to disagree.social disharmony,deprivation and injustice coupled with corrupt governance ,and a rat race for limited resources are more critical factors.
    As writer himself pointed out there are other megacities in the world ,which do not experience such blood shed.Population of course is one factor but hardly the most pertinent.


  • Ali from Karachi
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:23AM

    You hit the nail on the head:

    Local politics matters much. In 1995, Eqbal Ahmed wrote that “Karachi is starved of the wealth it generates. The city contributes more than sixty per cent of the federal and Sindh governments’ revenues. Only a fraction of it is invested back in building its infrastructure. To make matters worse, under successive Karachi governments, land and other resources have been prey to the greed of those in power.”Recommend

  • Osama
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:29AM

    You lie so blatantly it makes me puke. truth is nobody accepts anyone in this god forsaken country.
    In quetta the punjabis are not accepted. (i lived there my whole life)
    in lahore the siraikis are not accepted
    in peshawar the hindko speaking are not accepted.
    In karachi the pakhtun and the sindhis are not accepted. This place is not haven. a place which nobody treats as their own which is always pillaged by the underprivileged and ignored by the over-privileged.

    The only thing this city needs is what we all call “danda”. come to think of it the whole country needs danda. not representation, not democracy. Full Danda!

    you say it’s because of “poilitical agendas”. Since Karachiites do not like to accept others in to their city that feeling is used to feed the political agenda. Accept the others and then MQM won’t be able to say that the city belongs to muhajirs, and ANP won’t be able to say this city belongs to the pakhtun. GET IT?


  • BlackJack
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:36AM

    It is not the population of the city and relative size of the living quarters alone (or space available per capita) that creates this tension; but of losing out one’s space to newcomers with whom one does not associate – a very big problem in the cramped cities in the sub-continent. In Bombay, the Shiv Sena (which is seen as a Hindu fundamentalist organization by Pakistanis) actually had its origins in rabid xenophobia exhibited by frequent attacks against South Indians in the 60s and 70s. Bal Thackeray’s nephew Raj Thackeray has returned to the original ideology with his new party – except that the targets are now UPites and Biharis. The difference of course is that there is a strict control on availability of arms and ammunition in India, so fights are generally fought with hockey sticks or lathis, and loss of life is unlikely – there are no militias attached to different political parties as in Pakistan. Further, the newcomers in Bombay are there to make money and improve their quality of life, and have no time to play politics.


  • Aamer Khawaja
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:46AM

    Yes we can see how accepting karachi has been, maybe flashing guns, burning buses, strikes, are your way of saying welcome


  • Aamer Khawaja
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:54AM

    Can hoodbhoy explain how come mumbai is much more peaceful? we can all safely say that its more crowded than khi, if not more than the same level of rich/poor divide exists,


  • jahandad
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:36AM

    Karachi was a beautiful clean and social city ,now what happened , humanity is needed in Karachi,,plus brotherhood and justice,,,


  • papoo piplia
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:40AM

    Karachi needs an independent police dept like KCPD controlled by a police commissioner appointed by the mayor of Karachi elected under a local govt. The local govt should also have control over tax collection and should control Karachi’s institutions like the water board, KESC and the Karachi port. Devolution of power is the true form of democracy which the stupid feudals of PPP fail to understand.


  • akhroot
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:55AM

    Hilarious that the author speaks about birth control and breeding. Its a well known fact that the Muhajirs who are the majority of Karachites are the most educated, enlightened, liberal and cultural group in Pakistan.


  • ashok
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:25AM

    1715 killed in 2011 in Karachi, just a city of Pakistan; it is many times more than those killed in the entire state of Kashmir in last 4 years or so.


  • s shah
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:27AM

    @saleem khan: good analysis


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:45AM

    Why must you bring your problems everywhere?


  • Mustafa Moiz
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:50AM

    I don’t understand what that has to do with birth control.


  • Apr 9, 2012 - 3:33AM

    As a karachhiite i dont have any problem with anyone migrating to karachi … i am not MQM … I am not anp …. I am just a common man that doesn;t discriminate like 98 percent of karachiiites and thats why it is home to all ethnicities in Pakistan… accept the greatness of Karachi and live with it ….


  • ashok
    Apr 9, 2012 - 4:43AM

    @Mustafa Moiz:

    It is Pakistanis, who always bring Kashmir and point out how many has been killed of put behind bars.

    If number of killed in Karachi city is less than numbers killed in Kashmir state, Pakistan should stop spewing venom about Kashmir. Period.


  • FF
    Apr 9, 2012 - 5:26AM

    give karachi back its status as the capital and you shall see the peaceful and beautiful city once again! It was also known as the city of lights and was the first city to face load-shedding long before the curse reached other major cities of the country….total discrimination perhaps?


  • NinjaMullah
    Apr 9, 2012 - 5:59AM

    If only the rest of the country wasn’t so parasitically dependent on Karachi for its survival.


  • hussain syed
    Apr 9, 2012 - 6:10AM

    @manji wich daang:
    The violence is passive and inevitable? Really? Are you high on something wild?


  • saeed
    Apr 9, 2012 - 7:13AM

    population is the main problem of Pakistan . Karachi is taking the biggest hit as all the breeding finally end up in karachi. It is a responsibility of every citizen control this over population crisis


  • raw is war
    Apr 9, 2012 - 7:19AM

    good article.


  • Zafar
    Apr 9, 2012 - 7:57AM

    Dr. Hoodboy,
    I appreciate your attempt to help explain Karachi’s complex problems using the behavioral patterns of fish and rats in an artificially controlled environment. However, the argument is a little bit of a leap!
    I do agree with you calling out Rehman Malik, his answer to all the wrongs happening on his watch is that there is an outside influence. So much for being held accountable! I mean this guy is a joke! Several months ago bags with bodies were turning up in the city every day. I read the news daily and I haven’t knowledge of one arrest or conviction or one murderer being taken off the streets! There is a clip on you tube of a reporter filming across from a pitched gun battle between rival gangs in Karachi, shot during that time. The shooters had their faces covered, but explain to me how an un armed reporter and a film crew got within 20 meters of the “action” but the police never could. As far as an outside hand is concerned, these are Pakistanis killing Pakistanis, there is no army of alien assassins roaming the city.
    I hope siciologists learn all they can from Karachi, and help explain to us and the entire world, not just for now, but for generations to come, how and why civilization and humanity decay.


  • Wellwisher
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:07AM

    Mr Pervaiz Hoodhbhoy … U are my hero


  • Pakistani first
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:11AM

    Karachiwallas work their socks off while baring with constant bloodshed and loadshedding and the rest of the country is busy in either praying or eating. How is it possible that a single city of a population of 20 million earns 70% of the revenue of the country, what are the other 160million doing?


  • Amit
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:50AM

    Population is not the primary problem – there are more congested cities in Japan and Belgium and China and India. The culprit is the culture of intolerance that has grown in Pakistan and culture makes all the difference.


  • gp65
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:11AM

    Population is a serious problem in both India and Pakistan. But though the actual population growth rate has been far higher in Pakistan than India, the population desnity is still much lower in Pakistan compared to India. Mumbai and Karachi have almos same level of population and while there are many problems taht such high population density causes in Mumbai (horrendous traffic jams, poor sanitation conditions for vast swathes of people, pollution, lack of cleanliness) etc. Mumbai does not have this gun culture. Recommend

  • gp65
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:33AM

    @ashok: “1715 killed in 2011 in Karachi, just a city of Pakistan; it is many times more than those killed in the entire state of Kashmir in last 4 years or so.”

    Good point. In fact the Gujarat riots that everyone in Pakistan loves to refer to had around 110 deaths around 750 Muslims and 350 Hindus. This was 10 years back and there have been no religious riots since then in the last 10 years. SO perhaps people who constantly use the Gujarat 2002 reference to demonstrate lack of safety for Muslims in India should do a compare and contrast.

    The broader point I want to make is that it is not a difference in religion or ethnicity that leads to violence but an easy access to guns and underinvestment in the police force.


  • R.Khan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 11:11AM

    PH as usual superb article! We love your articles.


  • sick of this nonsense
    Apr 9, 2012 - 11:58AM

    @Pakistani first:
    historically cities near ports are the ones which are the earners for countries economy. That answers your question.


  • Darjat
    Apr 9, 2012 - 12:56PM

    Solution to the problem rests with the institutional mechanisms at the local level..expecting one person R Malik or whoever at his position to take care security/ governance at district level does not make sense.
    Let evolve local system/s with effective participation of local people at neighborhood, tehsil and district level. There is also a need to learn from best practices- relevant live example of the cities mentioned above!
    And let us respect diversity and promote coexistence.


  • AIN
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:11PM

    very good analysis…

    very truley said!!!

    “But the violence of the MQM and ANP cannot compare with that of the TTP, now steadily moving into Karachi. Its avowed goal is to destroy everything first and then capture state power.”……


  • let there be peace
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:20PM

    very interesting, but could be exaggeration. from 9million to 19 million in 15 years, how’s that possible? Is the Karachi situation really as grim as the author is painting?


  • Adnan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 1:22PM

    Agree that Karachi has the highest density of the largest cities. Even Hong Kong and Tokyo have significantly less people than Karachi. The next of course are the Indian cities and Cairo. Politics and Planning can make a huge difference.

    For more details see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Listofmetropolitanareasby_population


  • Apr 9, 2012 - 1:37PM

    @sick of nonsense…. no dear your landlord who earns millions by selling foood .. doesnt pay tax at all …while a middle class earner in karachi has to go through the ordeal of income tax… grow out of your illusions.


  • Eying Propaganda
    Apr 9, 2012 - 2:49PM

    When did IK blame karachi unrest on US ? … or is it just a habbit of dragging IK into everything for better viewership, which was surely uncalled for … rest of the article was good with powerful examples.


  • Rajat
    Apr 9, 2012 - 3:29PM

    @Aamer Khawaja:

    Last time Mumbai witnessed social violence was in 1992..Post economic liberalization, communities have realized that social violence and economic prosperity can not go hand in hand….these days financial stakes for all the communities is so high that no one has time to think of violence in most of the major cities…..

    key message being : economic prosperity and violence can’t go together….


  • Farooque Ahmed
    Apr 9, 2012 - 4:45PM

    No one but Sindh and Sindhis accepted Mahajirs and it was the act of sympathy but they now think they cant live and corelate with sindhis.


  • elementary
    Apr 9, 2012 - 5:01PM

    @saleem khan: “Pakistan will have to accept India as a big and stronger brotherly nation next door. Similar to what Canada has accepted of USA . Stop supporting Kashmir (A dead horse) Stop extremism. Stop nurturing terrorists . Control political desires of their army and lastly but not the least stop living in the past megalomania of Islamic glory”.

    None of these points is directly causing Karachi to burn over and over again in the last few months.I dont see how stopping to support kashmir will stop blood shed in karachi which is largely ethnic and political in origin.similarly living in past glory of islam has very little to do with current situation in Karachi.
    These points are correct in bigger perspective of overall pakistan situation but irrelevent in th current karachi situation and therefore to the topic of the article.


  • Chilli
    Apr 9, 2012 - 5:40PM

    Make more cities and accessible suburbs.. city problems will be resolved soon.


  • Apr 9, 2012 - 6:46PM

    Target Killings, Violence, Bloodshed in Karachi & its responsible!


  • Shahid
    Apr 9, 2012 - 7:13PM

    If Karachi is put under autonomous local government and inflow of immigrants from rest of Pakistan is controlled as Hongkong china model. Karachi can beat Dubai, Hongkong or any other commercial city. It can generate billions of dollars for Pakistan and provide unparallel employment oppurtunities for rest of Pakistan provided administration is handed to local people who can run it ten times more efficiently than Dubai.


  • Musthaq Ahmed
    Apr 9, 2012 - 7:35PM

    @manji wich daang:
    Is Tom Cruise a sociologist ? What a reference from X generation !


  • Aamer Khawaja
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:03PM

    Agreed, but you see rajat Karachi may not be as economically strong as Mumbai, but for Pakistan its just like Mumbai, I can assure you that the financial stakes in this city of all ethnicities are too high, just like in Mumbai, but this city is governed by a feudal mentality by a party that says umpteen times that its against feudal mentality


  • elementary
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:07PM

    @gp65:You said: “easy access to guns and underinvestment in the police force”.

    Political interference in the police is the critical factor.Police is party to one or the other political Party!.


  • elementary
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:17PM

    @Osama: I am Hindko speaking who lived in peshawar for 25 years without any problems.
    The problem in Karachi may appear ethnic but is actually economic.Too many people competing for increasingly scarce and elusive resources.


  • gp65
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:20PM

    @elementary: “These points are correct in bigger perspective of overall pakistan situation but irrelevant in the current karachi situation and therefore to the topic of the article.”

    I cannot guess what saleem was thinking but I felt that his points were relevant to this article. Here is how:
    I think weaponisation of Pakistan has not been permitted but encouraged due to the policy of using non-state actors for jihad against India. It is this weaponisation and a value system sanctioning killing of supposedly unjust people probably contributes to the high death toll in Karachi compared to cities like Mumbai and Delhi. The root causes (weaponisation and encouragement for a war mindset) need to be addressed in order to reduce the violence.


  • mateen saeed
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:29PM

    “Karachi is starved of the wealth it generates. The city contributes more than sixty per cent of the federal and Sindh governments’ revenues”. this may not be main problem of Karachi but majority of Urdu Speaking Community believes major share of revenue is drawn by federal Govt. out their pockets. When it is said “this much revenue is collected from Karachi’ most of Urdu speakers successfully make each other believe this chunk is drawn out of their pockets so indeed they have taken the burden of state and other countrymen on their shoulders and in return they gain nothing. This misconception on the part of Urdu Speaking community will last as long as Pakistan is dependent on single port. Unless a new port is constructed and to shift the revenue share, made functional within shortest possible span, problem of Karachi will linger on. Now problem has become more complicated due to the induction of new players especially Talibans.


  • Apr 9, 2012 - 8:51PM

    Which religious parties are influencing the Indians? I find this birth control argument flawed. People do whatever they feel is right or wrong. If religious parties were THAT popular among the masses, theyd be in power right now. It’s like you HAVE to drag them into a debate just because you dont like their presence.

    It all boils down to ethnicity. Who ‘owns’ karachi. You cannot control demographic changes by force. Something MQM must understand. If it was okay being ‘welcomed’ into Sindh, it is okay to welcome others too.


  • Waqqar Azeem
    Apr 9, 2012 - 8:59PM

    Very true. May Allah bless him with peace and blessings.


  • Zafar
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:00PM

    “Like Madinah? we can accept anyone at any time without asking a single question?” I wonder if those who have recently migrated would agree with your analogy. Perhaps you would like to share your anecdote.


  • Raja Islam
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:14PM

    Not entirely correct. Karachi of yesteryear was like that when the local Sindhis accepted the Mohajirs from India with ope arms. When the control of the city passed into the hands of Mohajirs, things changed. Today Karachi is an unwelcoming place with the mafia running the streets and neighbourhoods. What to say about welcoming Pashtuns, even the non-Mihajir locals are now made to feel unwelcome in their own home.


  • Raja Islam
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:17PM

    The Mohajirs took over.


  • elementary
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:21PM

    I would beg to still disagree.These weapons are from the militant groups of all the three major Political parties in Karachi and this has got absolutely nothing to do with “Jihad”.


  • manji wich daang
    Apr 9, 2012 - 9:41PM

    @hussain syed:
    this is certainly not my contention…it is Dr. Hoodbhoy’s (if you try to read in between the lines)…allow me to elaborate…TTP and the violence perpetrated by them according to received liberal tripe is that of madness, plain and simple, organic…giving at best a historical context (Afghan War) and not current social context (detachment from political process, perhaps due to way extractive institutions, patronized by a corrupt elite, because then the blame may lie with the secular political forces as well and not just the ‘crazy mullahs’)…however violence in Karachi is almost always intellectualized (unchecked urbanization being the fad these days) and rationalized implying perversely that the violence in Karachi is not an outcome of ethnic intolerance (which would be difficult to explain in the liberal black & white world in which intolerance is a by-product of religious obscurantism and that alone) but somewhat inevitable due to the demographic shifts that the metropolitan has experienced among other things, but DEFINITELY not the doing of ‘secular political forces’, namely PPP, ANP & MQM…because the liberal blogosphere would have an extremely hard time explaining that aberration in their rule based approach to explain a social phenomenon (which by definition can’t be rule based)…reminds one of that old liberal chestnut, that Hitler exterminated Jews at the behest of Church (again religion being the root cause of everything evil), without providing the necessary social context post-Versaille & the hyperinflation of the Weimar Republic…again i don’t think violence is inevitable & passive…however the deranged logic employed by the liberals to differentiate the violence of Karachi from that perpetrated by TTP, implies that there is something inevitable about the violence in Karachi, and passive because they don’t lay blame on any actors…its passive in that sense…’people got killed in Karachi’, versus ‘TTP slay 4 in North Waziristan’…passive vs active…hope this helps!


  • Hasan
    Apr 9, 2012 - 10:08PM


    Blockquote> Osama Blockquote

    Blockquote Mr Osama did not know what is meant by Punjabis and he did not even know the definition of Punjabi and he is telling that in Lahore Seraiki Speakers are not welcomed. I wonder then why I am welcomed here since my Childhood then as we speak that Dielect as well.? I welcome Mr Osama in Lahore to see with their own eyes what is meant to be a Lahori and a Punjabi and I doubt as well that Mr Osama ever visited Punjab!!!!. In Lahore there are no gangs like in Karachi like ANP , MQM and PPP to take bhatta or bar someone from entry.

    Everyone in Punjab is Welcomed. No one is abused on the basis of ethnicity and i never heard any instance of any violence. Also I will suggest Mr Osama to revisit the definition of Punjabi that what is meant by the Punjabi people. My Mother speak Seraiki Dialect and My Language is a mix of it and i never faced any Discrimination in my life.

    Anyone living and taking its traditions and culture of Punjab as its own is a Punjabi. Punjabi definition is a geographical and cultural one. So a Potohari, Ludhyanwi, Majhi, Derawali, Seraiki, Haryanawi, Jhangli and Urdu Speaker is a Punjabi as long they accept Punjab as their home and adopt its culture and traditions.

    Please visit this page to get the definition of Punjabi people and then discriminate here.


  • Sadaf
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:10AM

    i love karachi. we all do and its sad to see our city spilling blood, but until and unless corrupt politicians are not wiped off. no body can safe Karachi from becoming A hell!. Mockingly we all know, but still there is no body to help Karachi. good article. good insight by the writer.


  • Shahid
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:22AM

    The biggest single problem in karachi a city of eighteen million is lack of any public transportation system and all private transport belonging to a particular ethnic group. All public transport in existence even before partition have been intentionaly destroyed that is electric trams,circular railways and abolition of KTC govt owned buses. The influx of Afghans and tribal population with patranoge from ISI and Ziaulhaque brought the control off transportation to people with no urban sense and thier trying to impose tribal ways of life on people of karachi.This was the begening of all problems. 1985 Bushra zaidi case.


  • shakrullah
    Apr 10, 2012 - 5:31AM

    Dr Hoodby’s thesis about perpetual violece lawlessness and bloodshed in Karachi is of dubious validity . some relevant statistics : Density of people per sqKm

    for Mumbai is 29,650
    for kolkata is 23,900
    and for karachi it is 18,900

    One can see the limitations of Dr Hoodboy’s views . In fact , his views reflect the current
    fad in social sciences to explain all human behaviour , moral or immoral , in terms of
    physiology , the genes . This has the cosequence of denying any role of moral effort in
    overcoming individual or collective problems . I am sure all political parties or law-enforcing agencies would be grateful to Dr Hoodboy for absolving them of the responsibility of turning Karachi into perhaps the bloodiest city of the world .


  • Jalbani Baloch
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:12PM

    The situation will be corrected only when everyone of us start talking the truth without any fear of consequences, and I am sure you are afraid, though I respect you a lot being a vocal on different matters, except on situation in Karachi. It was a peaceful city with same proportion of bergenoning population until 86, when MQM was created on sectarian lines, Karachi never witnessed peace and neither it will witness in the near future. The only situation lies in banning politics of hatred and racisim in all Pakistan, starting from Karachi, where the killing of innocent people is the order of the day.


  • rohit
    Apr 10, 2012 - 12:14PM

    the writer is kidding right?? how can he just blame overpopulation for the violence?? this is clearly a cultural problem nothing more nothing less. There are other cities on the planet in developing countries with massive overpopulation issues where people don’t get slaughtered by Kalshnikovs every week. Eg Mumbai


  • Naresh
    Apr 10, 2012 - 4:25PM

    In addition to this Article by Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy here is another Article addressing the issue of Over Population and those responsible for Violence in Karachi :
    We breed as rabbits, we die like vermin : Mohammad Malick – August 10, 2011


  • Naresh
    Apr 10, 2012 - 5:54PM

    @Adnan Ji :
    World City Information
    Whereas the Population per Wikipedia the Population of Karachi is 11,800.000, however as per World City Information the Total Metropolitan Area of Karachi has a Population of Eighteen Million.


  • asdf
    Apr 10, 2012 - 7:08PM

    wrong research cited about population density, otherwise tokyo would be the one of the most violent city in the world and kabul the least. islamism = tribalism and most likely karachi is being tribalized increasing conflict and pakistani /karachi identity is being eroded. modern societies need identities greater than tribes to be cohesive.


  • Abbas, ZA
    Apr 10, 2012 - 9:18PM

    @Amit: you nailed it!!! Who wants to accept it.?? Have you seen a nation in denial? Thats a remarkable feet isnt it? You normally see an individual or group in denial.


  • Nangdharangg Pakistani
    Apr 10, 2012 - 10:35PM

    EXCELLENT Sir ! Hats off !!!


  • Shahzeb Butt
    Apr 10, 2012 - 11:50PM

    Why Karachi’s situation gets bad when PPP is in govt? It happened in the 1990s and is happening now. Check the stats. There is a direct relationship. PPP should know that they should stop trying to control a city where they have no support. Let Karachites rule their own city like Lahoris rule Lahore.


  • aysha
    Apr 11, 2012 - 9:11AM

    The excessive fish that entered the tank, sadly brought their culture too, which is broadly outlined by “humara hathieeyaar humara zaywer hai’ .

    It is sad to see the culture of tribal and the adjoining areas gain strength in Karachi.
    A place which was once inhabited by people who were forward looking believed in prospering in life through education, is taken over by people of another culture completely alien to the Karachites. Once the population of those who believe in “humara hathieeyaar humara zaywer hai’ increased, peace has departed from our city and a mind set of settling dispute, as it is done is some parts of our country by use of force, prevails.


  • anwer mooraj
    Apr 11, 2012 - 1:18PM

    An excellent article. Well argued and to the point.The kind of article that is bound to ruffle quite a few feathers. One of the critics did wonder why Bombay, which has a larger population than Karachi, is much more peaceful. I believe one of the reasons is because the citizens have a far greater sense of civic duty.Another is because police intelligence in that city is far better organized.
    Anwer Mooraj


  • Apr 11, 2012 - 6:19PM

    Thank you HB. I really liked your write up and has got me thinking. Hope others too join in thinking for the solution. Once again thank you for hitting straight!!!


  • mazHur
    Apr 14, 2012 - 3:56AM

    Previously the author of the article had been bashing religion for all the mess but now he is amazingly accusing over-population as the cause. If over-population were the root cause of all this trouble in Karachi then why is it not precisely so in other big and congested cities of Pakistan?? Why is it not so in other over-populated countries like China and India, for example?? If he would dare come out in the ‘real world’ the author will note that the reason behind the continual turmoil in Karachi is plainly due to division of ”constituencies’ between two main political and ethnic factions, the Urdu-speaking and the non-Urdu speaking. Both of them have their militant groups operating and for maintaining such ‘brigades’ they are compelled to resort to bhatta and other crimes and ofcourse they cannot do it without blessing of the governing and administrative agencies. Reforming your political system is the only way to preserving the shape and sanctity of the megapolis and bringing peace to it.


  • Adnan
    Apr 19, 2012 - 12:48PM

    @Zafar: Zafar, do you have a link for the video of the reporter being in that gun battl? Thanks, much appreciated.


  • Uza Syed
    Apr 26, 2012 - 3:43PM

    @Natasha Suleman.: How about a ‘welcome in Punjab’ this time around, how about it?


  • Hasnain Shabbir
    May 22, 2012 - 3:33AM

    Good article,right approach and formal choice of the words from top to bottom but it is quite bitter to describe the real aspect behind the whole scene.


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