A couple of months ago, I had a chance to meet a group of American journalists on a visit to Karachi. Before coming to the city, they had spent almost a week in Islamabad, meeting politicians and visiting different places.
The timing of their visit to Karachi was a little unfortunate. They had arrived on May 2, when the whole city was at a standstill after the murder of a Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) activist in PIB Colony.
When I met them two days later, I could still sense their uneasiness. Understandably, they were a bit rattled by the aftereffects of the violence that they had heard about so much, but actually witnessed for the first time.
As the day progressed, we went to Sunday Bazaar and the beach, the nervousness wore off and they were finally able to get a real taste of the city – sometimes with a bit of concern, and sometimes a bit of awe.
As I am also not a Karachi’ite as they say – wasn’t born or raised here and took a long time to adjust to the city, I wondered what effect has Karachi on the people who visit it for the first time, especially foreigners.
With this in mind, I asked the journalists to write back to me about what they thought of Karachi. Some of them got back to me and to say the least, their replies were heart-warming.
Terry Anzur, news anchor at KFI-AM 640 Los Angeles and journalism educator: “I’ll never forget the young faces of Karachi. A little girl sang and smiled for us during her first week of kindergarten at a non-profit school operating on the edge of a slum. Bright-eyed older students radiated enthusiasm for learning and illustrated why so many people find hope in Pakistan’s educated youth. A less certain future may await the young boys from Tajikistan who carried my purchases at the Sunday Market; like kids anywhere, they joyfully jumped in front of my video camera. The students in the madrassa we visited were more restrained, but we saw the intensity in their faces as they recited from the Holy Quran. Young parliamentarians and college students debated the issues facing their country with energy and passion. I came away convinced that any investment in Pakistan’s youth will have a huge payoff.”
John Diaz, the editorial page editor of the San Francisco Chronicle: “Within hours of getting off the plane, I was introduced to the challenges and complications of modern-day Karachi. The strike called by MQM had all but brought the city to a screeching halt. Our meetings were cancelled, and opportunities to shop, eat, see the city — or to talk with citizens — became very limited. Fortunately, the pause was soon lifted and I saw a very vibrant, very international city come to life. It struck me as a city of vast potential and resiliency.”
According to Dan Boyce, the capitol bureau chief of the Montana Public Radio, walking into the Jinnah International Airport, he was immediately struck with how much it seemed like any other nice big-city airport. “My only reference point was the airport in Islamabad, which felt more like an airport of the developing world. As my group and I were driven to the Marriott Hotel, we were met with similar contrasts to the Pakistani capital,” he said. “Karachi seemed more open — fewer walls and less barbed wire. Karachi’s status as the thriving economic hub of Pakistan was clearly evident as well. The city definitely has a heartbeat. But Karachi is a city still far removed from the culture I am accustomed to in the United States. The streets have a certain ‘lawless’ feel to them. People hang from the side and pile onto the top of buses by the dozens. Motorcycles with three or four passengers share poorly defined lanes with donkey carts and darting pedestrians. This is of course when the streets are open. An MQM transportation strike left us largely confined to our hotel for much of one day.”
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2012.