Karachi: Then & now

Journalist Khaled al Maeena on the city of the 1960s.

Journalist Khaled al Maeena on the city of the 1960s.

Khaled al Maeena is sitting in the lobby of Le Méridian in Khobar. He signals towards a Pakistani waiter: “karak chai merey leyeh.” The man is taken aback but hurries to comply.

The name Khaled al Maeena is instantly familiar to anyone living in the Arab world. Known as the ‘editor of people’, he ran Arab News, Saudia Arabia’s leading English newspaper, for 23 years. Today he is the editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette.

Recognised as a liberal Saudi, now he primarily writes about social issues but Al Maeena is also famous for his perspective on the expatriate community, especially Pakistanis. Indeed, al Maeena has a soft spot for us mostly because he spent his formative years in Karachi.

Father Raymond at St Patrick’s High School shaped him as did bicycle rides from Bolton Market to Burns Road for Nihari. Food figures prominently in his memories. He recalls Saadullah’s sandwiches at the corner of PECHS Block 2 and how in the early 1960s, Karachi had some really good Chinese restaurants. “I loved eating at Bundoo Khan and Hanifia,” he adds. “Those were such idyllic days.”

As his family had been trading in the subcontinent since the 1920s, this meant that a young al Maeena made many trips between Bombay, Calcutta and cities in Sindh. Eventually, he chose to study in Karachi. After St Patrick’s College, he studied journalism at Karachi University where some of his peers included Khursheed Ahmad and Nusrat Nasrullah.

Back then, Karachi was one of the most beautiful cities of the east after Beirut and Cairo. He would take evening walks down Shaheed-e-Millat Road. “My great uncle had a house there. Every evening, smartly dressed girls would walk in groups. How safe the roads were!” he says. “There was a time when people would drive from Guru Mandir to Tariq Road at 2 am. There was no extremism or intolerance.”

Al Maeena refutes the notion that funding for terrorism in Pakistan came from the Saudi government. He interprets it as money flowing in through individuals. Pakistanis took money from rich Saudis by saying they would build mosques but the funds were misused. He maintains that Saudis have a soft corner for Pakistan.

In May 1998, a few weeks after India’s second nuclear test, Pakistan detonated five nuclear devices and became the seventh country to develop and test a nuclear missile. During that week circulation of newspapers went up fifty percent in Saudi Arabia.

The last time al Maeena came to Pakistan was in 2006 to visit the quake-hit areas. When asked if he would like to visit Karachi again, he says: “No, I do not want to be kidnapped.”

Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, May 19th, 2013.

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saylani | 8 years ago | Reply

In those days we never had so many people from Punjab and NWFP in Karachi one would not see anybody having a leek on the pavement and then throwing away the pebble on the name of astanja Karachi was very civilized I loved it, I still love it and will always.

PakShock | 8 years ago | Reply

Industrial revolution and automation in the world, Population explosion, Internal migration, Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. and Saudi retaliation resulting in Madrassa funding for mercenaries resulting in extremism & violance. Trend started to open more madrassas to for available fundings, first for Communism then now to balance Irani influence on Pak masses. Both Iran and Arabia found new reason and a new ground to get even after loosing war by Saddam on Pak Soil. Our poverty, corruption and unresolved foreign policy crises with India made us already hopeless. India as newly released from Russia went "in bed" with U.S as a U.S senator once said after Chinese economic boom. Sadly, Pak was upto it's neck in 60 years of Marshal Laws, Feudalism and it's repercussions, found itself in the middle of U.S. Russia, Iran, Saudi Arabia tug of war. All wanted to bribe her to sleep with them. Unearned Money started pouring in from all direction. Seeing a total collapsed Nuclear State ready to be devoured by it's enemy U.S and the West opened-up its doors for trade, education, business training and health and medicine. So now we see demand for all sorts of fuel to cope with new industrial targets and economic growth. Corruption, bloodshed, incompetence, Apochalyptic floods, land erosion resulting in heavy internal migration put such an enormous drag on domestice resources that we can't survive without foreign assistance now. We can thank God; If it weren't for Western Arm Twisting we had no plan for democracy or even succeed in transfer of power, rest aside a timely election. Why you said Karachi is different now? Pray for Pakistan. It could have gone further down without foreign assistance. God wanted to save us for another day may be!

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