This line, from a recent Supreme Court order on voter verification, is all kinds of genius:
Karachi has a peculiar background, which includes a serious law & order situation
While I am puzzled at the ‘peculiar background’ bit – the words remind me of a matchmaker looking into a family’s lineage – what the line is more indicative of is is a failure to understand what is happening in the city.
I recently went to the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry to hear a bench of judges take on pretty much every high ranking officer there is in town – save for those who really run the city, the Tappis and Ibrahims and Khan saabs of the world – and the entire exercise left me with an acute pain in the legs [Really, courtrooms, is it so difficult to arrange seating for the press corps?] and rather bemused. The discussion seemed like it was happening where Karachi was being compared to a parallel, utopian universe, everything should be right, but much to the judges’ chagrin, it was not.
The failure to understand Karachi isn’t just because there is very little context in press reporting these days – no one has the time or patience, and Karachi journalists assume that everyone knows what they’re taking about – but also because there is little comprehension on just how vast the city is. I’ve lived here 17 years, in seven neighbourhoods, and there are parts of the city I’ve never been to and the ones I lived in have changed beyond recognition in the past two decades. So have the actors there, and they keep changing, and there are warring militias and influential groups everywhere.
Everything in Karachi gets branded a ‘law and order problem’, thrown into a convenient barrel of ‘security situation’ and ‘politicization’ and mixed up for good measure. As the wise Ramesh*, a man with whom many of Karachi’s privileged are familiar, says:
Aap news walay to sirf khabr ki talash mai hote hain. Shehr mai sab theek hai.
The state of ‘theek’ is precisely what the city is in. We are used to a certain number of deaths, a certain amount of violence, and a certain amount of uncertainty. But what is surprising is that even in all these years, the ideas, policies for and analyses of Karachi cling to the familiar wrapping of law and order.